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Saturday Night Widows: The Adventures of Six Friends Remaking Their Lives [Hardcover]

Becky Aikman
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (200 customer reviews)

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Amazon.com Review

Q&A with Becky Aikman

Becky Aikman

Q. What gave you the idea of forming your own widows’ support group?

A. Losing someone close to you has to be one of life’s most universal experiences, but it wasn’t until it happened to me at a relatively young age that I realized our culture doesn’t provide much guidance about how to reinvent yourself afterward. I hoped that by joining with other young widows, we could lighten the task by facing this daunting transition together.

Q. What kinds of things did the group do together?

A. I had joined a traditional support group before, but the goal seemed to be to sit in a circle and talk about how sad we were. And there weren’t even any snacks! So I put together more of a renegade group, looking to the future, and focused on doing, not talking. Although we did wind up talking our heads off, too, we also cooked together, volunteered, invited widowers to meet us. We went through the family home of one of the women when she was packing up to move. We even went lingerie shopping together when some of the women started to look for love again. Ultimately, we took a transforming trip to a place none of us had visited before. Along the way, we shared a few tears, but a lot more laughter.

Q. How did you put the group together? Did their differences create conflict?

A. My process for finding the other women, mostly by asking around, couldn’t have been more random. Then when I introduced everybody the first time, I thought, “Wow, did I make a mistake.” It was a crazy mismatch of personalities. All we had in common was that each woman had suffered through a tragedy that had turned her life upside down. I was afraid that this was going to be one sad story, snacks or no snacks. But instead, it turned into an adventure story, not only the adventures we shared, but the adventures each of us encountered as we navigated our way through incredible changes.

Q. Did the group help you, too?

A. When I started the group, I viewed myself as the journalist who would chronicle our story. I had remarried four years after my husband died, shortly before the group’s first meeting. But my grief was still fresh, and I was coping with all the upheaval of trying to cobble together a new life, with a new career, new husband, new stepdaughter, new home, and new dog. I began to rely on the example of the group, and its good, old-fashioned girlfriend advice, for how to put a new life together and keep it in balance with my memories from the past.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Former Newsday reporter Aikman lost her husband to cancer while still in her forties. After several discouraging experiences in bereavement support groups, she assembled her own collection of young widowed women like herself, who sought to honor their husbands’ memories and rebuild their lives. It was an eclectic ensemble: Tara, a well-put-together mother of two whose husband died of alcoholism after she filed for divorce; Marcia, a corporate lawyer with a crooked smile and a hidden wit; contemplative Denise, who found solace in yoga; sensuous self-made entrepreneur Dawn; and Lesley, a homemaker who returned home one day to find that her husband had taken his life. The women met once a month, sharing meals, visiting museums, and even traveling to Morocco in an adventure that is one of the highlights of the book. Laughter and tears abounded as they comforted and confided in one another. Aikman tells this life-affirming tale with compassion and candor, revealing her own emotional journey and eventual romance with a man who has her considering marriage again. --Allison Block

Review

A Pulpwood Queen Book Club Selection of 2013

“[Aikman’s] hard-earned understanding, piercing humor and superb writing skill make this book about grief and recovery an unexpected delight, rich with wisdom and laughter.” – Washington Post

“[An] engaging, life-affirming story.” – San Francisco Chronicle

“A beautifully written and sometimes humorous study of loss and the power of friendship…. Though they mourn, sometimes with raw, soul-shaking honesty, the six women refuse to be defined by widowhood and give us lessons in joy and resilience — and art, travel and lingerie-shopping — that apply whatever one’s life stage or marital status.” – Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Their stories of loss are touching, and the wisdom they gain is a testament to the durability of the human spirit.” – People

“[Aikman] and five other young widows reenter the world of the living, laughing, and – gulp – dating, all the while sharing frank talk, insight, and hope from the trenches." – Good Housekeeping

“Aikman’s memoir is an Eat, Pray, Love for widows, and her voice is as companionable as Elizabeth Gilbert’s….Saturday Night Widows should become required reading at support groups everywhere.” – Newsday

