In this transcendent and infectiously wise memoir, Becky Aikman—a widow, too young, too modern to accept the role—forms an unlikely group with five other young widows, each seeking a way forward in a strange and disquieting world. A warm, witty, and compassionate guide on this journey, Aikman explores surprising new discoveries about how people are transformed by adversity, learning the value of new experiences, humor, and friendship. The Saturday Night Widows band together to bring these ideas to life, striking out on ever more far-flung adventures and navigating the universal perils of finding love and meaning.
Theirs is a transporting true story of six marriages, six heartbreaks, and one shared beginning—an inspiring testament to what friends can achieve when they hold each other up. Saturday Night Widows is the rare book that will make you laugh, think, and remind yourself that despite the utter unpredictability and occasional tragedy of life, it is also precious, fragile, and often more joyous than we recognize.
Now with Extra Libris material, including a reader’s guide and bonus content
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About the Author
BECKY AIKMAN IS 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 is now a journalist in New York City.
Read an Excerpt
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.
What People are Saying About This
A Pulpwood Queen Book Club Selection of 2013
“[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
“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
“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
“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
Reading Group Guide
1. When Becky first convenes her group of “renegade widows,” she worries that they won’t feel a bond because their personalities are so different. Which is more important in forging friendships, similar personalities or shared experiences?
2. Becky and the other Saturday Night Widows hold preconceptions about how they would live after losing their husbands. How do they reconsider those assumptions over the course of the story?
3. How do you think you would proceed if you lost someone close to you? Did your own views change as the story progressed?
4. Becky’s visit to psychological researchers introduces her to the idea that there can be more to grief than sadness and pain. Grief can be a process of finding comfort, she is told. “The process can even bring new insight and new joy.” Are these ideas illustrated in Becky’s journey, and in the journeys of the others in her group?
5. Saturday Night Widows is a true story. What storytelling techniques does Becky use to integrate the narrative of the women’s lives and the material she learned from outside research?
6. “I had been half of a whole,” Becky says of her marriage, “and now, without that other half, I wasn’t certain what was left.” She and the others question their identities now that they are alone. To what extent are we defined by the people we know and love? How would we be different without them?
7. The people the group encounters during the course of the story hold varying views about how widows think, act, and feel. An official from the museum suggests that the group would want to view art that depicts death and dying, while the guide Becky hires presents beautiful images like lotus blossoms because they bloom in the mud. How do you think the various characters formed their attitudes?
8. The group tries to reach some “highly invalid and unscientific conclusions” about how widows and widowers differ by inviting a group of men for an evening. What can the men and women learn from each other?
9. The women in the group often talk about feeling guilty when they make choices to move ahead in their lives. “Should you feel liberated?” Tara asks the group. “That you got a second chance? Or should you feel guilty for the sense of liberation you feel?” What is the role of guilt in their progress? Does guilt serve a purpose in recovery from loss, or is it merely destructive, inhibiting any impulse toward growth or pleasure?
10. Becky’s dream, in which she is choking on a beautiful bee and then sees her departed husband, makes her aware of the value of memory, both painful and joyful. What is the value of finding this balance after someone has died?
11. Widowhood reminds Becky of adolescence, “a time of uncertainty, of transformation, of trying on new identities.” Is this concept frightening? Does it introduce enticing possibilities?
12. The women soon learn that complications—children, careers, habits—make it harder to reinvent themselves at midlife. How do these complications alter the course of each woman’s transformation?
13. “This has made me totally fearless,” says Lesley. “Because the worst thing that could happen has already happened.” Does an awareness of mortality affect the attitudes and decisions of the women in the group?
14. Dawn would like to remarry. “I want my life to be settled!” she says. “No more uncertainty!” Tara resists marriage, saying, “I’m trying to appreciate the lack of knowing.” This tension between seeking certainty and embracing the unknown is present for all the women, not only in matters of love. Which way would you lean?
