WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE RAISED BY A WIDOW
“The ball in now in your court.” Those were the last words my father told me in his final days. Even though I had no idea how deep those words were at the age of 17, I knew they must have carried enough weight. One day, I came back from registration in my first year at the university. It was 8pm exactly, and from the beginning of the street there were rows and rows of cars; Much more than my blank gaze could quantify at the moment.
I knew my father was not discharged from the hospital. I just knew that he was no more. I knew he had gone. I knew I would never hear his voice. I knew I would miss him. I knew I had to take care of my siblings. But I never knew that the journey ahead would be a spin for the rest of my life.
My mother once told me that when you lose a father, you have lost your first line of defense and protection. When you lose a mother, you lose the unending support that holds you consistently from behind and prevents you from falling down or backwards. When you loose a husband, you lose the shelter or cloud that constantly provides you with a shade to rest underneath. And finally, when you lose a child, you lose a part of your soul that can never be recovered. For me, at that very moment, within the pain and grief I felt, I felt the need to stay alive for her sake; to protect her soul.
I grew up in polygamy, and it has its moments, good, bad and the very worst. Of all the lessons I learnt while growing up within that circle, the best was that it prepared me for the life and future I projected for myself later. I grew up in a highly privileged upbringing and felt very secure. Hard work was always emphasized by both of my parents and I grew up thinking that the world was one big happy place. Because my mother had to relocate to Abuja and work while I was 11 years old, I had to mentally grow up faster than most of my peers so that I could help raise my siblings. Well, boarding school contributed to a lot of that mental growth too. *Laughs* I also came to admire my mother’s strength, poise and dedication to her family and work. I understood what it meant for a man to support his wife and I knew I was not going to settle for any less in the future.
Rewind back to a few days and months after my father died, inheritance was sorted and I silently observed his friends, family members and relatives all struggling to get a piece of their rightfully earned squalor. The man that fell, long forgotten. Life had quickly moved on for a lot of them. My mother’s poise amidst everything said it all. She was calm. My father’s friends made so many promises to take care of us as he had taken care of them even while they were alive, but am sure they had a good laugh afterwards about their theatrics, they all sounded like political campaign managers.
We moved to Abuja with my mother and the real struggle began. She has to source money to pay fees, medical expenses, housing, maintenance et al for 5 children all on her own, with no helper. At work, she was consistently moved from one ministry to another because she refused to compromise her integrity to approve finances without following due process. And while we encouraged her to do so, when she informed us of another transfer, she would say, ‘Integrity above all.’ That became our mantra till date. Still, it was a very difficult period. She had supportive friends who constantly helped and supported her. For ‘the political campaign managers’ had disappeared overnight and moved to other parties when they projected there was no financial gain but only incurred expenses. I remember my younger sister asking my mum to buy ‘Agbalumo’ fruit for her during grocery shopping one day at the market and my mother obliged. She got three juicy ones and placed them in her palms. But my sister, only 7 at the time, stood still and kept on staring at the fruit in her palms. My mother asked her what was wrong and her response brought tears to my mother’s eyes. “If it was daddy, he would have bought the whole basket for me.” Could my mother afford the whole basket then? Absolutely yes, but she had to prioritize her budget for the whole family as well. Her response was soothing and realistic to my sister. “Daddy is no more and we all have to adjust to what we can afford.”
As the years went by I watched as she turned down several marriage proposals and dealt with societal pressure for a widow to quickly get married so that she may earn back societal respect. This helped me build my confidence on marriage and not allow society to muscle or dictate the status quo to me.
Going through an allowance at school was tough and I couldn’t ask for a raise even when I developed an ulcer. I am an excellent business negotiator now as an adult, but still don’t know how to ask for a personal raise from even my husband*Laughs.* She did eventually graduate all 5 children with a Masters degree all by herself, and still went through another grieving period of losing a son. She had also previously lost one while my father was alive; making two.
Now that I have evolved into a wife, a.k.a domestic engineer, a mother and a career woman, being raised by a widow has taught me so much I cannot possibly quantify. But some of the lessons are:
– Integrity above all is my daily mantra
– Life experiences are normal growth processes
– Mistakes and failures happen all the time and are only termed as such when you don’t learn from them
– Grief is no excuse for stupidity however much you may feel the need to indulge in it.
– There are no shortcuts or elevators to success; everyone must take the stairs.
– Growth in life must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again
– Never get into something to test the waters; you go into things to make waves
– People will always stare and point fingers at you, but it is your job to make it worth their while
– Your determination when you have nothing should define you; and so should your attitude when you have everything
– Don’t hold a grudge with someone, they are enjoying the rent free in your head
– Money can never buy common sense; morals; trust; character; love or class
– Let your work speak for you in a crowd such that you don’t need an introduction
– You can have everything in life you want or ever wished for; just not at the same time
– Karma is nasty
– Invest in your home and family
– Separate your wants from your needs
– Change or save someone’s life towards survival
– And finally, all what we do in this life is a distraction and temporary; the afterlife would echo through eternity so build your way of life towards that direction.
Today I watch her with admiration and respect as the longest serving Permanent Secretary of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Civil Service, her constant dedication to her family, work and country, and therefore I know that i have no excuse to stay in bed, take a day off or not make my own path in life.
A job well done to all the widows on this International Widows day for their strength and resilience.