How life changed when our husbands died

Ann Odero, Edith Lande, Wanjiru Ndung’u, Mwanaidi Ramadhan

Widows from left: Ann Odero, Edith Lande, Wanjiru Ndung’u, Mwanaidi Ramadhan and Rebecca Auma Dero.

Photo credit: Nation Media GRoup

The devastating loss of a partner is magnified when you find yourself engaging in long-term fights for basic rights and dignity. The United Nations estimates that there are about 258 million widows around the world.

And as Kenya joined the world in marking International Widows’ Day on Friday, it is apparent there is more to their struggle than just adjusting to a new life of solitude and emotional void, and assuming the role of the head of the family.

A number of women opened up to Lifestyle on widowhood, and their heart wrenching experiences rule the society guilty of commission and omission.

Edith Lande, 60, retired teacher

Edith Lande.

I got married in 1990 and lost my husband in 2008 to blood pressure and diabetes. He was a school principal. Then, we had three children, the eldest having been 16, and the youngest in class four.

As soon as he died, I ceased being referred to by my name. Everybody referred to me as a widow. They’d ask “Mjane yuko wapi?” (Where is the widow?) I was pained and  stigmatised.

My life changed immensely because I learnt to be independent, especially after the challenges that I faced, I braced myself to overlook many barriers.

I focused on raising my children. I endeavoured to fill the void so they would not ponder that “if dad was alive he would have done this or that”. I invested in insurance, Sacco and micro-saving groups.

After about five years, I was steady. I could pay my bills and children’s fees comfortably. I gave them the best that I could.

My children were young at the time their father died. My lastborn daughter kept asking me about the dad. Then, we lived in a teachers’ quarters at the school I taught at, away from home.

And after his burial, at home, we returned and continued with our life in school –and my daughter could not just wrap that around her head.

Since my brothers-in-law intended to inherit me against my wish, I always avoided going home.

I didn’t see the need to get married again. The few suitors that came by appeared as if they would take advantage of me. I feared going back home, so I bought a parcel of land and a house and established our own home, though I now live alone since my adult children are out of the nest.

My late husband was very supportive –both emotionally and financially –and had quite a number of outlets in which, sometime, we would take items on credit. We would fuel on credit.

But after his demise, the outlets “did not respect us” and ceased rendering services on credit. Inasmuch as I was a teacher and I could make do with my salary, most people do not believe that a widow could service the debts as much as they did when the husbands were alive.

When I became a widow, most of my married friends changed their attitude towards me. Widows are considered single, therefore, family spoilers. So, I lost quite a number of friends.

In life, I have learnt that as you live with your spouse, it is good to prepare for any eventualities so that if the worst happens, it doesn’t run you down.

Wanjiru Ndung’u, 46

Wanjiru Ndung'u.

Wanjiru Ndung'u.

Photo credit: Siago Cece | Nation Media Group

It has been five years since I lost him. But the pain is still as fresh as when it happened. I had always been a bubbly person, laughing at everything and always wearing a smile. But losing my husband completely changed me. My world turned topsy-turvy.

My husband was my best friend. We had been together for over 10 years and had two children –a son and a daughter. Then he developed a clot in his brain and fell sick.

When he died, I immediately lost grip. I got blamed by my extended family for not telling them that my husband was sick. My job also ended immediately because I had been struggling with grief, grossly affecting my productivity, adding to the fact that I was now a single mom.

At the initial stage, I was still in denial that my soul mate was no more, but the more reality dawned on me, the more I fell into depression and suicidal thoughts. I could not imagine life without him.

I distanced myself from people and the church and subsequently lost friends. I felt like they were not there for me when I needed them. At some point, I felt like I was alone in the world.

Some of the relatives came out baying for our property. Those who owed him refused to pay back. Some of his friends also turned their backs on me. I also met some people who said I was still young and could easily remarry. But that is not what I wanted. I only wanted to raise our babies the best way I could.

The effects of the loss took a toll on me and my children. My youngest was the most affected, he was constantly sick and I had to withdraw him from school for a whole year to stay home with me.

“He is not the first to become orphaned”, one of the teachers always told him and it bruised the wound I had wished to heal. The teacher's insensitivity injured his self-esteem and he even deteriorated physically and became sickly, and each day, the smile on my face faded away. There were days I cried and questioned God a lot.

Right now, I am picking up. I am still trying my best to raise my children. I have resumed the community work that is my passion. Even though I am battling a court case and things sometimes get tough, I have very few close friends who are there for me.

I also regained my trust in God and pray every day that things will get better. I am happy that my husband kind of prepared me for this and I knew that the life of a widow was not that easy. He loved people and loved God and kept supporting some women who had lost their husbands. He desired to be available for his children and I want to be there for them just as he wished.

Mwanaidi Ramadhan, 35, from Kwale

Mwanaidi Ramadhan
Photo credit: Siago Cece | Nation Media Group

I was a pampered housewife, taking care of two children and a third pregnancy. My husband, a pilot, was the sole breadwinner who wanted me to stay home as he promised to provide everything.

And then disaster struck. There had been a plane crush and my dear husband was one of the casualties. This was too horrendous to process. My life suddenly changed after 10 years of marriage and I plunged into an abyss of uncertainties. Our young family was greatly destabilised.

