Saturday, January 26, 2013

Review: Saturday Night Widows by Becky Aikman

When you get married, you don't envision losing your spouse, at least until you're both very old and grey.  You imagine a long and happy life together.  But not everyone is granted this ideal.  Some people lose their spouses at quite a young age.  Young widows are not what we expect though and so the support systems in place for widowed people is not tailored to fit their experiences, the grief of those who only shared a life for a short, but no less intense for the length, time together.  Traditional support groups focus on the loss of a lifetime partner and how to adjust and mourn the person with whom most of your life was spent, focused more on the sadness than on acceptance and moving forward.  So when a young and unconventional widow, like Becky Aikman, wants to find a group to help her move on with her life, to start to live again, she has to create her own.  Chronicling the genesis of her young widow's support group, the differing journeys of all of its members, and the most recent research into grieving and resilience, journalist Aikman's non-fiction Saturday Night Widows is fascinating, delivering as it promises: "the adventures of six friends remaking their lives."
 After traditional grief support groups failed Aikman, she had to figure her own way to going on after losing her beloved husband Bernie to cancer.  Her gut feeling is that the way we are expected to grieve is not the way forward for many people and so although she pushed through and found her own path, she was curious if her discoveries could help other women in similar situations and if a group predicated on what she needed could help her even farther.  And so she went about creating her own group of specifically chosen young widows in a sort of sociological experiment.  She had guidelines for the women and wanted to make sure that she wasn't trying to include women who would have benefitted more from serious professional help than from a group of peers.  This book grew out of her experience with the Saturday Night Widows group, their personal experiences and the lives they went on to rebuild with each others' help over the course of a year.
None of the women who comprise the group knew each other at the outset.  And aside from the fact that they were young widows, they came from a variety of situations.  Some had young children, some older kids, and some no children.  They lost their husbands to lingering illness, suicide, and flukey accident.  Some weren't working and some had very high powered jobs into which they could submerge their grief.  But all of them discovered through their shared pain and shared experience that they were remembering their capacity for happiness, finding healing and comfort, discovering new friends, and stepping outside their comfort zones with the company of the helping hands they needed to move onto the next chapters in their lives.  These widows will always carry the memories of their late husbands with them but with each other's help, they also found a way to define who each of them were/are after the death of their spouses.
The book goes into each of the women's past but it isn't as focused on their loss as it is on keeping moving toward the future.  They understood the pitfalls of memory in everyday actions so each month the group did something different, something that might be a sad trigger for one but not for the rest.  They went sexy, expensive lingerie shopping, they took a cooking class, they took a guided tour of the art museum focused on works of strong women, loss, and recovery, they mingled with widowers, they traveled to Morocco together, and of course, as in traditional groups, they talked and cried but they also laughed.
Aikman's personal story weaves through the entire narrative and she is upfront about where her life has gone before she starts the group (she is remarried and quite a few years past losing first husband Bernie).  She also includes meetings and information from professionals about the latest theories of grieving and how to work through catastrophic loss.  Certainly she's chosen her fellow group members carefully and they all do seem lucky enough to be financially stable even without their husband's income so perhaps they aren't exactly representative of all young widows but the driving idea behind their support group and how to move forward after loss is a very valuable one.  The stories in here are very personal, honest, and touching rather than depressing or heart wrenching.  There is a warm openness and a vulnerability here and it is full of lessons not just for those who have lost their life partner but for all of us who sometimes need a push to face the future head on with determination and happiness.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

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