Authors: Becky Aikman
The story of the Saturday Night Widows was drawn from tape recordings and notes of interviews and meetings. Otherwise, I relied on memory for episodes from my own past. For a few people who might have crossed our paths briefly or unwittingly, I altered names and some identifying characteristics.
And I have condensed some conversations and incidents slightly to provide greater clarity for readers.
Copyright © 2013 by Becky Aikman
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
and the Crown colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Portions of this book appeared previously in MORE and
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Saturday night widows : the adventures of six friends remaking their lives / Becky Aikman. — 1st ed.
1. Aikman, Becky. 2. Widows. 3. Widowhood. 4. Self-help groups. I. Title.
Jacket design by Jaya Miceli
got kicked out of my widows’ support group. I would say that things had gone from bad to worse, except the worst, no question, had already happened. When your husband has died while you’re still in your forties, seriously, anything less and you have to laugh.
The hallway at the Y was fairly jumping the night of the first meeting as I dashed past signs for options more likely to perk a person up:
Beginning Ceramics. Make Your Own Collage. Wine and Cheese for Singles
. Once, my involvement with any of these exercises in self-improvement would have seemed as unlikely as it got, but for sheer strangeness, nothing could top my actual destination.
Support Group for Widows and Widowers
, said the notice on the door. End of the corridor, end of the line.
Inside, the room was ridiculously mournful. There were torturous-looking folding chairs arranged in an oval and industrial carpeting the color of worn asphalt. Fluorescent bulbs cast a pickled glare over the whole affair, granting it the ambiance of a drug rehab
center, or maybe a parole board. I couldn’t help wondering—how long ’til I got sprung?
Most of the other widows were already in place. Pretty much everyone, I could tell, was a couple of decades older than me. No surprise there. Widows don’t have a lot of company in my usual demographic. Still, I was gasping for a connection, any connection, with women like me, uncoupled in what now seemed like a world of couples. I was eager to meet them and start sharing positive, inspiring, even practical ideas about Moving Forward After Loss, as promised in the brochure.
There were props. A small box of tissues rested on one of the last empty seats. God, was it going to be one of those? I inched in, sat down warily, and balanced the tissues on my lap. There was nowhere else to put them. No tables, no cushions on those metal chairs, no amenities, strictly economy class. Unlike those starry-eyed singles down the hall, we widows weren’t offered refreshments.
Whine without cheese
, I thought, swallowing a crooked smile.
The other widows and I cut each other glances, but no one spoke a word. There were eleven—no, twelve of us, most wearing basic black. This was New York—we all had the wardrobe. So did I, of course. But tonight I had thought carefully about what to wear. It was the opposite, I hoped, of widow drab—a pale green linen skirt and skinny-ribbed tank top, with silver flats that I’d bought for dancing at a wedding when my husband was still alive. I intended this ensemble to send a signal: that I might be a widow, but I was a widow on the move, ready to march forward in stylish yet relatively comfortable shoes. Forward, whatever had happened up to now.
Or perhaps I was sending a subconscious plea:
I don’t belong here. I
belong here. This is a cosmic mistake that will surely be corrected
once somebody up there notices that I should be down the hall, rocking the macramé studio
Aside from the women, I now saw, there was one dapper, pixie-sized gentleman, even older, giving us all the eye. Wearing elastic-waist slacks and clunky grandpa shoes, he engaged the room with sprightly curiosity. The others had the closed, raven-eyed look of a jury, keeping their sentiments to themselves. A jury of my peers? Everyone seemed somehow jumpy and dispirited at the same time, and suddenly, in that shuffling silence, so was I.
I was having one of those out-of-body moments, one of too many in the last few crazy years—at the oncologist’s office, the intensive care unit, the funeral home. Now here. What was the point of squirming in unforgiving chairs, illuminated by ghastly greenish light, with these strangers, no Chardonnay or Gouda to break the ice? I wasn’t looking for help with the grieving part of widowhood. I already had that one down. The five a.m. weeping; the stony, vacant stare. No, it was all the rest of it that I needed to tackle now. The part about what to do next. The part about who to
I’d never faced such a predicament before. Everything had always been simple: I was a brisk, modern, independent woman, and I worked at a brisk, modern, independent job, as a newspaper reporter in midtown Manhattan. But I had also been half of a whole, and now, without that other half, I wasn’t certain what was left. During twenty years of marriage, my husband and I had been partners and collaborators, personally and professionally. Not a day passed, sometimes not an hour, when I didn’t call Bernie, a writer and teacher, from my office and ask, “What’s a better word for
?” Or when he’d want to know, “When will you be home?” Tonight, it didn’t matter. I was a widow. No one waited for me now.
… I could barely get the word out of my mouth …
. I didn’t seem to fit anyone’s definition of a proper widow, least of all my own—you know, the Ingmar Bergman version, gloomy, pathetic, an all-around, ongoing downer. Surely, I thought, sneaking another look, these other widows wanted to bust out of the stereotype as much as I did. We’d be in this together,
. It had been one year and three months now since Bernie’s death, and I knew I needed to leave behind the nightmares, the heartache, the perpetual yearning for what I couldn’t have. I needed to function again, and fast. It was time to—what was that called again?—Move Forward After Loss.
NOTHER MAN ENTERED
the room, closer to my age, holding a clipboard and a sheaf of papers the size of the federal budget.
“My name is Jonathan,” he said with studied solemnity. “I’m the social worker who will be leading the group.” Jonathan was a man of average height, nice enough features, and a putty-colored pallor that was shadowed with uncertainty. “First, let me say that I am sorry for your loss.” He employed the commiserative tone and hangdog look that I recognized from every encounter I’d had with everybody since the funeral.
I expected him to turn the floor over to the widows, but instead he contorted himself into one of the chairs and passed around some photocopied pages.
The Stages Of Grief
, said the title,
by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
. Not these again—the Holy Grail of Pathos! Ever since Bernie died, these five stages of grief had been pushed on me by my landlady, a clerk in human resources, the cashier in a taco truck. It
seemed that the whole world had heard of these famous stages and was expecting me to follow them on some sort of widowcentric timetable. In the last year, I kept checking my calendar, waiting for them to show up.
Jonathan read aloud from the handout like a tech support worker in Mumbai. There were the usual five stages, in the usual order: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages, every time I heard them, made as much sense to me as computer code. Anyway, it seemed that I should have left them in the dust by now if I were adhering to a schedule. I wasn’t following any sorts of stages at all. Instead, I swung back and forth, sometimes wallowing in early-morning weeping, sometimes laughing my ass off like a normal person. Then I’d turn to share the joke with Bernie, and … back to the weeping again.
I was failing the stages of grief. I didn’t even understand them. I was a misfit widow.
I glanced around the circle again, seeking eye contact, a fellow misfit perhaps, but the widows were following their handouts through an assortment of reading glasses, hiding their thoughts behind invisible veils. When Jonathan finished, he passed us another tract. We were supposed to check off boxes next to symptoms like Insomnia, Crying Spells, and Difficulty Making Decisions. These were typical signs of grief and nothing to be alarmed about, he said in his mechanical voice, and I had to agree that they were a nice summation of the new, more depressing me on my worst days. He added that we were probably clinically depressed if we checked Psychomotor Retardation, Prolonged and Marked Functional Impairment, and something called, simply, Worthless.