A story of grief by a man and a boy
A few months ago I had memorable lunch with a great group of guys whom part of me wishes I had never had to meet. Some of us knew each other already, while others were getting together for the first time. We spoke openly about our lives, shared a few beers and laughed at each others jokes. On the face of it, it was just a few lads getting together attempting to have a barbecue on a slightly rainy afternoon.
There was sadness in the air, though; it was recent tragedy rather than old friendship that brought us all together. The gathering came about simply because we were all widowed young. Although pleased to be together, we all knew that our relationships were born of adversity. It’s an experience that I find comforting in the moment and yet somewhat confusing later. We know everything and nothing about each other, I find myself thinking every time I meet another widowed man.
On this particular occasion we had invited someone else who was suffering into the fold. The former England captain and widowed father of three, Rio Ferdinand, was joining us to find out more about how we processed our loss and helped our kids through theirs.
There’s something very levelling about bereavement. Perhaps if anyone in that room had met Rio in another situation they might have been intimidated or starstruck, but instead he was just one of us. Another man whose life was going swimmingly until catastrophe struck and left him drowning in a sea of grief, confusion and conflict. Why me? Why her? What next? How do I look after my kids? How do I look after myself?
‘How do I even work the washing machine?’ Rio asked after his wife, Rebecca, died of cancer in May 2015.
It was one a number of challenges we discussed around the kitchen table as we were filmed for a new documentary that airs on BBC One on Tuesday 28th March.
‘This is like the shittest game of Top Trumps ever,’ one of the lads, Dan, jokes on screen. His successful attempt at breaking the ice follows his own personal story of tragedy: he explains that, not only was his wife killed four years ago, but that he and his new fiancée also lost a baby more recently. I’ll always find it remarkable how deep people can dig to find their own humour in spite of unbelievable heartache.
Unlike Rio – who before meeting us all that day had never been in contact with any other young widowed dads – the rest of us had known each other for some time, united remotely through social media.
When my wife was killed, I started blogging about my experience of loss in the hope that sharing my story would help me find the empathy I so desperately needed at the time. I think this search for answers and support is what, ultimately, brought us all together that day. Perhaps it’s what made Rio want to make this powerful, emotional and unforgettable film, too.
Me and the other guys all got together for a screening of the film a few weeks ago. Although, naturally, none of us wanted to meet the way we originally did, we all now appreciate how much solace there is in knowing others who understand. After a few drinks, stories and laughs (honestly, we can still be quite funny), I went home to my son thinking about how fortunate I was to have made a group of friends who could offer mutual support. I’ll be forever grateful of that.
Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum & Dad shows a man trying to come to terms with loss and its effects on him and his three children. This film follows Rio as he meets other families coping with bereavement and looks at what help is available for parents and children who have experienced loss.
The truth is there isn’t enough emotional or financial support for widowed parents or bereaved children, and the recent Government shake-up of the bereavement benefits system is only making things worse. But, from my experience at least, speaking out and finding new friends who understand can help you through. I’m just glad that an issue that was once swept under the carpet is now being firmly placed in the spotlight.