Rebel ‘Widows’ take fives stages of grief to new level

For the CDTJuly 9, 2013 

  • if go you

    What: BookFestPA presentation by Becky Aikman

    When and where: presentation at noon, Days Inn Penn State, 240 S. Pugh St.; book-signing at BookFest tent, Schlow Centre Region Library, 211 S. Allen St., State College

    Info: www.bookfestpa.org

Book: “Saturday Night Widows: The Adventures of Six Friends Remaking Their Lives”

Author: Becky Aikman

Publisher: Crown

“I got kicked out of my widows support group” is an intriguing opening line.

Whoa.

“Saturday Night Widows” is about a rebel widow in New York City who refuses to accept how women in her position are expected to behave. It sounds provocative, but don’t be fooled. This is a memoir about loss, deep pain and the long, winding road toward healing.

Author Becky Aikman is in her 40s when she’s asked to leave the support group for bereaved women, which was more about hostility than “moving forward after loss.” It’s what she wants and needs, to move forward after a little more than a year of mourning. She isn’t even sure what that means, but logically a widows support group seems to her the right place to start. She’s surprised to find the group is filled with older, bitter widows who resent her for her relative youth, and a group leader whose only tool is Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ antiquated five stages of grief. No one wants to move forward after loss; no one wants to move at all. It’s easier to remain stationary, to hold on to the grief.

Aikman asks the group leader if there might be a better, more practical way to support each other, but her inquiry is met with more hostility and defensiveness.

Boom. She dared to stir the pot and got kicked out.

And that turns out to be for the best. Aikman is angry, but inspired. Surely there are others like her — renegade widows who have known profound loss but want to move forward, walk through the door to a new phase in life.

So begins her quest to seek out women who are floundering after the deaths of their husbands, but who are willing to support each other while discovering what might be on the other side of that door.

Aikman decides to create her own support group, something new, something with the potential to be fun and healing. A group that meets on Saturday nights once a month for a year, to embrace adventure, new beginnings and, hopefully, bond and become stronger.

Six strangers with little in common, other than the deaths of their husbands, meet for the first time on a slushy Saturday night in January on the Upper West Side. The evening begins with everyone just a little on edge, a little nervous.

Dawn is a bleached blonde, with a lot more substance than appearance might suggest. Aikman initially sizes her up as a “cupcake,” but Dawn is a successful entrepreneur and mother of two. Her adventure-loving husband died in an ATV accident, where he just disappeared over a cliff; gone in a moment.

Serious, successful corporate lawyer Marcia is the most intimidating of the bunch. Sensible clothes and reserved intelligence give her a formidable presence, but a peek at her feet reveals she’s wearing cowboy boots. The incongruity appeals to Aikman; there’s more to this woman than first impressions.

Housewife Lesley always engaged in conversation. She’d come home one day to find her husband had committed suicide.

There’s Tara, reticent but not cold. She’d been in the process of divorcing her husband when he died of complications due to alcoholism.

Denise is the most recently widowed, struggling financially and still awaiting autopsy results to solve the mystery of her husband’s death.

Almost incredibly, these diverse women form an unlikely sisterhood through their shared grief. Their adventures start small. First it’s a private cooking lesson, which seems benign, but it becomes something uniquely revealing and healing to each of the group.

Their final adventure is 10 days semi-roughing it in Morocco — camel riding, desert toilets and, perhaps most importantly, fascinating conversations with Muslim widows. Through an interpreter, the women discover a grief so similar in a world different from their own.

I’m not a widow, but if I were, I’d want women like these in my world. Their bravery and determination to move forward after loss inspired me. I laughed, I cried and I hoped for each of them. I hoped that all their happiest, wildest dreams would come true.

Michelle Hines can be reached at cdtweekender@centredaily.com.

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