By Bunmi Sofola
If the word ‘widow’ conjures up an image of someone in their 80s or beyond with greying hair and a sense of a long life well-lived, Georgina is far from it. She’s one of a small section of society to be widowed at a young age and her experience offers a stark contrast to that notion.
A young widow is a statistical outliner, whose circumstances suddenly no longer fit with their contemporaries of a crucial moment in life, when others are career-building and child-rearing. What’s more, women are far more likely to be widowed at young age than men.
Georgina, a legal practitioner and Charles, her late husband who was a banker, were set up on a date in their mid-20s by friends. He was laid back, she was feisty and independent, but their differences pulled them together and they married after three years of seeing each other in 2013.
Their son arrived the following year, but at a friend’s wedding a couple of years later, Charles complained of being unable to swallow properly. Doctors later found an inoperable tumour in his oesophagus and discovered the cancer had spread throughout his body. Georgina was due to have their second child – they’d been married just over four years!
“You have horrid dark moments when you just sob”, say Georgina. “But when you have children you have to get on with it. Over the next two years, Charles endured bouts of rigorous chemotherapy but several months later, we were told the tumour was growing. Money we’d put aside went for his medical as the one provided by his office was inadequate.
“Charles’ decline was swift. He passed away with me holding his hand and his mum and siblings next to him. He knew we were there, but he couldn’t speak much. You look back and it almost doesn’t seem real. I went back to the hospital the next day to straighten out a few things and to check that it had really happened.
“From then on, I went into autopilot, telling who needed to know and organising the funeral. My parents took over a lot and his family was very supportive.
“More hurdles were ahead as many of our friends stopped contacting me, embarrassed by the taboo of death and the comparison of their own lives with my loss – on top of which I had to explain to our first child the concept of dying and the fact his dad was now `a star in the sky. Our youngest was less than a year old when her father died. It’s recently she started asking `is Daddy at work?’
“The practicalities of it all have also overwhelmed me. Suddenly I had to look after everything – the children, the house, the car, the finances, you don’t realise how much you do as a couple until you’re just one. Thanks to his life insurance payment, I’m able to cope perfectly but the idea I’ll meet someone else – as many so lightly assume of young widows – feels both laughable and terrifying.
“It’s hard enough to find the right person in the first place. With young children, you have to be even more careful. Also, who would want to take us on? They’d have to accept I’m only seeing them because of what happened. Charles and I would never have broken up. I will always love him and he will always be a part of our lives …”
“Mope, 35 is in the rawest first stages of young widowhood. She lost her husband Gbenga very early in the year. He had terminal brain cancer diagnosed in 2018. She’s now working out how to raise their three children – Deji eight, Mayowa six and four-year-old Temi – as a single mother.
“We hear about the grief of losing a child, but people don’t talk about the grief of losing a partner at this age”, she says. “One of the biggest problems I encountered was others perception of how I should act. We see grief in a certain way – the grieving widow in a black head-cover
There’s an assumption your life is over. If you’re the opposite of that, there’s a worry you aren’t playing the right role and will be judged. I have moments of sadness, but I won’t deliberately torture myself thinking about things”.
The couple had met ten years ago at a weekend conference. They connected instantly and the next month, Mope had moved in with him. They married two years later and for a short while, life was bliss until he started experiencing anxiety attacks and splitting headaches.
After one particularly bad episode left him on the floor and vomiting, he was rushed to the hospital. A CT and MRI scan confirmed that Gbenga, aged just 31 had a grade-4 tumour the size of an egg on his brain.
Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed. We had this mantra ‘whatever it takes’, that’s how we got through it at every stage. For a while, we thought it was beatable, but in 2015, the tumour grew and despite more surgery, nothing could halt the inevitable. On his 38th birthday last year, he had a seizure at home, he never recovered”.
Mope confessed she found night-time and being in groups the hardest. Thankfully, she has very good family support and wants for nothing financially.
“I’m currently in a transitional stage. I don’t understand life now. I have to work everything out again. What do I want? What don’t I want? What won’t I accept? It’s been over two years since I loft my husband, I have already been approached by men asking if I want to date again – something that feels strange at this early stage.
“There’s also the pressure to support Gbenga’s family as they are grieving too – something older widows typically don’t face. You’re not just managing your own grief, you’re managing everyone else’s around you. There are times I feel great, and then come back and see my mother-in-law who isn’t …”
Victor, 46, whose wife died nearly five years ago from breast cancer, leaving him to raise their then eight-year-old daughter knows the trials of being a widower and moving on. In the same year his wife passed away, he met Ropo a publisher, at gym. They’re now married.
“Like many young widows who are lucky enough to find love twice, preconceptions abound. With your children in the equation, recoupling can be more complicated. I had discussed meeting someone else with my late wife, who sanctioned the idea as long as I was happy and remained a good father. Still there were eye-rolls from some corners.
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“It’s not up to anyone else to tell you what appropriate period is to grieve. We knew my wife was ill for a very long time and I had six years of saying goodbye to her. Psychologically, I had done a lot of the grieving before she died. Although Ropo was obviously wary at first, we promised to put the brakes on if it became too much for her or her two sons – she was also a widow.
“I work from home as an architect and it makes thing easier. We’d earlier agreed that neither of us was a replacement for Mummy or Daddy. It’s about sewing two slightly damaged families together to help each other. Slowly it started to make sense.
“I also had to balance the expectation of my late wife’s family. I was worried about them but they’re coping with the fact their grand-daughter is being looked after by a stranger. They now agree it is an unusual but loving family and all the children are doing well. But it hasn’t been easy. When an older person dies, you celebrate their life and achievements. When a younger person dies, there’s that sense they’ve been unfairly taken away. It’s that unfairness which is so hard”.
These days, with so many Covid-19 casualties, grieving has become a sort of nightmare for some bereaved. One minute, you have a healthy family life, the next, a spouse is struck down within days. On top of which you’re not allowed to give a loved one the burial you think they deserve. Mourning becomes a nightmare and it takes such a long while to get over a shock like that.
Jesus Watching? (Humour)
One night, a burglar breaks into a house. He’s about to pick up the DVD player when he hears a strange voice echo: “Jesus is watching you”. Jumping out of his skin, he flashes his light around but sees nothing. He thinks he’s hearing things. But then he hears the words again, “Jesus is watching you”.
Freaked out he frantically shines the light around again. Finally, in the corner of the room he sees a parrot. ‘Did you say that’, he hisses. “Yup”, the parrot confesses. ‘I’m just trying to warn you’. The burglar relaxes, “Warn me? Who are you?”
“Moses”, the bird replies.
The burglar laughed. “What kind of stupid people would name their parrot Moses?” “The same kind of people who’d named their Rottweiler Jesus”, says the parrot.