Andrew Strauss has said telling his two young sons that their mother was going to die was the hardest conversation he has ever had to hold.
The former England cricket captain lost his wife, Ruth, to a rare form of lung cancer in December last year, having stepped down from his role as the ECB’s director two months earlier to be with his family after finding out her illness was terminal.
“I remember coming back from the hospital and having to take the boys to the side and say ‘Listen, I had a chat to the doctors and they’ve told us we’re going to have to say goodbye to Mum soon’,” Strauss told the BBC Radio 5 Live podcast You, Me and The Big C.
“That was the hardest conversation I’ve had in my lifetime. It’s still brutally vivid in my mind.”
Strauss talked candidly with hosts Deborah James, Lauren Mahon and Steve Bland about grief and coping with its ebbs and flows.
“I’m happy unless I’m not happy. And I think this is the thing with grief, there is no rhyme or reason to it and it’s been completely different to how I thought it was going to be. I thought I was going to be in bits for the first two or three weeks and unable to function completely, and I was surprisingly functional to the extent I’m like is there something wrong with me here?
“But then it hits you. And for me it doesn’t hit me for a whole day, it hits me for 10 minutes, an hour, two hours. It’s like this deep guttural grief I haven’t even got close to experiencing ever before in my life. It’s extraordinary and I’ve found different things bring it on at different times.
“Generally, I do it on my own, in private. I think you grieve different elements, you grieve your wife who’s gone, you grieve the fact she had cancer and you had to watch her die, you grieve the fact the life you built isn’t going to be the same as the one going forward. All these different elements hit you at different times.
“I feel fortunate I’ve had the right sort of professional help and I’ve tried not to overthink it. If you’re having a bad day, you’re having a bad day but I don’t see it as a bad day because it’s kind of a remembering day in a way.”
He has since set up the Ruth Strauss Foundation to provide grants funding research into rare lung cancers, and to support patients and families.
“At the moment, I’ve got the bit between my teeth, I want to make this [the foundation] a success and you feel like you have a relatively limited time to nail it when it’s still recent in people’s minds, I’m trying to grab that with both hands. It’s not work, it’s a passion.
“I know we can do something incredible with this foundation. I’m lucky I have a platform to be able to get it out there publicly. We have some big things coming up.”
On his sons, Strauss added: “They’re doing remarkably well. I was doing some interviews the other week to launch the foundation and that was everyone’s first question. I said they’re doing amazingly well and they’re brave and they crack on with life. I went home that night and thought, you know what, I better ask the kids.
“They don’t want to talk about it that often, if I’m honest. But I did say, come on guys, how are you feeling, what are the things you’re worried about? And we had a really great hour or two just chatting through stuff. That’s one of the things counsellors say, kids aren’t naturally going to talk about it, you’ve got to give them permission to talk about it. And that means often you being comfortable talking about how you’re feeling and being vulnerable and crying in front of them which, sometimes, as dads, you don’t necessarily want to do.
“They have some bad days. We had Ruth’s memorial service a couple of weeks ago and that was brutally tough. For me, it was much harder than the funeral. It was tough for me and the kids. It’s tough, but it’s remembering and that’s what you want to do.”
And talking about whether he might one day return to working in cricket, Strauss said: “I’m not sure. It’s a lovely thing to be a fan again.”