One unpleasant but common life experience is widowhood. It is a status that naturally evokes compassion, pity and leniency towards the widowed. Conversely, it could also be a relief and an opportunity for a new beginning for the bereaved if the marriage had been characterised by violence, neglect, bitterness and abuse. Anyhow, widowhood is not palatable.
Widowhood makes the bereaved spouse vulnerable and to suffer emotional instability. She is open to diverse temptations and exploitations. She might go through unhealthy and dehumanising treatments on the pretext of fulfilling some cultural rites. In many cases, the widow do suffer neglect, lack and wrongful accusation over the death of her husband. All these are in addition to the burden of parental responsibility to the children she would shoulder alone. Though she may appear strong outside by merely sustaining the facade of an “iron lady,” her inner strength is weakened.
In the time past, young widows were very few in our society. Most of the few available young widows remarried so soon. There was no discrimination against them. They were married on compassion. They were well taken care of and their children seamlessly adopted by their new husbands. Even older widows found it easy to remarry either into the same family as a right of inheritance or to men from outside. Polygamy was never an issue at the time. Every widow needs a responsible man as a shield over herself and a ‘father’ to her children. In this age, young widows are dotting our family landscape. The sad and sudden exit of young men these days is worrisome.
Death proves that man is a spirit being in the physical realm which transits to eternity and immortality hereafter. Death is a transitional process to the great beyond and not the end in itself. Death should not be feared because nobody will live here forever. Therefore, we should live meaningful, impactful and commendable life that would guarantee eternal bliss and not eternal abyss. What people say about the dead also matters. Some will pay glowing tributes in honour of the departed publicly whereas they rain curses on the dead in their closets.
More often than not, young widows are left in the cold to square up to challenges of life with little or no experience to guide them. They find themselves in a quandary as the future looks bleak not knowing how and where to start from. It is a phase of life that is entirely different from what they are used to. Accepting the reality and bracing up for the lonely journey ahead is the needed impetus to succeed in widowhood. Weeping may endure through the night but joy surely comes in the morning after mourning.
The 2015 World Widows Report by the Loomba Foundation says there are 258 million widows around the world, of which 3.5 million are Nigerians. We often expect a widow to be woman in advanced age from 70 and above, but according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age of widows is 59-years-old, but many are much younger. In fact, conservatively, about 2,800 women become widowed every day. Way back in 1940, there were twice as many widows as widowers; by 1990 the ratio of widows to widowers had climbed to more than 4 to 1. In the current millennium, it is estimated to be about 7 to 1. This ratio is expected to widen in the future. Several factors may explain the imbalanced gender ratio among the widowed. This is coupled with the fact that women experience greater longevity than men. In mourning, according to encyclopediavirginia.org, widowers mourn for only three months by wearing armbands, badges, or rosettes of black fabric; but widows, however, were expected to respect a minimum two and a half years in mourning.
Men constitute about 70 percent of victims of insurgency, kidnapping, road accidents, drug related deaths, suicide, cultism, alcoholism, thuggery and several other risky and lethal engagements. These factors further deplete the number of men in circulation. Apart from women in marriage who still look outside for extramarital comfort or support, those in legitimate need of men like widows, single mothers and awaiting brides are on the increase daily. Reasons for increased young widows in our generation are not divine. They are mostly man-made and avoidable occurrences. Social vices, insecurity, poverty, poor health condition, reckless lifestyle and desperation are commonly responsible for the sad development.
This weekend, Yinka Odumakin, the late spokesman of Yoruba apex socio-political group, Afenifere, will be committed to mother earth today at his home country, Moro, Ile Ife, Osun State. My heart goes to his aged parents, his siblings and his activist wife, Josephine Okei-Odumakin, who, by the reason of this occurrence, has joined the league of widows. Widowhood usually happen when it is least expected. The suddenness of widowhood is one of the reasons it devastates so badly.
The burial rite of Odumakin which started two days ago in Lagos at a Lying-in-State, Tributes session and Service of Songs held at the Police College playground, Ikeja, will be followed by a Candle Light procession today at Origbo Anglican Grammar School, Moro. The whole event will culminate today, Saturday, at the final Lying-in-State at the school playground, followed by the funeral service after which the interment will cap the home-going rite for the departed activist. That will close a chapter in the contemporary history of Nigeria’s vibrant activism.
Odumakin may have died intestate. However, I do not envisage any post-funeral rancour over his estate under whatever guise in the family. He lived a fulfilled life and achieved greatly within his privileged nexus and associations. He epitomised a quiet, moderate and humble lifestyle. What stood him out was his courage, communication skill and dedication to national service as well as his unalloyed commitment to the collective interests of Yoruba nation.
Josephine, a calm, jolly, accommodating and temperate character is now ushered into the flipside side of marital life where the burden of a couple becomes that of the surviving spouse alone. She will live with the stark reality that sympathizers are usually not who they appear to be during bereavement. Many promises made to Joe and the family will never be fulfilled. She should accept the truth that only God is the most dependable and trustworthy, He will keep His own promises. Many of those showing comradeship and solidarity today are doing so only for this moment. By this time next month, the scale would have fallen off her eyes and see the dawn of a new reality – a world without her man, Yinka.
As she mourns her departed husband, Josephine should brace up for the life ahead. She has always been a strong woman and the pillar for her family. There’s hardly anything that will take her by surprise. Yinka had made her live as an independent woman in their marriage. Freedom and latitude to explore opportunities and still be dutiful at home have been her lot throughout the union. I pray not just for the fortitude to bear the irrecoverable loss but also the grace for her to carry through successfully.
Widowhood is a status not a title. God will comfort Joe and every other widow and provide for all their needs. Amen. Good night, Yinka Odumakin.
“They find themselves in a quandary as the future looks bleak not knowing how and where to start from. It is another life entirely different from what they are used to. Accepting the reality and bracing up for the lonely journey ahead is the needed impetus to succeed in widowhood.”
•West wrote via