By Yetunde Arebi

Hi, Surfing through the internet, early Thursday morning, I came across this story that informed my decision on today’s article. It is the story of newlywed couple, Edith Hill, 96 and Eddie Harrison, 95, from Alexandria, Virginia, USA which is currently causing ripples among family and even the court.

According to the story, Edith and Eddie met over a decade ago while standing in line for lottery tickets, struck up a conversation and have remained together ever since. Perhaps, to prove that mother nature approved of the relationship, one of their tickets was a $2,500 winner. Now, over ten years down the line, the duo decided to formalise their relationship before God and man by tying the knots and making their relationship legal in a ceremony presided over by a 95 year old church elder, held earlier this year. It is this decision that has sparked off mixed feelings, especially among Edith’s relatives. Now, the couple’s future  and continued happiness is very much uncertain.

On one hand is Rebecca and Robin Wright, daughter and granddaughter of Edith, who see the whole affair as a romantic, fairytale or Hollywood come true love story and see nothing wrong in the two lovers getting married if it is what they want and would make them happy. On the other is Rebecca’s sister, Patricia Barber who disagrees with the whole love theory and has even taken the matter to court. Her grouse is that the wedding occurred without the knowledge of other family members and that it will complicate the matter of how to eventually distribute their mother’s estate, which includes a property worth about $475, 000 according to recent real estate assessments. By this marriage, Eddie Harrison has a right to a portion of Edith’s estate at her demise. The third leg to the reaction is the court which insists that Rebecca who shares co-guardianship of her mother with her sister Patricia, acted improperly by taking her mother to get married without the court’s permission. This is because Edith had been declared legally incapacitated for several years. But while the judge, James Clark has reservations, he is also worried that breaking up the couple could create a circumstance in Edith’s life that she does not deserve. After all, no matter the age, everyone deserves to love, be loved and be happy.

Disclosing in an interview on why she got married, Edith said she needed the company. “I wanted somebody I could help, and they could help me. … We were both single. My husband was gone. His wife was gone. We became the best of friends.” While Eddie also insists that they both understand what getting married would mean and that they never fight, unlike in his first marriage. Rebecca and Robin Wright who have been caring for the lovers insist they are in love and have positively impacted on the lives of each other as they can be seen laughing together, kissing and holding hands, going for walks and even sharing stories and jokes no one else have heard about before.

Now the court has removed the two sisters as guardians and appointed a lawyer instead, who is also mandated to investigate the marriage and take “all actions appropriate and reasonable to protect the best interests of Edith Hill.”

The first thing that caught my attention in the story was no doubt the age of the couple. It is instructive that at 95 and 96 years of age, this couple can still muster within them the zeal and courage to take such a bold step to formalise their over ten years old relationship. It probably was not an easy decision to make considering all the noise that has been revved up by stakeholders in the matter. If a friendship of over a decade went without as much as a raised eyebrow, why should it matter now that it has merely been legally formalised?

My take here is that it is not the impropriety of the circumstance of the wedding that is causing sleepless nights for Patricia and those in her camp, but rather the financial implication of the wedding in legal terms. Perhaps, the disagreements might not have reared its head if Eddie Harrison were of equal financial status or better still, has more than Edith to bring to the table. As things are, the poor guy has been made to look somewhat like a gold digger. But at 95, how much of gold can this guy dig before he is embraced by mother earth? Who is to determine who of the duo will go first despite the one year age difference? Even if he decides to engage in some foul play, it is very likely that he would not enjoy the gains, what with the eagle eyes and sophistication of the American homicide investigation system. For the sake of love, so sweet, so rear, I am interested in how this story will play out in the next few weeks.

Fast track this to our Nigerian situation and three classic cases I know spring to my mind which I hope space will allow me share with you.  About 25 years ago in the Isolo area of Lagos, a widow and widower both in their 60s met and decided to take another shot at love and marriage. To the neighbours, they were a disgusting, shameless pair, carrying on in such a manner openly, though to the amusement and envy of many in their age bracket. The widower’s children considered the relationship a blessing for their father as it would help them kill several birds with one stone. Care and attention for their father who obviously could still hold up the torch pretty well and they would not have to worry about him getting entangled with a young girl who will likely take advantage of the situation by getting herself pregnant and becoming a wife and rearing children for them to take care of after their father’s demise. However, the widow’s two sons resident abroad did not share in their mother’s new found love life and
happiness and decided it was time she came to join them. Obviously, it was her idleness that allowed her get such thoughts into her head thereby constituting a public nuisance of herself and their dear father’s memory. They could do with a nanny for their children and share her between their homes. But as soon as the threats of their separation became real, the lovers decided to make the relationship legal and announced a wedding plan. Surprisingly, it was the turn of the guy’s children to disapprove of the relationship, wondering what their father, closing on 70 years of age, wanted to do with marriage, while the woman’s children grudgingly gave their consent. They eventually got married and lived together for close to 15 years before the man finally died and the woman relocated back to her own home.

The other two stories are more recent. Children of widowers may easily confirm how much emotional and physical trauma an old man, once used to the love and care of a woman often has to endure. I have watched with keen interest the rapid deterioration of an elderly widower in my neighbourhood whose wife died about five years ago. Most of the time, you are likely to see him sitting at the balcony of his one-storey home, bent over a newspaper. Many say he has other ulterior motives for sitting there every evening as there are several stories of how he tries to lure young girls and willing ladies into his bed. He initially used to live alone with a houseboy until armed men who invaded the house were traced back to the boy. Then the children got a couple of young girls who all went away after stories of sexual molestation by the old man. He was left to fend for himself for a while until he injured himself in a domestic accident. So the children employed the services of an elderly retired matron on the same street
to pop in and see to his welfare. It was through the women he finally met a young divorcee with two children who now takes care of his needs. The story is that the children have agreed to accept the woman and help with the education of her children for as long as she does not assume the position of a wife by getting pregnant. A win-win situation here, as far as I am concerned. However, the third scenario currently playing out for another two elderly lovers may not pan out so amicably in the end. The children on both sides have sworn daggers should they catch them together. The two of them were teenage sweethearts and even believed to have had an off and on relationship while each of their partners were alive. Perhaps, this is the root of the children’s disapproval.

So what should happen to the love life of the elderly, especially when their original partners leave? Most of the time, selfish interest, greed and fear often contribute to how we perceive matters of this nature. Sometimes, our culture and morality also steal a part of our conscience, rational thoughts and judgment. Indeed, many of us would find it rather nauseating to imagine someone other than our fathers balling our mothers! Forgetting that sex is a natural part of human existence. But if I may ask, does age determine our ability to love and care for another? Or does age prevent one from being loved and cared for by the opposite sex?

Growing old in this part of the world is a process that has continued to be shrouded in so much negativity in this culture. Except perhaps for the rich and famous, the average old woman is often regarded as a potential witch, especially if she has to depend on others besides herself for her welfare. The story of the man is not much different and can even be worse considering the fact that he has no maternal instinct to offer in the care of his children growing young family. It is a fact that things are not always very rosy when an elderly in-law has to live under the same roof with a young couple and their children. If a daughter-in-law is not nasty, a son-in-law can be rude or not so respectful. Would it not be fair to allow them carry on with each other as long as they are not bugging anyone?  Just asking! Do have a wonderful weekend!

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