Long way home
Emily Symons says Home and Away helped her cope with her mother’s death, writes Colin Vickery
EMILY Symons is still hurting. It is nearly three years since the death of her mother, Glenn, and the pain is only just going away. Viewers know the 43-yearold as upbeat ‘‘ ditzy blonde’’ Marilyn Chambers on Home and Away.
In recent times, the role of Marilyn has hidden Symons’ enormous personal turmoil.
Symons first starred as Marilyn, the wife of Summer Bay High headmaster Donald Fisher, from 1989 to 1999.
She then packed her bags and headed to England, where she found fame as barmaid Louise Appleton in soapie Emmerdale.
Symons returned to Australia in 2009 to care for her mum, who had been diagnosed with endometrial cancer and later, breast cancer.
Then the producers of Home and Away called and Symons was asked to return as Marilyn, one of the show’s mostloved characters.
It was a lifeline that has been therapeutic as Symons nursed, lost and then grieved for her beloved mum.
‘‘ I think there is a certain point, when a loved one has cancer, to recognise that the situation is not going to end well and make family decisions accordingly,’’ Symons says.
‘‘ I made a decision that I wanted to spend as much time with my mother as possible. The only way to do that was to leave (Emmerdale) my job and come back to Australia.
‘‘ I don’t have any regrets about doing that, even though it was very sudden. I never would have forgiven myself if I’d stayed (in England).’’
After she returned to Australia, Symons and younger brother Ben took their mum to her favourite spots – restaurants, food festivals, the theatre.
‘‘ It was two weeks before I started filming ( Home and Away) that they (doctors) told me that my mother had three months to live,’’ she recalls.
‘‘ It was obviously very confronting because I thought she’d have more time than that.
‘‘ In the end she lived for seven months. It was a horrible time for the family, and even worse for her.
‘‘ I had to get up every day and come to work. It probably saved me from falling to pieces.
‘‘ Everyone ( on the show) was incredibly supportive. Ray Meagher is a treasured friend and a father figure to me. He was always available for a chat, and he was very understanding.
‘‘ Mum kept on hanging in there, showing this incredible will to live. We never knew when it was going to happen. I wanted to be with her when she went.’’
Symons would often get a shock when she read the scripts for upcoming Home and Away episodes.
The pages were filled with eerie parallels to her own personal struggles.
‘‘( There was a storyline where) Marilyn had cancer and she was dying — that she had a year to live,’’ she says.
‘‘ Then her friend, Mitzi, (Helen Dallimore) died of cancer. Then we had her funeral.
‘‘ We shot her funeral the week after my mother’s funeral, and that coffin (used on the show) had the same handles (as her mother’s) and it freaked me out.’’
In many ways the hardest part of Symons’ emotional journey came after her mother’s death in May 2010. That was when the grief took hold.
She ate too much and drank too much to numb the pain. Her weight increased 10kg.
A year after her mother’s death Symons decided to turn Early days: (above) Symons (second from left), with Dieter Brummer and Isla Fisher. things around. She gave up sugar, alcohol, gluten and processed foods.
She says it is only now, after three years, that she has finally started to feel positive again.
‘‘ Everybody has a different way of dealing with it (death of a loved one),’’ Symons says.
‘‘ We had to put her things (possessions) into a storage unit. Some people can go straight through all that stuff immediately, but I couldn’t.
‘‘ It is only recently that I have been able to find some family treasures and get them out (of storage) and have them in the house and share them with family.
‘‘ That is a really important part of the grieving process — but you’ve got to be ready.’’
Symons has worked hard to find a silver lining in her mother’s death.
Working on Home and Away has helped heal wounds — and Symons is hoping to sign another three-year contract to continue on the show.
‘‘ I was so upset and so angry for a long time,’’ she reveals. ‘‘ Letting go of that anger has probably been the most grown-up thing I have ever done.
‘‘ I had to accept that her suffering could not continue.
‘‘ You can’t be angry at the doctors or the cancer.
‘‘ You can’t keep going over the whys — why did she get it, how did she get it, who is to blame. It just happens.
‘‘ You have to accept it and move on. I have to be very grateful for what I’ve got instead of thinking about what I haven’t got.
‘‘ That has been the hardest lesson to learn.’’ Home and Away, Channel 7, Monday to Thursday, 7pm
Father figure: Emily Symons, Ada Nicodemou, Ray Meagher and Kate Ritchie at the Logies (top).