There’s this stigma when it comes to widowhood.
It’s sticks like gum to most women who find themselves with that label and because it is a label, it becomes an identity many struggle with. The struggle comes with pain, stigma, segregation and many times, even shame. Being a widow in Nigeria hardly elicits sympathy. We think the widow must have done something bad to be labelled as such or deserving of it. She is denied her rights, denied basic human dignity and it’s the reason many non-governmental agencies have taken it upon themselves to fight the cause of the widow.
Their efforts are paying off…I think because the concept of widowhood is slowly changing.
Weeks back, a friend of mine lost her husband to cancer. They’d been battling the disease for three years; after several treatments, surgeries, chemo, name it to fight the multiple myeloma type of cancer, it went into remission and we celebrated with the couple.
It was worth it. This was a couple close friends saw as really intimate; yes they had their challenges, like normal couples but they overcame and celebrated their lives openly…to the admiration of many of us.
Then death came, suddenly when we thought my friend’s husband was out of the woods. He showed no visible signs of stress or degeneration; he was working, travelling, driving himself all over Lagos days before he passed.
So when my friend informed me that they were at a private hospital somewhere in Surulere for chemo, I thought nothing of it. Routine. My partner and I visited on a Thursday, we laughed, made fun of one another and promised to see them at home on Sunday. He passed on Saturday. My partner called me late that night, ‘Get ready, we must go see X, her husband has died.’
I wept like a baby. I cried for my friend, I cried for her children who their father doted on so much; I cried for myself and my fear at the way Cancer seems to be ravaging young lives and getting away with it. How old was he? He wasn’t even 50.
Then we got to their home, X was calm, she acknowledged us with a nod as we sat around her with other relatives, many of us with eyes, red and puffy from tears.
But X didn’t want us to grieve; she wanted us to come smiling and telling stories of how he touched lives, remind her of his jokes, his best lines, his words…
‘I’m at peace,’ she announced after observing our sober expressions.
At peace ke? When your husband’s body isn’t even cold yet in the mortuary?
You should be slamming yourself on the floor, you should be crying tears of blood, your hair should be scattered and your clothes torn and we your friends should be telling you not to kill yourself but to think of your kids. Yes, we should be holding your wrapper around you as you run wild chanting your husband’s name and telling the world you have now been exposed with your husband gone and we your friends would be struggling to keep the wrapper around your waist to cover your nakedness…yes, ore, that’s what should be happening right now.
‘Look, Pj, I loved my husband. I was with him from the very beginning. I nursed him, I spent everything I had treating him. I was with him at every hospital, for every surgery and when we were told there was no cure, I fought to make the rest of his life a truly beautiful one. I sought the best help for him and now this has happened, I have no regrets because there was nothing that could have been done that I did not do; money, love, care, time, affirmation…I gave. I am not mourning; I am celebrating a man who let me be me.’
Issokay, I still was skeptical.
So, instead of the usual wake-keeping, where sympathizers would come with long faces and cry tears of sadness, X wanted a Night of Tributes to celebrate her husband. She wanted his professional colleagues, his friends, his family to talk about his work, his impact on the people who’d worked with him and who’d loved him as well and so that was what she got. In fact, she forbade everyone from crying on the tribute stage.
X came, dressed in royal purple, earrings and a huge smile. Everyone expected a widow soaked in tears. We wanted a glimpse of a woman, broken beyond repair, crying for her husband to return. We craned our necks to see how many times she would fall rolling on the floor, asking God why her husband was taken. Alas, we saw none. So we all calmed down.
I still worried for my friend, thankfully her in- laws stood by her; they agreed she could celebrate him and not mourn. They had witnessed her labour of love over their son, they had seen her sacrifices and so they rallied around her and carried out her wishes.
After the burial, my friend was anxious about the next steps. She had bills to pay, school fees for her children already at universities aboard, rent, an aged mother and a thousand other needs. So, she was already making plans as the number of mourners began to trickle out.
She is on her own.
But I had to wonder-so you mean you won’t be sitting on the floor for the next one to three months as culture dictates for a woman whose husband just died?
You mean you will not wear black and go without earrings for the next one year as a sign of mourning for your husband?
You mean you will…
‘I have to earn a living, my kids are in the university and no one is going to sympathise for fees unpaid. I have to keep a roof over my head, I have to live again,” my friend said tears swimming in her eyes.
We all seem to forget widows or widowers too need to live again after the passing of their spouses; we forget they will want to love again, socialize again, get back to work again that is why when they make their plans known, we look at them like something has gone wrong.
But hey, the truth is mourning the dead for long or short intervals will not bring them back.