The pain that is associated with the death of a loved one is beyond words, and more shattering is losing a husband who is the breadwinner of the family.
A hardened heart could succumb to emotions while listening to tales by some widows who lost their husbands. When death comes calling on the men, their wives are oftentimes left to face the psychological, economic, social and cultural burden that such tragedy leaves behind. One might not be wrong to say that many are the afflictions of a widow.
Recently, at an empowerment and graduation ceremony organised by Mercy Ogbuehi Widows and Orphans Foundation, which took place in Lagos, widows – both the young and old in age, concealed nothing as they narrated what they go through in order to fend for themselves and their children.
Though the experiences and narratives shared by these widows are heartrending and empathic, their aim was to encourage themselves to accept the realities of their lives. As they revealed their woes and even moments they were at the brink of frustration, they reminded themselves of the need to hold firmly to the string of hope not matter how difficult the situation may appear.
There were also testimonies from some among them who tasted the ugly side of life as a result of their husbands’ death, but rose up to the challenge, crossed the hurdles and came out victorious. The gathering was a moment of deep reflection, telling the reality and re-dedication to their mandate of raising their children through every possible legitimate means.
Recounting her load of tribulations that has overwhelmed her since her husband’s tragic death in the hands of daredevil gunmen, Sarah Mark Silas, who hails from Kaduna, said her world began to crumble the moment she received the sad news on that fateful day in 2015. She said that her husband died, leaving her with two children while she was only 31 years old.
“My husband was the bread winner to his immediate and extended family. He died four years ago while we were already residing in Lagos. It has been like living in hell fire. It is not something that I can even wish to happen to my enemy let alone my loved ones. Things that I was not used to doing are what I have to adapt to whether I like it or not. Paying of the bills, feeding and taking care of the children now rest on me alone.
“He was a policeman. He died while he was on a special assignment in Okene, Kogi State. Two of his colleagues were also killed by the unknown gunmen. I felt that the world had collapsed on me. A lot of questions went through my mind. I asked God so many questions but I am thanking Him today because I survived it. I thought I was going to die during the first three months. It was really tough for me. My family members, friends and church members stood by me.
Hear her message to those who might find themselves in her shoes, “I will advise them to quickly accept the reality and be strong. If you weep forever, it cannot change the situation.”
Mark said that her ordeal was further compounded when she lost the little job she was doing just few months after her husband’s demise. She said that after her company collapsed, she had been searching for job but all to no avail.
She said: “I read Agricultural Extension at the College of Agriculture, Zaria, Kaduna. I cannot count how many places I have applied to for job opportunities this year alone. I need a good job so that I will be able to properly take care of my two children who are ten and seven. I cannot ask my late husband’s relatives for financial help because he was also the one assisting them.
“But thank God that I have learned tailoring courtesy of the foundation. They have given me a new sewing machine to start on my own. I have to beg my tutors so that I can stay for more months in order to perfect more skills.”
Another widow, Comfort Joel, said that after losing her husband in 2013, the education of her children suffered setback. She stated that the man was working in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State but when his illness became serious, they relocated to their hometown in Ogbomosho, Oyo State, where he died.
The 51-year-old woman said that her woes were worsened when she lost one of her four children last year.
“My daughter was delivered of a baby before she died. I am the one taking care of the baby. It is not easy surviving as a widow. Apart from the financial constraint, there are other tasks that need combined efforts to tackle.
“There was some little money that was left with me, and I rallied round to raise more money to rent a shop where I was selling petty wares. Unfortunately, in 2015, thieves came to burgle my shop and stole all my goods and sent me and my children back to square one.
“I have to grab this opportunity to learn this fashion business when someone told me about it. I was not asked to pay any money all through my training. Now I have something to be using to make money for my family,” she said.
Mary Francis Akinkunmi, who was married to a solider before he died in Maiduguri, Borno State, said her husband died while he was fighting the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East.
“I am from Abia but my husband was from Ondo. He died in 2014 while defending Nigeria. We got married in 2009. My second child was eleven months old when my husband left.
“I was only selling recharge cards in retails in the barracks where we lived in Lagos. The last five years has been tough. Taking care of my children is my priority at the moment. If a husband comes, fine. But if no one comes, that’s fine too so long I can cater to my children. The government has not paid my husband benefits. He used his brother as his next of kin but we have gone to change it to my name. That was also part of the delay,” she said.
She said that she applied to join the Army but she couldn’t go beyond the general screening stage. It was discovered that she had high blood pressure.
Her words: “There was no way I couldn’t have had high blood pressure then because my husband death was still fresh in my memory. I found it difficult to believe that he was gone forever.”
The founder of Mercy Ogbuehi Foundation, Nnenna Uchegbu, said that Nigeria society was not kind to widows due to various cultural practices as well as government failure to make welfare packages available for less fortunate people in the society. She lamented that many widows were homeless and hopeless.
She said: “We try to contribute the little we can do to put smile on the faces of these people. There is no greater reward for me than to lift their burden. Their success is our joy. We can make more impact when more volunteers join us to help these people. We also help the orphans because they are less-privileged too. I would have loved to do more but my personal income is not enough.
“Apart from teaching them skills, we also mentor and counsel these disadvantaged people not to lose hope. We are graduating 27 people today but we are buying tools for only the widows among them.
“We are calling on wealthy individuals and organisations to put some of their money aside to help the poor and less fortunate. You have the right to enjoy the money you have worked for but remember those who are in dire need around you.”
The guest speaker at the empowerment programme, Mrs Comfort Spiff-Sagbamah, who is also a widow, shared her bitter experience and what she did to dismantle the huge mountain that stood on her way after her husband passed on in 2014.
“We were married for 14 years and we were comfortable and could go on vacation anywhere of our choice. But all that ended the moment he died because we had spent so much on him while he was sick.
“The first thing I did was to accept the reality that I am no longer Spiff’s wife. Don’t carry the stamp on your face and tell everybody around that you are a widow. You must quit self-pity.
“In my own case, there was virtually nothing to fall back on to survive. I printed fliers telling people that I could cook because I love cooking. Today, the business is something else. The best way to handle financial challenge as a widow is to work. Don’t select the kind of job you do so long as it is decent labour and can pay your bills. People advised me not to cook for people, that it was demeaning of my status.
“I had to readjust my priority especially on spending. My daughter’s needs became my number one priority. But training her alone was tough because she was very close to her father but I did not give up. Today, we are best of friends. As a widow, always look good but you must not look expensive,” she counselled.