In May 2015, former professional footballer Rio Ferdinand’s life changed forever when his wife Rebecca passed away from breast cancer, aged just 34. Two years later he is ready to open up about his journey grieving for his wife and raising their three children alone in his new BBC documentary Being Mum and Dad. It’s not often you get to see real raw emotion from our idols, outside of maybe when they win an award or in Ferdinand’s case, score that career-defining goal.
Being Mum and Dad, is an emotional documentary which follows him on an intensely personal journey as he explores how bereaved parents attempt to come to terms with loss and mould new lives for themselves and their children.
After watching a preview back in February, and listening to Ferdinand at the post screening discussion, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room as he spoke candidly about how deeply affected he was after losing Rebecca.
“At the beginning I was distraught, my whole house had fallen and I didn’t want to talk to anybody, and I kept looking. at my kids and thinking how do I make it easier for them, how do I make it that they have a normal life going forward?”
He also spoke about the most difficult thing he had to do after her passing, from not knowing how to work the washing machine, was the first days of being in charge of the school run…
“Us men don’t take things into account; women that stay at home and look after the family, we see that as not being a job. But I tell you now, it’s a f*cking hard job, and I’ve got some help. I always used to take my kids to school, if I was home from playing football. But I woke up 10 minutes before we had to go; they were already showered, fed and I just put them in the car and got there. The first time they went back to school, about three or four days later [after the loss of their mother] I woke up in the morning and I was scrambling around the house, having a panic attack, thinking what happens now? It was the first time they’d ever been late to school…”
Going on a journey of self-discovery which Ferdinand at first says was all about his children, reluctant at first to seek help, and therapy. The documentary helped him explore ways of managing grief; discovering that one of the ways parents can help their children move on with their lives is for them to begin to rebuild their own lives first. He laments the lack of help available when people lose a loved one…
“Rebecca passed away, I have to tell my children in a room next door, then you leave. Everyone’s prepared in life to have babies and to celebrate, but no one’s taught how you’re meant to deal with loss. It’s such a different feeling. There isn’t an automatic thing that you can think of, like Alcoholics Anonymous, for bereavement that’s getting the funding and air time that they deserve.”
But after speaking to organisations like Bereavement UK, and a group of men who had lost their wives, Ferdinand started to work on his grief as well as understanding how to be a parent and get through to his children’s grief and pain. One thing he sheds light on is the way society places pressure on men to grieve in a way that doesn’t compromise their masculinity. Ferdinand himself repeatedly said during the Q&A and throughout the documentary that he was embarking on this journey for the sake of his children, but then realised how helpful it was for himself…
“It’s alright to cry at a football match; it’s almost championed, because that means you care. But when it comes to bereavement, it’s considered a bit of a weakness for a man to show that emotion. All I did was throw myself into work. I said to my management, ‘make sure you fill my diary up’ because I didn’t want to be in my house and start thinking crazy stuff. My kids found it hard, my boys especially, to show any type of emotion… ” Bereavement UK came to my house when I was at a point during the filming that I felt that I’d grieved. Then they asked me a few questions and it just hit me, that I hadn’t really grieved at all, and that I need to speak to someone more. I found that my kids got a lot from me if I was emotional, [so] I wouldn’t hide it from them to let them see that it’s okay.”
Taking into account around 75 men under 50 become widowers every day in the UK, Ferdinand spoke to other bereaved men and discussed how the men’s bereavement group helped him feel better about simple things like, not being able to remove his wedding ring…
“I met other father’s and husbands who went through the same thing, and one of the guys said, ‘Who’s still wearing their wedding ring?’ I was the only who put my hand up. I laughed with embarrassment, thinking what’s the catch? But they said, they felt they needed to take the ring off to move on. I was like, ‘there’s no way I’m taking mine off’. But it’s different. Some people it’s a week later; it could be a year, two years or longer… there’s no tailor-made identikit of how it works.”
Being Mum and Dad is honest, with Rio Ferdinand being as open as he possibly can. This is a must watch for everyone who is suffering a loss. In particular, by exploring the complex issues around grief, the stigma men often face in displaying and discussing their emotions, and discovering some of the ways people cope with loss, the documentary highlights the additional obstacles bereaved men often have to overcome.
Alison Kirkham, Controller of Factual Commissioning and Events, says: “Rio Ferdinand has courageously allowed the cameras to follow him in this revealing and immensely personal documentary exploring the complexities of grief. This candid film will offer BBC One audiences an intimate exploration of the ways in which men similarly bereaved cope with their loss.”
Being Mum and Dad airs tonight on BBC One at 9pm. Catch it on BBC iPlayer straight after air here.