Building A New Life With Words

by Suzanne Elvidge


My husband Tim died suddenly in February 2018. We’d had a glorious night out with friends the night before, and gossiped and snuggled as we fell asleep. Tim was restless, but that wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. And then my world fell apart in the early hours of the morning as he woke me with his last, deep groaning breath. And fell silent.

I rang for an ambulance and pulled him off the bed onto the floor. The call handler gave me instructions for CPR, and I sobbed and shouted at her as I compressed his chest — I can still feel it in my bones. The paramedics arrived. Wonderful friends came to look after me. The amazing charity WAY Widowed and Young welcomed me into a wonderful community of young widows who support and nurture each other. But he was still gone. Heart failure related to type 2 diabetes. Tim was supposed to be my happy ever after following my marriage break up, but instead, we only had ten years together.

I’ve written stories since I could hold a pencil, and writing has always been my safe space. I’m fortunate to be able to write about science and medicine for a living as a freelancer, and carrying on with this gave my life structure and a reason. I started to write blog posts about my grief.

Some of these posts were telling Tim about the things that I’d done and that he wasn’t here to see. Some were documenting the steps I took, as writing them down made them real, and I could look back at them to see how far I’d come. Some were simply setting down in words how I was feeling. The blogs also helped me get my thoughts in order and allowed me to explain to other people how I felt, without having to talk on the days when that was too hard. I also continued to write short stories and took these to my writing group, which was another supportive community.

My writing during grief wasn’t always for public consumption. Sometimes I would take a pen and a notebook and write down my anger, fear, grief, pain and emptiness in order to get them out of my head and help me to manage the chaos whirling around in my brain. Writing, whatever form it took, allowed me to begin to make some sense of the world and of what had happened to me.

The first big decision I made after Tim’s death was to enrol myself in an MA in Writing for Performance at Derby University, paid for by the sale of Tim’s business. Some of the courses ended up being online because of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic was a hard time, as I was so totally alone, but my freelance writing, fiction writing and coursework kept me going. I learned so much and came out with a distinction and a newfound confidence in my ability to study and write. I also made friends who knew me as me, not as Tim’s widow, and that was important.

When I joined the Widowed and Young Facebook subgroup for people widowed without children, there was a running joke about who had the latest copy of the handbook for widows. But being widowed, especially being widowed suddenly at a young age, doesn’t come with any instructions. Over the next couple of years, I started to wonder whether I might be able to write something that could help other widows, but it was just too soon – I needed to focus on holding myself together and getting through each day.

In September 2021, three and a half years after Tim died, I realised that I was ready to start trying to write about my experience of being a widow. My aim was to create something that could help people. Something practical. Something that would mean that some good could come out of the tough times I’d been through. I built a website and started to write, and I named it The Widow’s Handbook in honour of those early conversations with my fellow widows. I thought writing the blog would be easy because after all, I write for a living. But it was hard.

I had to relive some of my grief that I thought I’d dealt with and put away. And I realised that bits about my life with Tim needed to be in the blog posts too. So, writing something that was supposed to be there to help other people has ended up helping me. This is in part because it has made me work through my grief, but also because it’s meant that I have had to read more widely to find resources and ideas that I think could help my readers.

In September 2022, just as the blog reached its first birthday, I was so honoured that WAY Widowed and Young awarded the Helen Bailey Award for Best Widowhood Blog to The Widow’s Handbook. This is especially important to me as the award was voted for by members of the charity, and as the award is in memory of a young widow author and blogger and member of WAY who was killed by her partner.

Writing has always been an important part of my life, and it became even more important when I was widowed. It got me through tough times and I’m so happy that my writing now is helping other widows, and the people around them.

For more information about Suzanne, you can check out her website.


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