real life

Journalist Sarah Ferguson lost her mother unexpectedly last year. Today is tinged with grief.

Today while many are wrapping gifts, buying flowers, fixing breakfast in bed for their mums, there are others who won’t be celebrating. Those for whom this day is tinged with grief.

ABC journalist Sarah Ferguson is among them. The Nigerian-born Four Corners host last year endured the sudden, unexpected death of her mother, Marjorie. Her book, On Mother, captures the days, weeks and months after she received that news.

On No Filter with Mia Freedman, Ferguson shares her story. This is small segment of their beautiful, poignant conversation.


MIA: People like to talk about closure.

SARAH: And of course, it’s not available. What’s available is time, and the magic and the softening of time. There is no closure. It’s not as simple as that. That word is not a good word, I think, because it suggests to people that it’s available to you at a moment, when it’s not. You can’t have it until time has done its thing.

MIA: What were the other moments that you remember when it really just felt like, ‘I’ve lost her again’.

SARAH: So being in the house, everything about being in the house and her garden. She was a garden maker and she made so much I didn’t understand. We found this box of photos in the house that were pretty, sort of, snappy snaps. You know, not great photos. And they were of bare garden beds, and we put them away again because we were looking for what we thought were more interesting photos. Then we realised that they were boxes of photos of all the garden she’d built, because she was a wonderful gardener.

It’s the every moment. Because she was funny. So all of our conversations, virtually all of them, were funny and silly… This is the thing about not having parents: some people describe it as losing the roof, for me it’s like losing the behind.

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So it’s that instinct when something happens and I can only really share with her the, kind of, most ridiculous things about life where I am at my most foolish or the silliest thing or the most pompous thing or the most daft person. She’s the one who loved all of that.

MIA: Because she had your back more than anyone in the world.

SARAH: Well. That’s right. So you you turn round in your mind to share that, and there’s no one to share it with. That connection, the vertical connection, has gone. You know you have all of the horizontal left. You know my brother is still there. Obviously my family is still there, but everything that is up or behind, you know, those sort of prepositional relationships, that’s gone and you miss it so much. It’s true that you can talk again, but that connection is lost and that person with whom you can say everything and anything and laugh your head off is gone.

MIA: And yet there is so much to be done. You had to pack up the house, presumably?

SARAH: No we haven’t done that yet. It’s still sitting there. We started, but when I went back to London for the inquest [into her death], we opened one drawer and took some forks out and I just put them back again. Because I thought, ‘No, no, I can’t do it.’ I mean sometimes you have to, but we just left it. The spell is still unbroken.

When I left I kissed all the walls because that’s what Africans do. They kiss the walls of the house, and a lot of my family’s life was spent in Africa. So it’s a thing. And the spell… she hasn’t left, she hasn’t quite left it yet. She’s leaving.

MIA: Do you feel drawn back there?

SARAH: Yes, I mean, but on we go. I know that it has to go, and it just reminds you tread lightly on this earth, don’t weigh yourself down with too many things. Live with the people not with the things, because they’re all for nothing, they’re all going to go.

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