Doha, 8 June 2020 - Today, I turn 50. A milestone birthday, but it’s going to be a very different celebration this year. Due to the ongoing pandemic, I will be away from many of those who are close to me. And after a year that I could never have imagined in my worst nightmare, I feel as though today is a good time to talk about and confront the emotions of loss that millions of us across the world are feeling.
We all have days in our lives we will never forget. Our wedding day, the births of our children, and for a lucky few – winning the World Cup for our country. Glorious memories that remain with us forever. But we also have days that we can never forget for other reasons; days that we cannot explain and moments of inexplicable tragedy that you cannot plan for, avoid or prevent.
On 4 September 2019, God took my son, Danilo Feliciano de Morais. He was just 30 years old. Some events in this world are inexplicable. There is no rhyme or reason. I lost my son in my arms. I tried to save him and to help him, but he left us. It was – and is – a feeling of emptiness; it’s a terrible feeling. Sometimes we feel helpless. We feel so strong in our bodies and our minds, but in a moment like that your physical strength doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t help. When you cannot save your own son, you feel incredibly weak.
But God took him and I’m sure he is very well where he is now. He is looking out for us and laughing from above at everything we are doing down here. I pray that no other parent experiences this heartbreak. A father should never have to bury his own son.
Until today, I have not spoken publicly about this tragic incident and while I do not intend to go into detail about the events of that day or the immediate days, weeks and months after his passing, I do feel the time is right to talk about certain things. I feel like this as so many other millions of people around the world – and increasingly every day in my beloved Brazil – are suffering similar feelings of sudden loss. I want to relate and share. I want to use this letter to open up about how my family and I have drawn strength from each other during very difficult times. I want to share how our passions, including sport, are helping us to recover.
Before I move on though, as this is the first time I have spoken directly about my son’s passing, I must say thank you to the thousands of people who got in touch to send me their thoughts and prayers. Words cannot express how much this meant to me and my family at that time, and from the bottom of my heart I thank each and every one of you that helped us through it.
I mention my family as now, with this pandemic sweeping across every corner of the world, I’m sure those in lockdown are spending more and more time with their loved ones than ever before. And those isolated away from loved ones, I’m sure are thinking about and missing their families more than ever before. It leads me to think back to the strength and support I drew from my family following Danilo’s passing. My family is big. I am one of six brothers. But not only at that moment did I draw strength from them, but now in the current crisis the family is the pillar of everything. We renew our strengths everyday together, so we can get over that pain and look to the future together.
The pain from losing a loved one is ever present. However, we must always try to remember something positive. When I think of Danilo, I am reminded that what he enjoyed the most was playing pranks on people. So, when I feel the pain of losing him, I always try to remember these good things and smile. That’s how we end up managing his loss in a more positive way.
And once again, as the lockdown continues here in Brazil – and in many other parts of the world, I am using this time to spend even more moments with those close to me. I’m training every day, I’m training them every day – it’s become a daily family activity and it’s really fun. People will know me from my public persona as a positive, happy guy who is always smiling. I like to think that is an accurate interpretation of my character – even away from the public spotlight. As such I always try to find the positives in everything – even in this nightmare pandemic, we can look at the additional time we have been granted with our families. For me personally it is certainly a blessing because usually I travel so much that I am often away from home and far from my loved ones. Now because of this negative, a positive situation has come. Of course, I miss contact with the general public. I am a people person and nothing gives me more joy than meeting people for the first time and talking to them about football.
I have also done so much work in recent months with Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, the 2022 World Cup organisers, for whom I am a global ambassador. My work with them – and their Generation Amazing programme – has brought me into contact with hundreds of young football fans from around the world, and before this lockdown provided me the opportunity to get involved in coaching sessions with them. Alongside my fellow ambassadors – Xavi, Samuel Eto’o and Tim Cahill – we get to see the joy on these kids’ faces when we arrive and play a game with them. That kind of thing, I miss terribly. I know the programme has been conducting lots of online sessions to reach out to the kids trapped at home. This is admirable and a great innovation during this time. But I’m sure we’ll all agree that seeing the joy on children’s faces first-hand, when they play football, is irreplaceable. It’s the thing that gives me the most joy, and it’s one of the things I miss the most.
As I told myself every day when I had my struggles last year, this pain and negativity will not last forever. While I’m sure we will never forget this time, this time will pass. And when this is all over and we return to normal life we will, I’m sure, cherish the small things that we took for granted so much more.
For example, my other passion in life is motorcycles, and I know that when I get back on the road – even for a journey I have done 1,000 times before – it will be the sweetest journey of all.
We are experiencing dark times right now, but as people say, it’s always darkest just before dawn.
I urge you all to stay safe, stay home, stay strong, stay together. Look out for each other and remember that one day soon this will all be over.