The Death podcast: Richard Sutherland

  • 10/06/2019

Death: A podcast about love, grief and hope is available on  RovaiTunesSpotifyOmnyStitcher and all major podcast platforms.

Richard Sutherland is Mediaworks' head of news. His grandma, Norah Sutherland, died 20 years ago.

"My nana was your typical rural New Zealand matriarch - she was the person that kept the household running, she kept the tins full of cakes and biscuits. She went to church every Sunday. She was absolutely devoted to her family, and she was a force of nature.

"She lived next door to us on the farm down in Blenheim, 50 metres from our place. And she was really involved in my life - she looked after me from when I was about six months old, when mum went back to work, until I was five, when I went to school.

"When I went to boarding school in Christchurch I spent less time with her, but I would write to her a couple times a month. We grew up but Nana stayed the same. She was always there.



"And then she got older and frailer - the wonderful thing about modern medicine is it can keep you alive but sometimes it doesn't keep you alive in a very good state. In the end she was on pills for various ailments and it was keeping her alive, but her quality of life degraded over time. I got married in 1995 and sadly she was not well enough to travel to Auckland for my wedding, and she passed away four years later. It's 20 years since she died. I was 29 or 30, so still quite young.

"But she was a battler to the end. She didn't go without a fight. And looking back, I was heartbroken. But we had a baby on the way and all that was probably quite a useful distraction for me. My son Oliver came along and I focused on that, and so I never really grieved for her properly until many years later.

"When someone dies in their 80s or 90s, it can be like, 'Oh well, they had a good innings,  what are you going to do?'. But still that person is now no longer part of your life, no longer on the same plane of existence that you are. Sometimes I think we don't take into account the impact of that on people. We think, 'Three days off, he'll be back on Monday and everything will be fine'. I don't know that people always appreciate the full impact of the death of someone like that in those circumstances.

"I think age brings a great deal of perspective on a number of things and this could be one of them. I realise now just what a big influence she was in my life and how big a gap that left. I was very close to her and I often wonder what it would be like to talk to her today, and see how I turned out and see how my boys turned out. I think she would have just fallen head over heels in love with them.

"There is an awkwardness I think in New Zealand society around dealing with death. I think other cultures do a better job of grieving and letting it all out, whereas we might have a big long Catholic mass, you go to the church hall afterwards for cucumber sandwiches and a cup of tea and then you move on.

"I think it's an old Jewish concept of the second death, which is you die the first time, then you die a second time when anyone who knew anything about you has gone.

"In a couple of generations there'll be no one alive who who will remember Norah Elizabeth Sutherland - what she did, or who she was, or who she loved, or how she loved. And that really makes me sad, because to me she was an amazing person.

"I never got to say these things to her because, you know, people don't do that. Certainly not in Blenheim in the 90s. I never sat down with her and said, 'Thank you for raising me for those five years, thank you for looking after me.' I'd say it now in a heartbeat."