By Uche Amunike
If there is one thing every married woman dreads, it’s losing their husbands to death. No woman, no matter how unhappily married she is, prays for her spouse to die. The grief and emotional trauma widows go through are indescribable and most widows live their lives realizing that the vacuums left by their spouses are unfillable. Some women who had very good relationships with their late husbands end up never having their lives back in order because of their attachment to the deceased. Either way, you look at it, losing the head of the family is like losing a part of one’s self. My heart goes out to all the widows in the world today whose spouses have left them for the great beyond. May they find friendship and companionship with the Almighty who truly is the husband of all widows. Just this morning, as I drove past the Aroma junction at Awka, I saw a very young lady that couldn’t have been more than 25years old. She was dressed in white mourning garment and was pregnant. She was heavily pregnant. I watched her as she crossed the road and was almost moved to tears.
I asked myself how in the world she coped without her husband especially as she was soon to be delivered of her baby. I wondered how old their union was and if it was her first pregnancy. She was such a pitiful sight to behold. Hours after that, I went to the popular Roban Stores to buy some groceries and while I was picking my needs and checking the list I had with me, I mistakingly bumped into someone. I turned to apologize and saw a very beautiful young girl in her simple white gown. At a closer look, I realized she was wearing her mourning garment. She was the most beautiful person I ever saw. However, she had a haunted look. I was profuse in my apologies to her. She just flashed me a smile to acknowledge her acceptance of my apology and went on her way. I looked at her as she moved to the next counter and my heart melted with pity for her. How on earth will this young girl cope with the challenges of widowhood at this very young age and stage?? That was the burning question in my mind. Minutes after that, we met at the counter where we queued up to pay for our purchases. I kept on watching her and even noticed that so many other people were also doing same. Next thing, a man that was standing behind her offered to pay for her purchases. Another young man that looked like a government official brought out wads of naira notes and gave her some money and she just kept on thanking him and next thing, we all waited outside and gave her our little tokens while she kept thanking us, this time, with tear filled eyes. I just couldn’t stop admiring her. The strange thing is that I felt so drawn to her. I wished there was something I could to do to ease her pain. In any case, I drove out of Roban Stores with a sad mien.
Two days after that, I was at Mobil Filling Station along Oguta Road, Onitsha to change the engine oil of my car. There was a car already in the pit, so I patiently sat inside my car to await my turn. I left my air conditioner on because of the scorching heat. As I quietly waited, I saw her. She was young, very pretty and dressed in the usual white mourning garment. I became so sad. She also came to have her car engine oil changed. As she got down from the Toyota Lexus jeep she came in, I couldn’t help feeling a tug at my heartstrings. Another widow??? What in the world was going on? This one was a little older than the one I saw at Roban Stores. I however, was so curious about her that I had to start a conversation at the slightest chance. My chance came when it was my turn to have my car engine oil changed. I drove my car into the pit and then, went to sit by her on the bench where she sat to await her turn. I politely said hello to her and we exchanged pleasantries. Before long, I had already asked her what happened to her husband and when exactly he died. She opened up to me and told me she lost him to the Ochanja fire disaster. Her story was a very touching one and I was pretty moved to pity. She usually stayed in her shop in Ochanja where she sold shoes.
Her husband had thirteen shops in Ochanja and was quite a very rich man. He imported shoes and not only supplied to retailers, but also sold them in his numerous shops there at Ochanja. On the fateful day that Ochanja went up in flames, she didn’t go to her shop because her children were sick and she had to take them to hospital. She intended going to the shop as soon as she returned from the hospital. Unfortunately, while she was still there, news filtered in that Ochanja was up in flames. She called her husband but his phone was switched off. She called and called to no avail. Before long, however, she got a confirmation that he was burnt in the inferno. All his thirteen shops were razed down. Her own shop was gone too. Life seemed meaningless to her. She lost everything she had sweated to build with her husband in the twinkle of an eye. Worse still, she also lost him. What a world!!! I was tongue tied by the time she finished telling me her sad story. I could only advise her to stay strong and look up to God for strength and succor. I pointed out to her that God used the illness of her children to take her away from death because, she would probably have been dead if she was in the market during the fire outbreak. Most times, God has a way of planning our lives in such a way that we won’t lose out in life entirely. Her children would have been orphans had God not used their ill health as a ploy to take her away from the market on the day of the ill-fated fire outbreak.
About four years ago, my little sister became widowed in faraway United States after she lost her dear husband to the cold hands of death in a fatal car accident on the Christmas day of that year. It was heartbreaking for my entire family. We wondered how she would cope with her three children, with the last one being autistic. It was hell for us all as she was just 41 years old when it happened. I thank God that today, she still stands strong and determined to bring up her children in the fear of God and give them the best that life offers as they grow older. God has been faithful, but I tell you, it hasn’t been easy.
Just last weekend, my 44year old cousin was buried in my hometown, Urualla. He died on December 22, 2019 after he was shot and macheted by unknown people. This fine gentleman left behind, a young wife and a daughter. I still haven’t recovered from the shock of his death, especially when I remember the manner in which they killed him. As I watched his wife throughout the burial ceremony, my heart went to her and I silently prayed that God should give her the fortitude and grace to carry on.
Widows in Nigeria, especially in Igboland go through a lot of psychological and emotional trauma during their mourning stages and even after. Worse still, most of them are treated as though they are being punished for the death of their spouses. I remember certain customs like giving the widow the bath water used in bathing their late husband to drink as a proof that they have no hand in their deaths. Some are made to stay for weeks without bathing, as a sign that they are truly pained by the death of their spouses. Some are made to wear the black mourning garment for one year or six months with black earrings and necklaces and of course, they are to stay indoors till they have completed the duration of mourning, depending on the tradition of the town. Some are sent out of their husband’s homes because they did not bring forth male children for the husband. Some are subjected to emotional and financial abuse because they refuse to have sexual relations with relatives of the deceased. I could go on and on.
Thankfully, Christianity has helped out a great deal in protecting most of these women. To start with, thanks to Christianity, most communities no longer mourn with the black attires. Widows now use white dresses, earrings and necklaces. So many communities have even mended their mourning periods to two months or less, so that the widow can move on with her life and take care of her children. Thankfully, so many town unions have keyed into the doctrines of the church to canvass for keeping intact, the tenets of social justice of these widows. Widows should not be treated as though they are the reasons why their spouses died. They should be treated fairly and supported so that they would be able to pick up the bits and pieces of their lives and move on.
I don’t know if there are laws to protect these widows, especially in Igboland. If not, I honestly hope that our lawmakers will initiate bills aimed at protecting them. I thank churches and Human Right groups as well as NGOs like FIDA for the roles they play in alleviating the suffering of these women.
My prayer is that God will give them the grace to be strong enough to carry out the legacies left by their husbands and bring up their children in the fear and love of God. May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God, rest in peace, Amen! God bless and protect all widows!! Daalu nu!!!