“Often desperate, sometimes feisty, partly hilarious, and warm as a fleecy blanket, Saturday Night Widows is a surprisingly feel-good, girl-bonding, which-role-will-Meryl-Streep-play-in-the-movie kind of a book. And I loved it….It’s sad, it’s happy, and, in fact, once you start Saturday Night Widows, you won’t be able to part with it.” – Terri Schlichenmeyer, Independent News

“Compelling….Along with the stories of six remarkably resilient and admirable women (ranging from an entrepreneur to a housewife), the book offers an arresting analysis of the literature of grief….A compassionate, inspirational and deeply personal read, Saturday Night Widows is relevant for a wider audience than the grieving.  This book is for anyone who has faced adversity but refuses to let it define them.” – BookPage

“What should be depressing – six real-life young(ish) widows – is instead joyous and life-affirming without losing its edge.” – Family Circle, Momster blog

Saturday Night Widows is a brilliant read that will be enlightening whether you have experienced the loss of a loved one, or know someone who has. It is brave, it’s funny, it’s informative and it’s real life at its best and at its worst.” – Times Record News

“A story of loss and resilience, of sadness and starting over, of tragedy and endurance and of bravely seeking out the sunlight despite the gathering clouds.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“Throughout her tragic tale, the widows speak through Becky, rendering deep and sincere accounts….Readers learn what it means to be left behind and how one must answer the questions that remain….More than anything, Becky leaves readers with the best remedy for overcoming loss – move forward, living and loving without trepidation.” – The Weekender

“A spirited, insightful memoir about a group of young widows who gather together once a month to cheer each other on and have fun.” – Shelf Awareness

“Aikman tells this life-affirming tale with compassion and candor.” – Booklist (starred review)

“Engaging and entertaining but not maudlin, Aikman shows a side of life that many readers probably don't think about.  A compassionate narrative about how one group of friends helped each other thrive after the deaths of their spouses.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Can six disparate women who’ve just suffered unimaginable and premature loss find wit, irony, strength, and growth with each other?  Becky Aikman's Saturday Night Widows proves it in a laugh-inducing, page-turning way.  It's like The Help.  Female bonding – a subject we thought we knew – gets a delicious, heartwarming overhaul, and you, the reader, didn't see it coming.  Lucky you!”
Sheila Weller, author of the New York Times bestseller Girls Like Us

“It’s the spirit of a book that makes you love it.  And the spirit here, Becky Aikman’s spirit, is tough, honest, funny, smart, and generous to the world – all the equipment one needs when dealing with grief.  One would not wish to qualify for the widows’ club, but reading about it is heartening.”
Roger Rosenblatt, author of Kayak Morning and Making Toast

“For anyone who has ever loved, lost, and relied on the companionship of women, Saturday Night Widows is a gem of a read that will affirm the power of friendship, new beginnings, and the ability of the human spirit to survive and thrive.  I cheered on each of these women as they faced their own darkest moments and looked to the power of sisterhood and shared experience to remake their futures.” – Lee Woodruff, author of Those We Love Most and In an Instant

About the Author

A graduate of the School of Journalism at Columbia University, Becky Aikman was a writer and editor for Business Week and a reporter for Newsday.  She lives in New York City.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

I plopped a sad glob of guacamole into an exquisite black Art Deco bowl, and I knew. The guacamole would not be right.
 
In fact, now I was sure, none of the food would be right. Potluck indeed. Too insecure about my cooking to prepare the dinner myself, I had asked everyone to tramp through the January cold with a dish. Now I didn’t know what would turn up—sodden casseroles, gluey bean dip, goopy guacamole. Oh, right, the goopy guacamole was mine, the same guacamole that once came in last in a family guacamole-making contest. And my family originated in Scotland. Worse, I had run out of time and left out the jalapeño, and I had forgotten the cilantro completely. And possibly the lime. So the guacamole, at least, would not be right. This party would be lost.
 
