Saturday Night Widows by Becky Aikman
Crown, ISBN 978-0307590435
352 pages, January 22, 2013
When Becky Aikman found herself a widow when still a young woman in her forties, the experience was more than a little overwhelming. Not only had she lost the love of her life but she, and those around her, were unsure of how to deal with her grief. The scene where she gets thrown out of a widows support group...the more elderly widows are actively hostile...is one of the most interesting and oddly amusing of the book.
So Aikman, a newspaper writer at Long Island's Newsday at the time, sets out to do her own study of grief. She reads the studies, she talks to the experts and she starts her own support group of widows.
"Meet the Saturday Night Widows: ringleader Becky, an unsentimental journalist who lost her husband to cancer; Tara, a polished mother of two, whose husband died in the throes of alcoholism after she filed for divorce; Denise, a widow of just five months, now struggling to get by; Marcia, a hard-driving corporate lawyer; Dawn, an alluring self-made entrepreneur whose husband was killed in a sporting accident, leaving two small children behind; and Lesley, a housewife who returned home one day to find that her husband had committed suicide."We meet them, we heard their stories, we watch as they interact, support each other, cope well and not so well and try to help each other deal with their loss.
That is the good part.
The part of the book that deals with what she learns from the experts was particularly interesting and a bit surprising. In fact, I wish the book had dealt more with that aspect of the story. Forget those Elisabeth Kübler- Ross 5 Stage of Grief that, it seems, were meant as a guide for the dying, not those felt behind.
And the stories of the five..or 6 if you include the author...are interesting and at times rather compelling. Examples of how they were able to help each other were at time moving.
But...there are other aspects of the book that I had a problem with and that ultimately spoiled the book for me.
The group was in no way a naturally formed group. No, Aikman picked and carefully interviewed the members before she invited them to join. She was looking for a very specific type and did not want to include anyone who was not coping well. I think, for me, things started to go downhill when she told how she had interview and rejected one woman because she was still too grief stricken, still surrounding herself with her dead husband's stuff and not dealing very well with the loss. So we want people that are dealing with grief, but too much and not doing too badly.
Talk about a stacked deck.
It is easy to have a good outcome if you start with people who are already doing well in large part.
Another thing these women had in common was that largely money was not an issue for them, something I think is often not true when a spouse is lost. No fear of making the mortgage payments, of losing their house, or having to make ends meet. Yes, I think one woman spoke of selling their summer home, another of moving to a smaller place..but that is not quite the same as the very real experience many spouses have of worrying about making ends meet, of putting food on the table. Meeting for a weekend at an exclusive spa, a group trip to Morocco with a private guide..not I think the experience of the average widow. And while most of them have children, the loss the children were experiencing and how they, as mothers, dealt with this, was barely touch upon.
But most of all what rubbed me wrong was Aikman herself.
When she started this group, her first husband was dead four years. The grief was hardly fresh.
Her first husband, because by the time she formed the group she had met a new man, fallen in love and got married again.
...and she is the one 'running' this widow group.
It was apparent that this group, while they may have some experiences about grief to share, was a very artificial and non typical creation. Created and led by someone who was planning to write a book and set up things...like that Morocco trip...for maximum visuals.
I will say there were parts of the book that were very interesting and I can not deny that the group seems to have a positive effect on the members, some real and helpful friendships formed.
But the very artificial, set-up nature of the group left me feeling at times, that I was watching a reality TV show.