Friday, April 5, 2013

Saturday Night Widows

by Becky Aikman
Crown, 2013
337 pages     Memoir

Six women embark on a journey of discovery that ends with a trip to the exotic land of Morocco. They toast their journey, "To our dead husbands. We wouldn't be here if they hadn't died."

Becky Aikman, a New York newspaper reporter, was widowed in her forties when her husband Bernie died of cancer. Casting around for a way to deal with the overwhelming grief, she joined a traditional support group for widows only to find that the group was bringing her emotionally down even further. There had to be something better, she thought. She set out to study the human response to losing a partner and report about it. Her memoir, Saturday Night Widows, is the result of the journey.

Eventually, she formed a group of six widows in their 30s through 50s who met on Saturday nights once a month for a year to support each other. She really had no expectations for the group at first, because everyone seemed so different--the only thing they had in common was their widowhood. Rather quickly, they gained confidence in each other and supported each other as they moved beyond grief to joyful new lives. Interspersed throughout the narrative of the group process is Aikman's own story, of her beloved husband's slow death from cancer. The author briefly tells the stories of each of the other women, although we don't come to know them quite as well. By the time Aikman wrote Saturday Night Widows, she had happily remarried and as the book closes, she gives a summary of how the lives of each of the women had evolved. 

Although we get a good look at the kind of pain that comes from losing a partner, the book is a marvelous affirmation that there can be joy after loss, happiness after devastation, growth and renewal. Aiken shows that there is a natural inclination of people to trust each other and support each other. Each of these women was interested in moving forward with her life, and that made all the difference.  She says, "I hadn't been looking for a bunch of docile widows, and I certainly didn't get them...they were beginning to flourish, rediscovering themselves." 

Of course, I couldn't help but insert my own story into Saturday Night Widows. I wished that I had found such a great group of friends when I was a young widow. When Lee died, we were both 41 years old and we had three children--15, 11, and 2. It had been a very long illness, so much of my grieving happened before he died. At one point, I had the very clear realization that the children and I were going to be alright, no matter what happened.  After Lee died, I had very little time for grief; I had to create a new life for myself and my children quickly. An older woman once told me that even though her husband had died 20-years before and she had remarried, occasionally she would be overcome with grief. 

I remember telling the story of Lee's illness and death over and over in my mind so that I wouldn't forget it and could tell it to the children if they needed to hear it. When I decided to write the story down a few years ago, all the old grief welled up and I had to quit. I think that now that I have read Becky Aikman's story, I can begin to write about it again.

Despite the subject, Saturday Night Widows is a book most every woman can relate to in their own lives, and the story of women reinventing themselves is a universal one. Very inspiring. The reviewer in the Washington Post says, "The spirit of Saturday Night Widows bursts the stereotype of glum, mournful widowhood with the energy of a pent-up thirst for life. It carries the real sorrow and pain of a terrible human experience, but it also moves relentlessly and joyfully into the current of ongoing adventure."

 You might also be interested in the memoir of Abby Rike, Working It Out. Rike's husband and children were killed in a car accident. The book is the story of her coming back to life.

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