Psychoanalyst Maria Conyers, 65, chose to launch Sugar Upon My Lemons at Audley St Elphin’s Park Retirement Village, where her husband Graham spent his final days in March 2020.
Subtitled ‘a testament to love and loss amidst the pandemic’, the book documents Maria’s recollections of the decade they shared and a grieving process shaped by both the emotional toll of Covid-19 and her professional expertise in loss and trauma.
Maria said: “The prologue begins on the day I decided to start writing, after it was announced that 40,000 people had died from Covid. My grief was just a drop in a tsunami.
“There is a lot of denial about aging and death in our society, but the pandemic has really shown people our mortality and fragility. I felt something needed to be said about how grief is the price we pay for love and for living – we can’t avoid it. Almost any pain is survivable, and I wanted the book to contain that hope.”
She added: “For my own sake, I also wanted to tell a love story that would be fun and entertaining, and would help our children and grandchildren remember Graham. It brought me comfort, going back to happier times. He was a giant of a man, a real character who was full of tales.”
The couple first met in Essex when Maria employed ex-Met policeman Graham as a driver. Both divorced with children, at first they tiptoed around their feelings for each other, before finally realising they had fallen head over heels.
Their move to St Elphin’s was supposed to be an autumn-years adventure. It was Graham’s lifelong dream to live in the Peak District but within days of arriving doctors discovered that he needed major heart surgery, and then that he had terminal cancer.
Maria said: “We had such a brief time together, but we packed as much into ten years as other people might into 20. We had to overcome all sorts of obstacles but they were the happiest years of my life.”
The book, published in July, is Maria’s third but it is her first venture into narrative non-fiction after previous clinical works. It is already proving popular, with rumoured interest in a Hollywood film adaptation, but Maria will count its success in other ways.
Sale profits will be donated to Ashgate Hospice, which cared for Graham as he died, and Maria has sent copies to Boris Johnson, Keir Starmer and the Queen as part of a campaign to establish a national trauma service.
She said: “I work extensively in the NHS and I know mental health services are already unable to cope. We’ve lost 150,000 people to Covid, even if they each had just one person mourning them that would mean huge demand for support.
“When you add in all the doctors, paramedics, care workers and others who have been affected, there is so much need that is not being addressed.”
Maria recently moved back to Essex to be near her children, and is now working on a novel.