When Becky Aikman lost her husband in her 40s, she went to a widow support group hoping to find a way back to happiness—instead she felt attacked by the other widows just for being young and got kicked out by the facilitator. Ouch! The experience stung and eventually led her to start her own unlikely group of “outlaw widows” who would come to support each other through the ups and downs of remaking their lives. In her memoir Saturday Night Widows: The Adventures of Six Friend Remaking Their Lives (Crown, on sale tomorrow), Aikman chronicles the relationships and adventures that grew from the group. as well as her own journey through grief. Here, Aikman answers a few questions about her group.
Books for Better Living: What gave you the idea of forming your own widows’ support group?
Becky Aikman: 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 start over afterward. I hoped that by joining with other young widows, we could lighten the task by facing this daunting transition together.
BBL: What kinds of things did the group do together?
BA: I had joined a traditional support group before, but the goal seemed to be to sit in a circle, dredge up painful memories 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 inflicted a self-improvement regimen on ourselves at a spa, and 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.
BBL: How did you put the group together? Did their differing backgrounds and loss experiences create conflict?
BA: My process for finding the other women couldn’t have been more random. Young widows are fairly rare, so I asked everyone I knew—friends and friends of friends, colleagues, my gynecologist, anyone who crossed my path. Then when I introduced the women to each other for 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.
BBL: How did the women change over the course of the story?
BA: It wasn’t just that we were learning to live without our husbands. In many ways, their loss had put the script that each of us had been following through the shredder, and we had to write new ones. Members of the group wound up changing our homes, our relationships with families and friends and children, our careers. Most everybody started to date again, and some of us forged new relationships, with all the screwball complications that come along with trying to pull that off in midlife.
BBL: At what point did you realize it wasn’t just a group for a year, but for life?
BA: It was awkward when we first met, but we all had a desire to make our lives full and happy again, and that was enough to overcome any dubiousness we might have felt. Soon we started to share secrets that we revealed to no one else. There was real empathy and understanding, but also fun, silliness and loads of good-old-fashioned girlfriend advice. The realization that we would come to feel real love for each other came on gradually as we shared all these intense experiences.
To learn more, visit facebook.com/authorbeckyaikman.