by Lori M. Myers, Interviews Editor
It’s said that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes, but I’d like to add one more: good friends who are there when you need them.
Author Becky Aikman would agree. In her book Saturday Night Widows, Aikman redefines “support group” after losing her husband to cancer. She finds five other women who have also experienced loss at an early age and together they look to the future – through laughter and adventure instead of through tears. Aikman’s book launches this month in paperback.
Lori: Many of us know the challenges of solitary writing and being happy (or not) with the results, but you had five other people to consider. Did you think about what their feedback might be as you went through the writing process?
Becky: Anyone writing a memoir has to know that it will expose the secrets of lovers, friends, family members, random strangers, just about anyone unlucky enough to cross the writer’s path. This was a particular concern with this book, because the five other Saturday Night Widows and I spent so much time together sharing unguarded moments and carrying on conversations that opened up our most intimate thoughts, our most tender misfires, during a time of turmoil and experimentation in our lives. Scary? Yes. Was everyone vulnerable? Yes.
But I knew I had to set that concern aside when I was writing if I wanted to treat the subject honestly. I felt strongly that there weren’t realistic books out there about what it’s like to start over after a devastating loss. There are quite a few about the raw experience of immediate grief, but not about that next step, when it’s necessary to re-imagine a life and face all the choices that have to be made to create a new one.
Luckily, the other Saturday Night Widows felt this as strongly as I did. They gave me carte blanche to write what I wanted, and that included everything from our most private emotions to our faltering attempts at finding love again. The only caveat was that when the manuscript was finished, they could read it and ask me to change their names if they couldn’t face the notoriety.
How did they react when you showed them the manuscript?
You can imagine that I spent some nerve-wracking days when it was time for the others to see what I’d done. Luckily, they were unanimous that they wanted readers to read their unvarnished stories, real names and all. I was so grateful. Tara called me and said, “I feel completely naked, but also very brave.”
That pretty much sums up what it means to appear in a memoir.
The group you created and the women you gathered far from mirrored what we know as a “support” group for those who are grieving. What was your mindset in creating this group?
The conventional wisdom prescribes a pretty gloomy path for those who have suffered a loss. When it happened to me, people expected me to be sad twenty-four hours a day. They expected me to join a support group that dwelled repeatedly on the trauma of what had happened. As a journalist, I set out to see what research shows about what truly helps people move past grief. In fact, people oscillate between sadness and normality, and those who laugh and smile the most have better well-being in the long run. It also helps to push oneself into new experiences.
So the Saturday Night Widows saw ourselves as a renegade group. When we gathered, it was to share pleasure and adventure. We tried experiences and visited places that were new to us. Did we wind up talking about the many changes we were going through? Definitely. But the idea was that our exploits would open us up to growth and change, and they did.
Congratulations on the book now coming out in paperback. What sort of response have you received from readers? Are you surprised?
There has been a mighty response, which I think shows a hunger in our culture to learn more about how to navigate such a universal event. I’ve received hundred of letters from readers who were touched by the story or felt it was true to their own lives. Many have formed their own groups. Many have never been widowed but felt it related to other situations in which life takes a sudden turn. I love reading the letters. They say things like, “I laughed and cried, laughed and cried, rinse and repeat.” Or: “I am a Saturday Night Widow.”
Am I surprised by the reaction? Yes, in part. This is my first book, and I know that it’s rare for any book to catch fire. But part of me is not surprised, because I wrote the story I wished I could have read myself, and I suspected there might be others out there who felt the same way.
You and the Blossoms, as the group was named, experienced some wonderful activities and trips together. Which ones were most memorable for you? Which ones do you still participate in?
Most memorable was probably our camel caravan into the Sahara in Morocco. Our goal was to visit a place unlike any we’d seen before, and this strange, spectacular landscape and alien culture fit the bill. The trip helped introduce us to new ways of thinking and feeling. We also loved our tour of the Metropolitan Museum, where engaging with art that reflected on loss and reinvention brought us greater understanding of where we stood in the vast scheme of things.
We still participate in talking and talking and laughing until our insides hurt every time we get together. Oh, and we still like to whip up the molten-center chocolate cookies we learned to make in a cooking class.[boxer set=”Lori-Myers”]