Rio Ferdinand’s documentary about coping with the death of his wife airs on BBC1 on Tuesday 28th March at 9pm.
In Rio: Being Mum And Dad the former Manchester United defender reveals that he was in a “dark place” after wife Rebecca died of breast cancer aged just 34.
The ex-England captain says that he began drinking heavily and developed an understanding of why people unable to cope with grief commit suicide.
Speaking at a screening of the film, he said:
“I used to think about people who commit suicide or attempt to, how can you be so selfish?
“But now you know how they feel. And if I didn't have that network of people or my kids who I use as an inspiration to be able to get up and think straight, then, yeah I can sympathise.”
The documentary follows Rio as he tries to come to terms with the loss of his wife. The breast cancer was very aggressive and she died just a few months after diagnosis.
Aside from his own despair Rio was especially worried about how his children Lorenz, 10, Tate, eight, and Tia, five were coping.
“They are thinking ‘why haven’t I got a mummy?’ I haven't got the answers for them,” he says in the film.
Rio also admits that, in the immediate aftermath of Rebecca’s death in May 2015, he turned to drink.
“At the time you think ‘I’m coping.’ You’re sitting there, the kids are in bed, you can’t sleep, but you don’t want to think about anything. I’d go to bed and then get up and come downstairs and start drinking brandy.”
Rio thinks that the macho culture of football made it harder to open up.
“I sit in my bedroom and cry but actually talking about feelings is different. I am from a dressing room culture, I was closed off emotionally and I thought it was a weakness for a man to show emotions.”
The support systems in place also felt inadequate Rio.
“Initially when I tried to get help, and was offered counselling, I just thought ‘yeah but has this happened to you personally?’ I thought if you had not lost your own spouse… I thought it was like someone who has not passed their driving test taking you for a driving lesson. But that was my own ignorance.”
Eventually, Rio found better ways to communicate with his kids, and draws strength from relationships with other people who have lost a partner.
There’s humour in the film too, as Rio admits: “I had never made a lunch in my life! All these things you have to do. I used to ‘do the school run’ but that basically meant getting up ten minutes before they had to leave, they were already fed and dressed and I just got in the car. The first time I did it on my own they were so late.”
Rio hopes that by opening up he can encourage other men who have lost someone to seek help and communicate better.
“There is no real timeline for anything, with grieving. Everyone is prepared to have a baby. Nobody talks about how to deal with loss.”
Rio: Being Mum And Dad, Tuesday 28th March, 9pm, BBC1