Becky Aikman on writing Saturday Night Widows

How six widows became friends and overcame diversity.

In her forties – a widow, too young, too modern to accept the role – Becky Aikman struggled to make sense of her place in an altered world. In doing so, she formed a group with five other young widows to explore surprising new discoveries about how people experience grief and transcend loss. Now, she talks to Crown about how Saturday Night Widows came to be and the lessons learned.

Saturday Night Widows Becky AikmanBy Becky Aikman

Looking back on what it was like to tell our stories in a book, one of the Saturday Night Widows, Tara, put it best: “I felt completely naked, but also very brave.”

The first time we gathered, I remember thinking, “Can we really pull this off?” Our group was based on a theory that we could negotiate a tough transition together based on what I’d learned about what helps people overcome adversity – friendship, laughter, new experiences, shared adventures, fun. But as each of the young widows I’d invited arrived with a dish for dinner, I realized: This wasn’t a theory anymore. This was real.

That meant we would be sharing our deepest emotions, our most tender stories, our most embarrassing stumbles, not only with five other women who were strangers until that night, but with readers of a book.

Call me crazy, but that was the plan. After I’d been widowed myself while still in my forties, I had searched in vain for role models who could help me see my way forward. Losing someone close to you is a common experience, but I was disappointed that there wasn’t much for me to read about it aside from accounts of the early stages of grief, when those of us left behind are still mired in sadness. I was determined to write the book I wanted to read myself, a book about what happens next, about who to become next, after the grief begins to subside and it’s time to reinvent oneself.

I spent some time researching what experts say about overcoming loss, and then, even after I remarried four years later, I set out to put the research to use, forming the Saturday Night group with five more recent young widows.

It was important to me to write about women who were real, not stick figures. I wanted to capture all the complications, all the surprising setbacks, all serendipity and unexpected joy that crops up only in a life fully lived.

Luckily, the other women felt as strongly as I did that we wanted to show what the process of reinvention is really like, so we held nothing back. In the course of our year together, we went through mind-bending changes – to our bonds with families and friends, our careers, our homes, and our sometimes slapstick ventures to reengage with love again. All the while, everyone got accustomed to my tape recorder capturing every word, my camera taking pictures, my pen taking notes.

By the end, the Saturday Night Widows agreed, we had upheld the theory that friends in all their naked bravery can guide each other through hard times. All the hours of taping, all the pages of notes, all the laughter and tears had shown us: our story was real, and so was our friendship.

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