I found out from a young lady earlier this year that she lost her husband nine months before. I was truly gobsmacked. I had met her two weeks before then, and she stood out with her wit, smile and impressive contributions to the meeting. I was fascinated by her interesting last name. She told me this was her married name, explaining how her husband's family came about it. She gave nothing away.
When, by sheer coincidence, we met again two weeks later, I asked for further details about an exceptionally deep and curious contribution she made at our previous encounter. It was then she told me what informed it. Her husband had died nine months before. I was lost for words. She was still smiling. Yet her face spoke the language of someone who had packed several experiences into her young life. I did not know what to say. From that moment, I had a different perception about her, yet throughout that day and the next, she continued to be her usual self - witty, pulling legs, assisting me to critique every presentation. Who could imagine what she was going through raising two children under the age of six alone? It then occurred to me that I actually know a few people like her. How do they cope? What goes through their minds? What does society expect of them? What if they decide to re-marry?
Whether male or female, it is never an easy thing for someone to lose a spouse. I have heard of one or two much older men who after losing their beloved wives became totally lost. This was because their wives organised everything about their lives, including the clothes on their back. Even with exceptional cases like these, what is not in doubt is that it is doubly more difficult when a woman loses her husband. In many instances in Africa, this means a rapid descent into poverty or at best, sub-standard living, as men are more likely to be the main breadwinner. Often, the husband’s family descend like rampaging vultures to complicate things for a woman soon after the loss of her husband. The fact that she is vulnerable and sore does not stop the vitriol of 'she does not respect her husband's family enough', 'she did not pick our calls', 'we saw her eating only a few days after her husband died,' 'she is withholding information from us.' She may even be accused to her face of killing her husband. Within a few days of her husband's death just a few years ago, a young widow was asked by her husband's family if her late husband had any plots of land.
More than anything else, what stands out the most between men and women who lose a spouse is the real fact that men could remarry within a reasonable length of time. It is in fact expected of them. They are advised to do so as soon as it is practicable. The story is not that easy for women. They tend to grieve for longer, though they may brave it. They have to suddenly find their mojo in an already crowded field of women, and dwindling responsible suitors. I suspect they may also feel they are betraying their dead husbands by dating, so they often hold back. They also have the welfare of their children, their own welfare, and what people would say to think about. Would the new man be as good as the previous husband? Plus of course the fact that men usually marry younger women so nothing changes if they lose a spouse. They can quickly plump for another woman. For women on the other hand, it is not that straightforward. For a start, they are disadvantaged because it is men, not women that still do the chasing in most societies. Even if a woman succeeds in getting married well after her husband's death, there is that suspicion hanging over her for life - Did she kill her husband? Was she dating the new man before her husband died?
So what should a young lady do if she lost her husband?
Given all the pressure of society, and the real limitations of being a woman:
- Could she ever find love again?
- Would society allow her to find love again?
- Would she allow herself to find love again?
Your guess is as good as mine. One thing is clear; it is definitely not a level-playing world. PostcardfromLagos