'Nothing can ever ease the pain of the death of someone you love, nothing can magic it away. But if I can help anyone else facing what we have gone through, of what we're still going through, by sharing what I've learnt, our loss won't feel completely meaningless.'
In 2015, former England football star Rio Ferdinand suddenly and tragically lost his wife and soulmate Rebecca, aged 34, to cancer. It was a profound shock and Rio found himself struggling to cope not just with the pain of his grief, but also with his new role as both mum and dad to their three young children.
Rio's BBC1 documentary, Being Mum and Dad, touched everyone who watched it and won huge praise for the honesty and bravery he showed in talking about his emotions and experiences. His book now shares the story of meeting, marrying and losing Rebecca, his own and the family's grief - as well as the advice and support that get him through each day as they strive to piece themselves back together. It is written in the hope that he can inspire others struggling with loss and grief to find the help they need through this most difficult of times.
If you are anything like I used to be, this book might not look like your idea of a good read. I couldn't ever have seen myself reading a book like this until a year ago. If anyone had told me I would actually write it, I would have called them crazy.
I became a professional footballer when I was fifteen. I'm thirty-eight now. A lot has happened since I first signed for West Ham, and I've changed in all kinds of ways - but one thing remains as true of me today as it was all those years ago. I have always, as anyone who knows me will tell you, been fanatically private.
All I ever wanted was to be a world-class footballer. Younger players seem to think of fame as the prize for success, but to me, it has only ever been the price. I wanted respect for my performance as a player; I didn't want attention off the pitch. OK! photo shoots and a celebrity wedding to a famous wife were not for me. It's no secret that Premier League football pays very well, these days, and I have been able to buy a lot of luxuries - but nothing is more precious than my privacy.
But on 1 May 2015 my world fell apart. My wife Rebecca died of breast cancer, leaving me to bring up our three children alone. I retired from professional football later that month, and for the first time in my life I didn't have a clue what I was doing. I didn't even know how to work the washing-machine. I had always been used to winning, but now I was out of my depth. All I knew was that my kids needed me, and if I was going to help them, I was going to have to ask for help too.
To say this was not easy would be putting it mildly. To be the best sportsman, you have to train your mind to think in a particular way, and I learned to do so from a very young age. You cannot afford to feel ordinary human emotions in case they get in the way of your game. You don't allow yourself to feel anything that could distract or soften you. Above all, you never lower your guard and let anyone see you feeling weak. There is no place in a Premier League dressing room for sympathy, and any player stupid enough to show vulnerability will pay for it. What his team mates will see is a weak link - a liability - and nobody wants that on their team. Elite sportsmen are often highly judgemental. They have to be. Premier League culture is harsh, and unforgiving - and it suited me down to the ground.
Even as a child, I didn't show my emotions. People have called me cold all my life. That never bothered me, because all I cared about was winning, and I knew it was the only way. What I did not know, though, was that a mentality which would win me so many medals might not be much use to me in real life. I was about to find out that the tools I had learned to use as a footballer were the last thing my children needed from their dad when tragedy struck.
To see my girl and two boys in so much pain was an agony like nothing I had ever known. To feel helpless to comfort them was worse. They needed me to show them how to grieve for their mum - to manage their sadness, and keep Rebecca's love and memory alive. But in the early days, I just couldn't do it.
I filled my time with an insanely busy work schedule, and numbed my nights by hitting the bottle. I think I would have done literally anything to protect myself from the heart-break. But this was never going to help my kids - and that is why, eventually, I decided to try a different way.
I agreed to make a documentary for the BBC, in which I would meet every sort of grief expert - charities like Child Bereavement UK, a widowed dads' support group, other sportsmen who had been widowed young themselves. To be totally honest, I signed up to it because making the film would force me to see the idea through. Left to my own devices, I could easily see myself getting cold feet. It's one thing to make appointments to meet people who can help. Turning up could be quite another.
The thought that anyone outside our family might watch the programme barely even occurred to me. Back then my only thought was: How will this help my kids? They would be too young to watch the documentary now, but they were the only audience I ever pictured in my mind. When the film was broadcast, I don't think anything could have prepared me for the public response.
Just reading the first couple of pages from the opening section of Rio's book has resonated with me so much. I was an adult when I lost my mum but I know that I have held in so many emotions, and never really dealt fully with her death, so I honestly cannot even begin to imagine how Rio's young children are coping.
If you're a fan of Rio's and would like to read Thinking Out Loud then you're in luck as thanks to his publicist, Louise at Hodder Books, I have a copy to give away to a follower of the blog. Enter via the Rafflecopter form below.
a Rafflecopter giveaway