Wednesday 24 January 2018

Fans tweet 'upmost respect' to Rio Ferdinand after moving documentary about wife's death

Rio admits he found the school run particularly tough after his wife's death
Rio admits he found the school run particularly tough after his wife's death
Rio in his documentary Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad

Alan Tyers

Rio Ferdinand's wife, Rebecca, was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in March 2015. She died 10 weeks later. Rebecca was 34, leaving behind Rio and three young children.

In the documentary Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad, the footballer talks about grief, anger, suicide and his desire to create a loving, stable environment where his children can talk about their mum and their loss. It is a painful, profound watch. He is a brave man.

The documentary has attracted significant press coverage, centring on Rio's raw honesty. He says that, previously, "when I read that someone had committed suicide I used to think, 'You selfish so-and-so,' but there's times at the beginning when you know how they feel."

He also talks about drinking heavily, about his anger at the arbitrary, sudden, unfairness of it all.

"My kids are thinking, 'Why haven't I got a mummy?' I haven't got the answers for them," he says.

The bit that broke my own particular heart was the section in which Rio goes to meet some other widowers of his age.

No former England captains or world-record transfers here, just some 'ordinary' men going through something extraordinarily tough: losing a partner, having to keep going for the children.

This informal support group is having some food, a barbecue obviously, because: blokes.

Rio in his documentary Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad
Rio in his documentary Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad

There are some rather sad-looking little burgers and some white bread. And coleslaw, which as every man knows, is definitely a vegetable. Or possibly a fruit.

The spread needs a woman's touch. You just want to hug all of them.

The documentary notes that 75 men under the age of 50 become widowers every day in the UK, and this is explicitly a film about the male of the species and how he reacts to loss.

Rio thinks that "being from a dressing-room culture" made it harder for him to express his feelings, fearing that this would be weakness.

Rio Ferdinand's Rebecca Ellison died of breast cancer
Rio Ferdinand's Rebecca Ellison died of breast cancer

While not every man watching this programme has to take a shower next to Manchester United footballer Phil Jones, and we all count our blessings daily for that at least, do we not as a gender all struggle to some degree with the 'dressing room' idea of being the strong, silent rock?

Rio has had the role-model millstone hung around his neck more than most, a most unfair label in my opinion, as if a young guy who is good at running around and kicking footballs has any obligation to function as a nation's moral compass.

In this film, though, he embodies a leadership quality and wisdom, bitterly and cruelly hard-won though they have been, that might demonstrate to others in pain that it is not a failure to need help or to ask for it.

Twitter was flooded with tributes from sports stars, celebrities and public figures praising the former England footballer for his bravery.

Rio with his children
Rio with his children

Boxer Tony Bellew said Ferdinand was "inspiring", telling the star: "I have no words for the admiration I have for you or the bravery you are showing everyday... my heart goes out to you."

Actress Tamzin Outhwaite said: "So much respect. What a wonderful man and father you are. Well done for going on that journey You are a warrior... you should be so proud of yourself."

Former England cricketer Graeme Swann said he had "enormous respect" for Ferdinand after watching the programme, while broadcaster Aled Jones said the account was "truly incredible", adding: "You are an amazing person Rio."

Lord Sugar described the programme as "very moving".

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