I watched the highly-anticipated documentary Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad and I deliberately made sure I waited until I had time alone to really focus and absorb it. I'll admit I tend to watch these types of very personal documentaries with a degree of hesitation. I wonder to myself if the issue will be explored sensitively and authentically whilst doing justice to the topic itself. It did not disappoint. Rio's documentary was brutally honest and raw, it took us on a journey with him and his three children Lorenz, Tate and Tia and invited us into their bereavement experience, respectfully and movingly. Yes, it was about Rio's journey as a widower but it also placed a spotlight on the tragedy of a child losing a parent.
I didn't actually watch this documentary as a psychologist, I watched it as someone's daughter. A daughter who lost her mother seven years ago and as a result learned about the process of losing a parent, not in theory or a book, but first-hand. My mother was a beautiful, vibrant and strong woman who suddenly collapsed with a brain aneurism and never woke up. One day later we made the horrendous decision to turn off her life support. There was no goodbyes or last will, just the sudden and unexpected death of a healthy 57-year old woman. At this time of year, with Mother's Day just behind us, people often ask me how I feel without my mother. I always say I can only describe it in one way: imagine you have lost an arm. You have had to learn to operate and function every day without a crucial part of you. You have a stump that reminds you of the arm you once had, so there's always that reminder that a major part of you is missing no matter how well you adapt. You adapt enough to remember that part of you with a smile and to hold onto the precious memories. Still, there are moments where I feel I've lost her all over again especially on occasions like Mother's Day which just remind me what I've lost.
My mother died when I was, as the Americans say, grown. Yet the profound feeling of losing my mother made me feel like a child. The vulnerability, the nakedness, the feeling of walking around lost is so hard to describe. So, when I look at Rio's three beautiful children it made me reflect on how they process that loss at such a young age. Grief is very personal, but there are healthy ways to grieve. Rebecca Ferdinand died at just 34-years old after a very short battle with breast cancer. She died so suddenly that Rio expressed that he barely had time to absorb the news before she had already 'slipped away' from them leaving him with the huge task of raising three small children alone. He has risen to the challenge and has discovered that he is doing well considering he is being Mum and Dad. As a viewer you think, thank God those children have him.
I have a charity that specialises in children and domestic abuse and watching Lorenz, Tate and Tia go through the processes of bereavement with their dad really brought something else home to me: the children who lose a parent to domestic abuse. Watching Rio was heart-wrenching enough, but at least you have the comfort of knowing he will bring them through the other end. What about when the father is the reason your mother is no longer here? Many people have spoken out to say that not enough is put out there to address the tragedy of young widowers and the turmoil of raising your children alone after such tragedy. I agree.
Surprisingly, even less attention is paid to the children of families where one parent is murdered by the other. In fact, it's a taboo. Yet familial homicide affects about three children each week. This is based on the fact that two women every week are killed by their former or current partner and the birth rate is 1.5 children per woman (Home Office homicide statistics, 1998). For the 150 children who lose a parent each year at the hands of their other parent, it is life-changing.
Casey Brittle, 21, was kicked and punched to death in front of her two-year-old daughter after suffering years of abuse. The little girl walked into the room where her father Sanchez Williams was carrying out the attack and afterwards stayed with her dying mother for two hours. This is not a rare situation in modern Britain and indeed the rest of the world. This is an area of child bereavement that needs to be talked about more. Interviews with adults who lost a parent in a familial homicide situation have reported that they were encouraged to 'move on' and some said they were discouraged from talking about it by family members who found it too distressing or shameful. Many of them went on to have problems with relationships and became either a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence themselves.
Watching Rio speak about what he has felt, experienced and learned throughout this process was powerful but what made it even more so for me was his journey as a father to three bereaved children. A father who started out sceptical about therapy but in doing this documentary realised how much progress can be made through sharing and talking through his feelings. This programme reminded me how far I've come since losing my mother and it also made me proud of the work that I do with children. Hats off to you, Rio.