IT has been two long and tough years since former footie ace Rio Ferdinand lost his wife to cancer.
While he is not ready to take off his wedding ring, he is slowly putting his life back together following Rebecca’s death — and overcoming the struggles he has faced bringing up their three kids alone.
Speaking ahead of new TV documentary Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum And Dad, the 38-year-old says: “When you have a baby, everyone is prepared in life to celebrate and whatnot, but no one is taught how you’re meant to deal with loss.
“It could be a week later, after your wife passed away, that you feel capable of moving on in areas of your life, or it could be two years or longer.
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“When I met other fathers and husbands who had been through the same thing, I found out there is no real timeline.
“One of them said, ‘Who still wears their wedding ring?’ and I was the only one who put their hand up. I was laughing in embarrassment.
“They felt that to move on they needed to take that off. I was like, ‘Thanks, there is no way I’m taking mine off’. It’s just different. It’s a personal situation.”
Rebecca, 34, died in May 2015, ten weeks after her breast cancer was diagnosed. Rio was convinced she would pull through, as she had done in 2013 — but the day after they were told the disease was terminal, she was gone.
Rebecca told her husband he would be “a perfect mummy and daddy” to their boys, Lorenz, ten, and Tate, eight, and daughter Tia, five.
But Rio struggled to live up to her expectations in the months after. The Sun On Sunday told of how he hit the bottle, suffered panic attacks and started to understand why some people took their own lives.
With no time to ready himself for Rebecca’s death, Rio was in a daze.
He recalls: “No one can prepare you for that. I had an unbelievable life, an amazing wife, great kids and then, bang, the moment Rebecca was diagnosed, that all changed. I need help. I know I need help.
“At the beginning I was drinking a lot at night. We’ve got a lady who lives with us. She’d go to bed and I’d come down in the middle of the night and drink too much in the first three or four months.
“It was a car crash. I was just lucky I had my kids, if I’m honest.”
I’ll never judge anyone on how they move on… it’s a personal situation
Rio FerdinandFootie ace
Not that picking up where Rebecca left off with the daily routine was easy.
Rio says: “When they first went back to school I woke up in the morning scrambling around.
“It was the first time they’ve ever been late for school but I was having a panic attack on my own in the house.
“I had to go into a room on my own and sit there and think, ‘What happens now?’ Then I’ve got one of them in the car going, ‘Mum wouldn’t do this’. You don’t know what to do. You sit there.” Without Rebecca around, Rio became aware of how much work she put in.
He says: “Us men are ignorant. Women look after the family and the home and we see that as not being a job. It’s a f***ing hard job.
“It’s the basic things. I always used to get up and take the kids to school every day but I woke up ten minutes before we had to go.
“They were already bathed, showered, fed and I just put them in the car and got there and I was playing my role.”
Bedtime was just as bad. In today’s Radio Times, he adds: “Rebecca used to fix their beds a certain way, and when they’d tell me it almost felt like a slight.
“I’d think, ‘Whatever I do isn’t going to be good enough’.” Rio, who quit football four weeks after losing his wife, told The Times on Saturday that the couple had “built our life around my retirement”.
He added: “This time now, I’d be spending with her.
“When I was playing I had tunnel vision about being successful. I always knew there would come that time when it would flip back to being a complete family man. I was looking forward to that.”
He insists he never seriously contemplated suicide as a way out but losing Rebecca made him understand those desperate enough to take their own lives.
He says: “I used to read stories and think, ‘How can you be so selfish and commit suicide or attempt to commit suicide?’ but I can sympathise now.”
Last week, The Sun On Sunday revealed that Rio has been dating Towie’s Kate Wright, 25.
Rio says he and Rebecca would have judged others for moving on quickly after the death of a spouse but now he has respect for anyone who has lost a loved one — and how they choose to cope. He tells the Radio Times: “One of the guys (on the show) got into a new relationship after a few months.
“We’d have been sitting there going, ‘He didn’t even love his wife, I bet you’.
“But then you sit here, in the shoes you’re in now, and you think, ‘If he went out the day after I couldn’t judge him. If he feels it’s right, it’s right’.”
Rio will not talk about Kate but “understands that going into relationships is natural,” adding: “I’ll know when it’s the right time, and I’m comfortable with that.”
As for his kids, creating a memory jar has helped them open up and talk about their mum.
It is in the kitchen and filled with tiny slips of paper, on which they have written their treasured memories.
Rio says: “It’s full of loads of messages. My kids buzz off that, they love it. I was really finding it hard to connect with my two boys. My little girl sleeps with me every night and she’s at that innocent age where she speaks freely, but with my boys it’s difficult.
“The jar unlocked so many things. You look at it and you think it’s such a small part of that whole journey but it’s had such huge impact.
“When someone comes into the house my kids will say to them, ‘Have you left a memory?’ and that gives them a link to keep speaking and keep the memory alive, which is a huge thing.”
There are a lot of things I’d wish I’d said… things I could have asked her
Rio FerdinandFootie ace
During a career that included six Premier League titles and a Champions League, Rio spent years keeping his emotions under control and describes winners as “ruthless, hard b******s”.
But he is trying to shed that changing room mentality for the sake of his children, saying: “It’s all right to cry at a football match, that’s almost championed, but when it comes to bereavement and loss, it’s a bit of a weakness for a man to show that emotion. It’s important to show to my kids that if I was emotional I wouldn’t hide it from them, to let them understand it’s OK.”
With 75 men under the age of 50 widowed every day, he wants his documentary to highlight the help available.
During the programme, Rio lays bare his pain as he shares family videos, including one of his 2009 wedding to Rebecca in the Caribbean.
He also meets with Child Bereavement UK and Jigsaw, a young people’s bereavement charity.
He believes there should be the same level of support for people suffering a death as there is for new parents.
He says: “You leave hospital and you have got someone handing you leaflets and you’re standing there and you’re in a daze and you’re in a different place altogether.
“If when you walked in your front door someone said, ‘What are those leaflets they’ve given you about?’ you’d probably say, ‘What leaflets?’” His advice for those facing the devastation of a terminal diagnosis is to talk to each other before it is too late.
He says: “The conversations you have before the passing, they are so important. You’ve got to talk, you’ve got to get your feelings across.
“Give all your feelings out to that person, let them know you love them and hopefully they will give you a return on that.
“There are a lot of things I wish I’d said and heard, things I could have asked her.”
But Rio feels he is at least doing what Rebecca wanted by stepping into her shoes in looking after the children — and being their personal chauffeur.
He says: “We’re really good. They’re doing all the activities God sends, I’m like an Uber driver all the time.”
Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum And Dad airs on March 28, BBC1, at 9pm