The room would not be right, either. I could see that now, as I placed the bowl on a side table next to the couch and straightened up to scope out the scene. Denise had offered to host in her Upper West Side apartment, one of those classic 1920s buildings with French doors and endless bookshelves and rooms the size of Stockholm. It was the most convenient location for all of us. But now, after arriving early and waiting around for everyone else, I was sure that the living room would not be right for our purpose, the layout a nightmare, too spaced out for any real intimacy. There was a couch, backed up against the wall on one side, facing one lonely armchair along the other. I could picture it now, five of them, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder along that couch, like patients in a waiting room, waiting for bad news, and me in that chair, like Jonathan without his five stages of grief to fall back on, wondering whatever had possessed me to plan this evening.
 
The people wouldn’t be right, either. They were strangers, a real grab bag. I was the only unifying factor. Me. They’d each met me, just once. Some of them twice. I’d collected them haphazardly by asking around, consulting friends and friends of friends. Only now, as Denise was dressing in the bedroom and I plunked down on that couch, sinking, sinking, it began to hit me: These women had practically nothing in common. The youngest was thirty-nine, the oldest fifty-seven. One was a blunt, scary-successful lawyer, one a chatty homemaker, and every postfeminist option in between. Some lived in the city, some in the suburbs. Some had children, some did not.
 
I reviewed their names in my head, hoping not to botch the introductions: Denise, Dawn, Marcia, Lesley, and Tara. Why had I invited them? There was only one thing they had in common, and that was not the sort of thing guaranteed to light a fire under a party: Every one of them had become a widow in the last couple of years. And that was definitely not right. That was not right at all.
 
What was I thinking? Why had I tried to orchestrate what would surely be a social debacle on the scale of . . . well, getting kicked out of my widows’ support group? I tried to remind myself that this evening had grown out of an idea that hadn’t seemed so misguided until a few minutes ago, an idea that grew out of my own confusion and pain and rebuilding when I too became a widow, and what I had learned from all that. What I still hoped to learn.
 
The idea was pretty straightforward. I would invite these five women, five young widows, to join me once a month for a year. We would meet on Saturday night, the most treacherous shoal for new widows, where untold spirits have sunk into gloom. We would do something together that we enjoyed, starting small—this dinner would certainly qualify—and ending big, maybe a faraway trip. By the end, we would test my theory that together we might find a way to triumph over loss, take off in unexpected directions, and have some fun along the way. There would be setbacks and pain, I supposed. And tears, certainly there would be some tears. But there would be kidding and silliness, too. There would be progress. There would be hugs. No one would be asked to leave.
 
If nothing else, these women would provide each other with traveling companions past the milestones of this common but profound transition—the first holidays without a mate, the first time taking off the ring, the first time daring to flirt. We would converge at this most vulnerable, weak, and awkward turning point and pledge to each other that this was not an end, it was a beginning.
 
I also reminded myself that I was basing this project on some actual research. A fair amount of time had passed since I escaped the defeatist vibe at that widows’ support group, perhaps a low point in the annals of social services for the bereaved. Four years, in fact. Throughout that interval, I hadn’t been able to let go of the conviction that there must be a better way to help people move past heartbreak. I consulted scientists who were beginning to conduct serious research into our natural ability to recover after loss and learned that they were challenging the conventional wisdom. They were finding, to my relief, that the famous five stages were a bunch of hooey. Many of the researchers said that happy experiences with real people can be more helpful than wallowing in old-fashioned support groups based on outdated theories. Jonathan’s widows’ support group, I had learned, wasn’t only bad juju, it was bad science. This new group, I hoped, would be informed by the principles of what most helps those who have become uncoupled: friendship, practical help, openness to new experiences, and laughter.
 