15. When Becky meets a new man, she explains that she is afraid of involvement. “Maybe I am a coward,” she tells him. “But cowards are safe.” How does falling in love differ for someone experiencing it for the first time versus someone suffering from a devastating loss, whether through death or a broken relationship?
16. Becky takes two trips to places she has never visited before—one on her own, on the water to the Galapagos Islands, and one with the group, through a desert. What contributions do new experiences, including travel, make to her recovery?
17. Would you treat someone who has lost a spouse differently after reading Saturday Night Widows?
18. The book begins with a sad time in the characters’ lives. By the end, how did it make you feel?
A conversation with Becky Aikman author of Saturday Night Widows
What gave you the idea of forming your own widows' support group?
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.
What kinds of things did the group do together?
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.
How did you put the group together? Did their differences create conflict?
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.
Did the group help you, too?
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Loved the book and highly recommend it to all widows. I just became a widow 6 months ago and I could not put the book down. It helped me understand some of the feelings I am going thru and to find out that others have gone through the same thing. Thank you Becky Aikman for writing this book.
Three stars may be an unfair rating, as the book is well written, entertaining, and has, at least in the first 80 pages, some useful information on widowhood and grieving. The concept of a widows' group apart from the all too common support groups (I briefly belonged to one whose purpose seemed to be to find the member who could out-crisis and out-mourn everyone). It is a four star book if you are a widow who is rather cosmopolitan, lives near a large city, and has expendable income.I found the concentration on finding a man overwhelmed the rest of the problems of these widows. Little attention was paid to the details of new home, children's reactions, etc. The book reads like a novel and at that is entertaining.
Love, love it!!! I purchased one for my NOOK and found it hard to put down, Going to buy hardcover for my hairdresser who is a widow over 3 years and afraid to date. Being a widow is hard at any stage and this book is perfect to sort out your feelings and realize you are NORMAL!!!!! Highly recommend this on so many levels.
I'm ordering this book for the 12th friend/acquaintance. I read this about 5 months after my husband passed away suddenly. I saw an article in the WSJ about the author and the book- not even a review- and was intrigued and instead of putting it on my nook app I went and bought the book at B&N. After 50 pages I had to put it down and email Becky Aikman immediately-something I've never done! I was so touched/moved/made to feel about a 1000times better that I had to tell her before I read one more word. Not a "grieve'y" book- no one but someone who's been there can understand your thoughts- she puts it into words.
A friend who had lost her husband recommended it, and I was intrigued by the title, so I overcame my hesitation and perhaps even fear--after all, I didn't want to tempt fate--and read this. The loss was difficult--but the overcoming was powerful, and the life lessons are applicable to all of us. Frankly, we will lose people. And most of us will lose our husbands. I know you can't prepare, but this did help me trust there would be an 'after'. And most of all I value the idea of stretching ourselves, of trying new things, moving forward into an unknown and not always chosen future, with grace and strength and joy. Well written and valuable--I recommend it.
It is funny,sad and poignant. I cried and laughed. I think it was a great read.
This book was exactly what I needed, a support group in the privacy of my home, while dealing with my husband's sudden death. I am now reading it for the third time. Finding myself, like them, without any widows in my circle, it provided the knowledge and comfort that the myriad of thought, feelings, crazy suggestions from friends are all very...normal in this situation. I am still working from our shared home office, and I pick up the book to be with friends who understand what the process might take, and confirming that there are just no time limits on any of it. The book dissects the different women's personalities, presenting differently depending on the situation. So well done, that somewhere in the molding of characters, I found myself, not like any single woman there, but pieces of them all. Tough, lonely, presenting a strong front to the world, but crying in private; wanting a relationship, knowing I had had the best partner I could imagine, and maybe not wanting a lifelong partner ever again. Most importantly, their honesty, humor, and dedication to having a good life is the encouragement I return to. Life can be great even after something like this, and I don't need to feel guilty every time I have fun. Or flirt. Or travel. Or say no, not interested. I will continue to recommend this book to everyone who begins to lift their head in relief that one days is finally easier than the last. Before that, it might be too raw. Thank you all for sharing the intimate moments of your journey.