When Rio Ferdinand chose to tell the story of coming to terms with the loss of his wife, Rebecca Ellison at the age of 34, and the challenge of lone parenting their three children, he opened a window on his soul that built empathy and gave permission for each of us to take the courage to speak with honesty about pain and loss. There is something immensely powerful about truth when it is spoken with openness that connects us with each other in a way that underlines the importance of our shared humanity.
The value of those in the public spotlight speaking with vulnerability of matters that many chose to keep private is the openness this affords for others to access issues that otherwise can remain deeply buried. So again, when Prince Harry takes turn to speak to Bryony Gordon of the pain suffered in losing his mother we are once again privileged to view the inner life and how this manifests in emotional and mental wellbeing.
The Prince said, “I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well,…” He continued, “I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and sort of lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle.” Indeed. And in taking a brave step in speaking of those emotions and moving outside of what are the norms of Royal protocol in talking so frankly, Harry is both showing his own humanity whilst modelling the way that the modern world works. A bold move on both counts.
What Prince Harry and Rio Ferdinand teach us is a that vulnerability is a valuable expression of true courage. To face up to our pain, rather than bury it is a first step to dealing with it. Vulnerability is powerful and when used with wisdom is a sign of real emotional intelligence – a quality that helps not only the process of self-leadership but also of deep empathy. As Nicky Gumbel writes, “We may impress people by our strengths; but we connect with them through our vulnerabilities.”
We have to face loss – and indeed any alien that knocks at our door with both respect and resilience. Respect for what it is and can do. Resilience in allowing it to have a say in your life but not the final say. We are each more than the loss we encounter as we are more than the environment we occupy. Our experiences, however they enter the stage will shape us for sure and define us certainly but not, of necessity, destroy us. In fact, what pain achieves at its best is to humanise us. Empathy is a gift borne of loss – an insight into someone’s world because of what we’ve had to conquer in our own.
None us know what life will afford. Each day brings its own unique mix of joy and sorrow. We are all the combination of our collective experience. Loss is harsh and very dis empowering. It can make you the target of unwelcome sympathy which even when meant well can, at times, serve to make you a victim of the circumstances you have to endure. But in loss, all is not lost – in fact, dare I say that some things can even be found. A new you can emerge from the devastation of tragedy and the sun can rise on a new day. Not that you will ever be the same; only a fool would make such a claim but we can all rise from the ashes of brokenness as men and women who know how brief life can be and how important it is to allow the bread of life to be broken in order to feed others out of the lessons of pain we ourselves have endured.