My Friend Vinny

Former footballer and now Hollywood actor Vinny Jones was on TV this morning talking about losing his wife Tanya.

In a mesmerising interview on Breakfast TV, Jones spoke eloquently and movingly about losing his wife to cancer and how the grief following Tanya’s death hit him like a ‘sledgehammer’.

Jones had been married to Tanya for 25 years, marrying her in July 1994, interestingly for me, exactly the same time as I first moved in with Gail. It made the passage of time all the more prevalent.

Jones spoke for everyone grieving when he explained “The hardest part of all for me to adjust to is – even that day [she died] – was everybody’s life goes on. You’re looking around and you’re going ‘this is the biggest tragedy of my life and they’re still going to work, they’re they’re still queuing up for Starbucks.’ The enormity of it all is just heavy.”

Perhaps the biggest contribution that Jones’s interview made though was just to highlight his grief and see how raw and emotional he was trying to explain his feelings. As most know, Jones’ role as the hard man in Wimbledon’s ‘Crazy Gang’ team during his football days, transferred to the big screen as his film career took off, so seeing him crying on TV before 9am seems to have awoken some emotions in others that they might not have otherwise considered. The interview made the front page on many newspapers and was widely covered on the web and in social media. It seemed – for a brief while at least – everyone was thinking about grief.

Unfortunately, there were the usual comments associated after; even Good Morning Britain’s Susanna Reid praising Jones’s ‘bravery’. Everyone grieving knows that knuckle-biting pain of hearing someone struggling to find the appropriate words and coming up with something awful. I’d had the ‘brave’ epithet handed to me on a couple of occasions and it wasn’t one I could accept. “Going into a cave to rescue some kids, knowing you may die in the attempt is brave. Waking up and getting through a day isn’t”.

There’ s nothing brave about talking about your grief and there’s nothing brave about showing your emotion either; even if you do have a hard man persona and you’re crying on TV while most people are eating their breakfast. In fact, describing having your world crashing down and losing the love of your life as ‘brave’ just cheapens the emotional anguish.

Similarly, Vinny Jones trying to quantify the emotion of seeing everyone go about their normal life is understandable but also misleading. It’s when you’re ripped apart with grief but you yourself need to eat or get a coffee is when the enormity engulfs you. ‘Why am I hungry?’ ‘Why am I buying this vanilla latte and a shortbread?’. It’s something I struggle with still. Sitting beside Gail’s bed in hospital with hunger gnawing at you; wanting to stay and do the right thing but desperate to get home and just pop a ready-meal in the oven. Other people may not see it but in your own head you know.

Vinny Jones was able to be with his wife when she died. The fact I wasn’t and I possibly could have – had I been able to get out of the house – is an issue I’m now needing to address. Similarly, Tanya left her husband a video. It’s a lovely gesture and a nice ending that must surely help Vinnie Jones as he tries to negotiate the rest of his life. Sadly though, that neat gesture rarely occurs.

In fact, in fiction and in comforting news bulletins; people often slip away in bed, surrounded by loving family and passing on some kind words before leaving this Earth. Even in the otherwise excellent Ricky Gervais TV show ‘Afterlife’ – for those who’ve not encountered it it’s the story of a man trying to live a meaningful life after the loss of his wife (sound familiar?) – Gervais’ character Tony is comforted by a video his dead wife has left for him.

In reality, you’re more likely to find an agonising email or a stray Word document written when the person writing it may not have been at their best; perhaps written at a time when you may have done something or said something stupid to prompt them to respond. In life, you can file that away and forget about it but if someone is grieving and they find that thing it can completely destroy you.

But those are emotions and hurdles for later on. When even the first stage of grief is so misunderstood, its perhaps understandable that we shouldn’t try to run before we can walk. That’s why – and whoever thought I’d ever say this – Vinny Jones has my full admiration. On football field or big screen, it may be his best-ever performance.


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