Why Liam's love for Natasha lives on
The 'A Team' star is still a man in mourning, writes Chrissie Russell
Liam Neeson is not a star who likes to shout his personal life from the rooftops or make a statement with his outfits. We'll never see him weeping in a tell-all interview a la Cheryl Cole or dressed to shock like Lady Gaga in her meat dress.
But the A-Team star, to some degree, did make a significant public statement with his choice of outfit at a London awards ceremony on Sunday night.
The Co Antrim actor presented a best actress award to Nancy Carroll at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards wearing a T-shirt bearing the face of his dead wife, Natasha Richardson.
From the Ballymena man, who has remained so resolutely tight-lipped since his wife's tragic death last year, it was a gesture that spoke volumes.
The actress, and mother of Neeson's two children, Micheal (15) and Daniel (14), died after a freak fall on a beginner's ski slope while on holiday in Quebec in March last year.
The Maid In Manhattan star (45) had initially refused medical treatment, believing she was fine, but later complained of a headache and then lost consciousness from bleeding in the skull. It was Neeson, her devoted husband of 15 years, who faced the agonising decision to turn off her life support when Richardson was pronounced braindead.
In the weeks and months that followed, Leeson appeared to be a man very much determined to get on with life.
The week after his wife's death he went back to work, fulfilling his filming obligations on the erotic thriller, Chloe. He went on to appear in seven other films including Clash Of The Titans and providing the voice of Aslan in the latest Narnia segment. He only pulled out of one movie, citing personal reasons as the explanation for breaking filming commitments.
He has taken his sons to football matches, been on holiday in France and in recent months the 58-year-old has been spotted out with a handful of women including French stewardess, Leslie Slater (46), and British PR director Freya St Johnston (36).
The world could be forgiven for thinking Neeson had moved on -- until now. The public gesture of his wife's image across his heart is a timely reminder that Neeson is a man in mourning.
Dublin-based psychotherapist for Abate, Peter Ledden, says that it's important to remember men and women grieve differently. "It's ingrained in society that men are supposed to be strong and silent," he says. "This means that men can find it hard to articulate their grief.
"Liam Neeson has always appeared to be a very private person but by wearing the T-shirt it's a very public and solid gesture that he is managing his grief and wants to keep his wife's memory alive."
John Lahart, a bereavement specialist and psychotherapist with Dublin-based personal development company, Potentia, agrees. He says: "He's showing that he's carrying her around on him and he wants other people to know that. It's a very public expression that he doesn't want to forget her or want other people to do so either."
In a world obsessed with pace and change, people dealing with bereavement are often expected to move on faster than they will.
Typically, in a death that is to some degree expected and not against the natural order, it will be three years before the person mourning a loss will feel they've come to terms with it.
Normally they will move through set stages of grief -- denial and isolation, then anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.
"But you can't calendarise grief," says John. "It depends on the nature of the death and the bond with that person and the stages of grief aren't hard and fast either. You can move from acceptance back into denial or get stuck in a phase.
"Natasha's death was very sudden and against the natural order. It would be understandable if it took him quite a long time to come out of the shock and numbness caused by that."
According to John it's also important not to confuse certain gestures as signs that someone has moved on.
He says: "Using distractions like work, escaping or looking to replace the loved one are all expressions of grief. Many people commented when golfer Darren Clarke started dating just six or seven months after his wife's death -- but often throwing yourself into a new relationship is just a form of coping behaviour."
At Sunday night's ceremony, Neeson said that show organisers wanted him to deliver a testimonial in honour of the award, which was recently renamed the Natasha Richardson award. He refused, saying: "They gave me a speech to read out in tribute to my beloved wife but I refuse to say it."
Some may have interpreted his terseness for coldness and criticise him for his refusal to wallow in the Diana and Jade Goody-inspired trend for public grief. But in reality his actions say more about the private pain and genuine sense of loss he still feels at losing his soul mate.
"Only the individual knows how much they loved someone and how much pain they've suffered," says John. "Even if they're in the public eye, we can't open them up and see what's running through them. Sadly grief is the price we pay for love."