Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad - why grieving parents need more support

BBC Documentary Rio Ferdinand - Being Mum and Dad follows the footballer as he comes to terms with t

BBC Documentary Rio Ferdinand - Being Mum and Dad follows the footballer as he comes to terms with this loss of his wife Rebecca. Picture: Richard Ansett/PA - Credit: PA

It's very rare I publicly praise footballers. After all, they receive enough adoration and financial compensation for their ability as it is. But this week in my EDP column I wish to heap praise on Rio Ferdinand.

Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad. Picture: Richard Ansett/PA

Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad. Picture: Richard Ansett/PA - Credit: PA

The former Manchester United and England defender opened his heart to millions about the tragic death of his wife Rebecca. She passed away from breast cancer aged 34 in May 2015. Rio says he now has to play the role of both mum and dad in his children's lives.

How Rio coped with the family's devastating loss was the central theme of this week's documentary. I was struck by the fact Rio felt he hadn't had time to grieve properly. Many parents, who've lost their partner, have experienced this emotion. The ability to process what has happened is on hold as you prioritise the welfare of your children.

There is one big difference in Rio's and the 'normal' experience - he has the money and the time to dedicate to his children (deservedly following a career in top-end football). Most still need to earn a crust. The death of your spouse and the impact of a young mother or father dying has emotional and practical implications.

My mother died suddenly in 1988, leaving my dad to bring up three children under the age of five.


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'What went through your mind that day she died?' I recently asked dad.

'I've now got to make this work for the kids,' he said.

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Dad coped – he always does! But to get time off work he needed to obtain a 'sick note'. He had to feign depression on the advice of his GP.

'I did take time off, it allowed me to be there for the children without fail. But I most certainly wasn't depressed.'

You might be surprised to hear there is currently no legal requirement for employers to provide paid leave to those in mourning.

According to a government website: 'Workers have a right to reasonable time off. One or two days should be enough.'

Many who have recently been bereaved find this an insufficient amount of time.

You cannot stop the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can stop them nesting in your hair.

Last year, for an EDP article I asked my dad if he could give me an idea of what might help others in the same situation.

His idea was that all parents with dependents under 10 should be entitled to three months off following the death of a spouse.

This allows a compassionate period of grace for someone to start to revaluate his or her life. Of course, if the person finds it more helpful to return to work, they should do so, with full support.

Following brave Rio's documentary, I ask all of you to consider parents in this situation.

Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.

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