I was acting on my own intuition, too, gleaned from all the changes I had undergone in those four years. I had kept at it, plotting to start my own widows’ group even as my own life evolved in extraordinary ways. It was a long list, but an abridged version might include the following: I met a divorced dad, a writer who lived in another state, and married him a year and a half before this meeting. Quite unexpectedly, I now found myself with a new man, a new home, a new teenage stepdaughter, a new job, and a very old dog with one eye. I had learned that one life doesn’t have to end because another one does. Mine continued to offer up surprises, many of them happy ones.
 
But it’s also fair to say that new relationships at this stage of life come wrapped in complications. Wounded as I was by grief, I was still full of doubts, still seeking guidance, still wondering whether I had what it took to work through all the complications—new man, new home, new stepdaughter, new job, and old dog come to mind— that arise from creating a new life when the old one is broken.
 
So I would be the sixth member of the group that was gathering tonight. More as an observer—at least that was what I thought at the time. Whatever happened, the other widows and I would agree, we’d share it in this book.
 
We would share our stories, and we would share one story. We couldn’t know where it would lead, but I resolved that ours would not be a story of sorrow. No, it would be an adventure story. Not that we’d be paddling through the deepest reaches of the Amazon or scaling the jagged walls of Annapurna, but an adventure story nonetheless. An exploration of life, of new opportunities, of newfound desires—dangerous territory indeed. The story of six women, remaking themselves. Six women seeking new discoveries and new purpose. Six women heading into the unknown, navigating life in extremis.
 
That was the theory. This was the reality: These women were strangers. They were widows. They were supposed to be sad. They wouldn’t like the guacamole.
 
“Are you nervous?” Denise already knew the answer when she joined me in the living room.
 
“No. No. Not at all,” I lied. “I’m completely confident it’s going to be great.” When what I really meant was, Would you mind if I step out . . . for the next few hours?
 
Denise looked at me as if I were a mutt that she wished she could adopt. “I’ve had other parties here,” she said, taking in my dubious expression. “It always works out. People sit on the floor. I’ll have my shoes off by the end of the night.”
 
If I was trying to calm myself down, Denise was the person to see. Her allure lay as much in her imperturbable composure as in the well-proportioned harmony of her face and body. Only thirtynine years old, she managed to conceal the grief she was feeling behind a serene mask. Denise was one of those people who practice yoga with the kind of discipline an honors student brings to final exams, and it gave her the grace of a gladiola, tall and true. Even her apartment was hushed, Zen, filled with books. Denise, in fact, was an editor of books, and I could tell that she had applied the measured care of her profession to organizing her library shelves, interspersing classics and current titles with black-and-white photographs taken by her husband. Now that Denise and I were sharing the room, I knew what had been throwing me off about it. This apartment was too spacious for one. Denise’s husband was missing. Together, they had been restoring the place and adding furnishings from the 1920s, like reclaimed lamps with shades made of mica, casting soft amber light. I could see his taste. I could feel his absence.
 
I had shown up at this meeting dressed with no particular effort to impress, in jeans and a black turtleneck, and Denise had put me at ease when she met me at the door in her yoga clothes. Now, minutes later, she’d emerged from the bedroom, still casual, but in ballet flats and a bell-shaped black skirt with a boatneck sweater that showed off her waist. Her fine brown hair was slicked back, wet from a quick shower, her face free of makeup, the better to emphasize her eyes: the wide-set eyes of a sorceress, the pale, ghostly blue of a winter sky. Looking closer, I saw something beneath the surface of those eyes, a subtle expression that seemed to be saying, seemed to be whispering, Help me. It was the look of a tourist lost  on an unfamiliar street but too timid to ask for directions. I recognized that look. I’d employed various masks to cover it myself.
 
On the surface, though, as we waited for the others, Denise radiated thoughtful stillness. Whereas I radiated a sort of toxic anxiety.
 
Would anybody show? Everyone had confided doubts about walking in on five unknowns with nothing but their stories to share. Who could blame them? Then the bell rang. Fortified by Denise’s encouraging smile—a smile informed, no doubt, by all the wisdom of Eastern philosophies that I did not comprehend—I opened the door, and our Saturday night adventure began to unfold.
 
 

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