Strength in numbers
Those who have found solace in Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, Joyce Carol Oates’ A Widow’s Story or Sally Ryder Brady’s A Box of Darkness should take note of a new arrival on the shelf: Saturday Night Widows by Becky Aikman. While more traditional widow memoirs spend pages reflecting on the marriage, remembering the spouse and contemplating the future, Aikman and her gang of midlife widows are most concerned with the final part of the equation. How can one transcend what Aikman calls “the worst thing that could possibly happen”? Not by following the “normal” script for grieving, she soon determines.
When her beloved husband dies, Aikman is totally lost. She skims over the worst of the grief—waking up sobbing at 5 a.m., obsessively remembering the final days of her husband’s life—and cuts instead to a scene of a widow’s support group. She’s there, a year and a half after the death of her husband, looking for camaraderie on the road to healing. Instead, she simply doesn’t fit in (and actually gets kicked out). These widows are lonely and see no alternatives in the future. Aikman, on the other hand, intends to be joyful again.
This attitude informs Aikman’s personal story and the group of widows she eventually brings together. The Saturday night widows, who refer to themselves as the Blossoms, are younger, more interested in sex and romance, and more determinedly forward-moving than your stereotypical widow. They meet every month for a year—at art museums, cooking classes or the spa—and culminate their experience with an international trip. The vibe may be more Eat, Pray, Love than The Year of Magical Thinking, but it is compelling stuff.
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. Aikman, working with researchers at Columbia University, dismisses typically endorsed platitudes about how grief works (think Kübler-Ross’ five stages) and shares the latest studies, which are far more in tune with the Blossoms’ approach to healing than the depressed widow group from chapter one.
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.