In 2014, Nora McInerny experienced three devastating losses within weeks of each other: a miscarriage, her father’s death from cancer and her husband’s death from a brain tumor. It felt impossible to articulate the magnitude of those losses, which, as McInerny writes in her guide-slash-memoir The Hot Young Widows Club, is part of the problem with how we handle grief.
In the early months when McInerny grieved, she struggled with society’s mishandling of the bereaved. Formerly close friends backed away, she worried she wasn’t living up to social expectations for a widow and there wasn’t a blueprint to follow after the funeral. She felt isolated. That isolation started to lift, however, when she met a fellow widow named Moe and the two founded the Hot Young Widows Club.
The club, which McInerny hopes no readers will join, is a network of secret Facebook groups and in-person meetups for those grieving the loss of a partner. The groups provide a judgement-free space for sharing messy emotions with people who “get it.” You can’t understand the loss until you’ve experienced it, McInerny writes, and surrounding yourself with others who have experienced it can mitigate the suffering caused by seclusion.
But McInerny’s book isn’t only for grieving readers. In 12 brief chapters and less than 100 pages, she provides ground rules for everyone—from the person who feels like they are losing their mind in the wake of a death to the friend who doesn’t know how to help. Most of the guidelines are straightforward (if you want to do something nice, do something nice) and validating (your mind will struggle to hold onto information after you lose someone you love, so start taking notes). Others tackle thorny issues like insensitive family members or destructive behaviors.
The book strikes an accessible tone that balances humor and a no-holds-barred willingness to engage in the uncomfortable parts of grieving. Despite this, or maybe because of it, The Hot Young Widows Club offers readers the rare opportunity to sit with grief. There are moments when its format—short chapters and lists—feels as if it stymies deeper connections. But as a reference book, it does what it sets out to do.
McInerny correctly asserts that, despite being familiar with grief in some capacity, many of us respond to it with discomfort rather than understanding. By providing readers with the rare opportunity to consider grief’s emotional and physical toll, The Hot Young Widows Club tackles that discomfort head on in a meaningful read.
Bridey Heing is a freelance writer based in Washington, DC. More of her work can be found here.