As per the script, drama ensued. The extended family started demanding for property from me, saying I was too young and that they could not trust me with his property. I was mourning and my pregnancy was at risk, so I kept myself away.

Life is still difficult for us. The children always ask where their father is because all they remember is him leaving for work.

 Loss and grief is a painful path to walk. When you think you got friends,that is when you lose them. I find myself alone with my children most of the time. Even the family members that were always in my house no longer come. I have not gotten someone to confide in to soothe my heart. Just my babies and I. I am not yet healed. I am still struggling. We have an ongoing court case where my late husband’s employer  refused to pay his last salary. So I keep being reminded to attend and that brings back his memories. These in so many ways, remind me that I’m widowed and painfully a single mother now.

From his family, his sister has been supportive. His colleagues have been there for me. I had never met them but they have come out to help me in my time of need and always check up on me and my children.

 But his death has also pushed me out of my comfort zone. I ventured into business earlier this year to fend for my family. I import clothes, handbags and beauty products from Tanzania. I mostly get my clients online. That is what has kept me afloat.

Suicide thoughts once crossed my mind, but I sober up when I think of my children as total orphans.

Life has changed in many ways.  I have even blocked many people on social media, just to feel okay. I believe families should be there for any member who loses their spouse and give them an ear.

Rebecca Auma Dero, 59: widowed for 23 years

Rebecca Auma Dero

Rebecca Auma Dero.

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

Nothing really prepared me for widowhood. From dealing with grief to handling enormous financial challenges, it has been a journey characterised by intense lows. I was widowed in 2000.

My husband and I resided in Nairobi. He meant the world to me, and after his death, a lot changed. A part of me went with him, and what remained was never to be the same. I immediately assumed the role of a sole breadwinner, finding means to get food, school fees, rent and many other needs. It seemed like I had to work 10 times as hard to cover his absence.

As a young widow living in Nairobi, I went through a lot. I knew I had to uphold my morals, remain a virtuous woman and be a good role model to my children, who were my priority. Remarrying wasn’t an option.

Prior to my husband’s death, his two brothers, my brothers-in-law, had died. As a result, there were many fatherless children to take care of. Life became quite difficult, and the trauma threatened to break me.

Among the many hurdles that I faced as a widow, the greatest was the land issue. My mother-in-law, either by design or default, never allocated land to my husband, yet he had equal rights. That aside, my husband and I put our resources together and purchased a piece of land. Unfortunately, he passed on before we got the formal ownership. In an inexplicable turn of events, the family that sold us the parcel changed tune and demanded their land back. This posed many difficulties for me and my children, so I decided to quit my job in Nairobi to occupy and protect the land.

I later sought justice through the courts, which was not easy. After a long and protracted process, justice was served in my favour.

I also struggled through thick and thin to educate the orphans that were left under my care until they completed their studies.

In 2017, my third-born daughter convened a widows’ meeting. Driven by the experiences she had seen us go through after her father’s demise, she felt that widows needed a support group. It is through this meeting that Nyanam, an organisation for widows was born. Through the platform, we share experiences as widows and realise just how much we had in common. Nyanam is also a place where widows have been able to raise, empower and educate their children through different programmes such as mentorship, self-awareness, and environmental campaigns such as tree planting.

Ann Odero, 66: widowed for 18 years

Ann Odero

Ann Odero.

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

We had been married for 16 years and had three children together. My husband was an only child. After his death, I was always treated as an outcast by his family, so I migrated to another community.

Before he died, I was exclusively a homemaker as he catered for all our needs–school fees, food, and plenty of love, but then he slipped away with all these. In his absence, I had to work twice as hard to make ends meet and be strong enough to face the uncertainties that come with being widowed.

It took a long time for me to accept that my husband was no more. My children and I had to make a lot of adjustments, which was only natural as we tried to fit into our new life without him. Nothing stays the same. It feels like even the 25 years of living with my husband could never prepared me for the twist and turns that life took upon his demise.As soon as he breathed his last, I knew I had to chin up. It has been 18 years of being strong.

Going by the Luo culture, a wife is to be inherited by her in-laws after the husband dies, but I decided against it.

Two of our children were already in secondary school when he died. And a year later, another daughter joined Form One. Given the financial burden that comes with widowhood, I sometimes got support from my birth parents. I also joined several women groups in the hope of drawing warmth and support, but I felt drained instead. The groups came with financial obligations like membership fees, which I could not afford.

The church should be a refuge for the destitute, like myself, so the holy book teaches. Sadly, the church also shunned me in my most desperate moments. I even organised a harambee to raise school fees for my children, but the church did not support me. Only a handful of friends came through. My children always applied for bursaries through the chief’s office, but they were disqualified in the process, as we were seen as migrants who did not fully belong.

I did hairdressing and sold vegetables for a living. But due to my advanced age, I can no longer plait hair, so I only sell vegetables. I was also a member of a women’s collective where I could get loans through which I managed to put my children through school. This same group also gave me food donations every now and then.

It was at the group that I learnt to grieve and accept the cruel reality of the death of my husband. Thanks to the group, my household is and those of other widows are stable as we navigate widowhood.