Long way home

Emily Sy­mons says Home and Away helped her cope with her mother’s death, writes Colin Vick­ery

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Cover Story -

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).

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