Widow's book tells how she recovered, rebuilt life
When Becky Aikman's beloved husband died of cancer, she not only grieved, but also found herself feeling isolated among her married circle of middle-age friends.
“I was suddenly a misfit in my world,” says Aikman, a Western Pennsylvania native, as she looks back on her 2004 loss. She was only 49 when her husband died of cancer at age 66. “I realized that I needed to create a new life for myself if I wasn't going to be stuck.”
Attending a support group helped for a while, but the group focused more on the sadness and grief than on moving forward and healing, Aikman says. She wanted a more uplifting, positive group, so Aikman struck out and created her own. Then, she wrote a book about it: “Saturday Night Widows: The Adventures of Six Friends Remaking Their Lives,” which the former reporter for Newsday, in Long Island, N.Y., will discuss and sign on Friday at Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley.
“I invented a radical plan to reinvent myself,” Aikman, 57, says. She grew up in Brookville — about 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, in Jefferson County — and now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Her book, a memoir, describes her and her friends' journey to overcome grief, reinvent themselves, and find joy and, as is the case for Aikman, love again. Readers need not be widows to appreciate the book's story, because the dynamics could apply to anyone struggling to rebuild their lives after a traumatic loss, she says.
“I think the story is ... about people coping with adversity and coming out on the other side, and all the positive elements that can make that happen: friendship, laughter and adventure,” says Aikman, whose sister, Nancy Martin, is the Highland Park-based mystery author of the Blackbird Sisters series. “We all know that for women, friendship is a powerful thing. It's good for your health.”
In order to form her own group of widows, none of whom she knew previously, Aikman “just asked everybody I knew to ask everybody they knew.” She asked professionals like a Realtor and travel agent, seeking widows they may have worked with recently.
Aikman found five women — the youngest 39, and the oldest 57 — and they started getting together on Saturday nights, which often were date nights with their husbands. The friends did something different every time: cooking classes, museums and even lingerie shopping when they became interested in dating again. They also took a trip overseas to Morocco, where they rode camels in the desert and stayed in tents among the 1,000-foot-tall sand dunes.
“We wanted to really have new experiences to get accustomed to the idea of being flexible and experimental and adventurous,” Aikman says. “We tried to do really different and interesting things.
“The idea was, we could get out of our comfort zone ... and doing something that's so out of your ordinary life,” she says.
Many misconceptions abound about widowhood, Aikman says — namely, that widows will never love again, and that any future partners will live in the deceased spouse's shadow. Yet, she knows this isn't true. Aikman says she will always love her late husband, Bernard Lefkowitz, but she loves her current husband — Bob Spitz, an author she married in 2008 — just as much.
“We shouldn't have to live in purgatory because a bad thing happened to us,” Aikman says, describing the guilt that widows often feel about new relationships.
Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7824.