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Story of loss, resilience as widows lift each other

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Saturday Night Widows

The Adventures of Six Friends Remaking Their Lives

By Becky Aikman

Crown, 337 pages, $30

This sometimes harrowing and sometimes upbeat debut memoir relates the stories of six American widows who agree to meet once a month to connect to and to support each other, all while striving to rebuild their lives.

A former Newsday reporter, New York City-based author Becky Aikman is, of course, one of the six.

It is a story of loss and resilience, of sadness and starting over, of tragedy and endurance and of bravely seeking out the sunlight despite the gathering clouds.

Mostly it is a story of strangers who through shared tragedy put one foot in front of the other, come to support one another, heal, and, in doing so, become friends.

Woven throughout the tale is Aikman's own story of the loss of her husband to cancer when she was in her 40s. With friends who are mostly couples, Aikman felt adrift.

A support group made up mostly of women decades older than she struck her as depressing and morbid. When she complained, she was asked not to return.

It is this that leads Aikman, years later, to test her own theories that life doesn't have to be all doom and gloom by creating her own group of five younger widows.

Roughly in her age range, they agree to meet for one year with Aikman as both observer and participant in the group.

"We would do something together that we enjoyed, starting small -- this dinner would certainly qualify -- and ending big, maybe a faraway trip," she writes.

"By the end, we would test my theory that together we might find a way to triumph over loss, take off in unexpected directions, and have some fun along the way."

The group decides to meet on a Saturday night, for Aikman knows it is "the most treacherous shoal for new widows where untold spirits have sunk into gloom."

They dine, take a cooking lesson together, visit the Metropolitan Museum, share a weekend at the spa and travel to Morocco.

They share what it is like to go through the milestones anyone who has lost a spouse can relate to. They talk of eating alone, losing weight, the first holidays without their husbands, music that triggers memories and of daring to date again.

The author skilfully inserts histories of each of the women and how they experienced the loss of their husbands in between accounts of their monthly meetings.

However, the regular inclusion of research findings and of meetings with experts on grief seems distracting and alters the tone of the story, making an intimate, personal account at times seem more like an attempt at an academic treatise.

The women eventually remake their lives, seek out new experiences and new partners and learn from each other.

But there's no two ways about it. This is a sad story. Though it strives valiantly to focus on beginnings, most of the 30 chapters invariably deal with loss and the grief that naturally follows.

Readers who have suffered a recent loss may find this memoir just too difficult to absorb and some may not wish to dredge up old memories.

Others may find it a reassuring tale of six delightful women who lift each other up and help each other to grow -- like the lotus blossoms in the museum watercolours they so admired. As one of the women's late husbands had said, "A lotus blossom will grow and perfume and flower ... even in the muck."

Cheryl Girard is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 9, 2013 J7

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