My name is Evelyn, a serial entrepreneur and a widow who lives in Abuja Nigeria. Thanks for letting me share my journey to widowhood. You see, when you’re widowed at 52, people think you must have gotten used to it. But no matter how often I hear it, it still makes me uncomfortable.
I’m not a typical widow. I was widowed on a technicality; my husband died while we were in the process of getting a divorce.
Being widowed while in a divorce process, means sneaking into the widow club through the back door. I didn’t have to pay the usual price of admission such as the raging soul-crushing grief. It, however, means carrying a nagging sense of guilt for accepting sympathy that feels underserved, and an almost obsessive need to confess that you’re not the “real” widow people assume you are.
Back during our courtship, I had ignored my gut feeling that something wasn’t right between Caleb and me. But soon after our honeymoon, when I cringed at his “my way or the no way” approach to life, I knew we had a serious problem and needed marriage counselling.
Two marriage counsellors later, we were still in the rut because my husband was stuck in his sick childhood ideologies.
I read several books on saving a dying relationship/marriage, listened to great teachings and speeches on marriage, yet nothing changed.
The funny thing was that even as our relationship deteriorated, we still connected in bed, sexually more than emotionally. For some reason, at night he opened his heart to me. I can’t explain it, but those were the times he softened and I felt loved, and that sustained us longer than I’d care to admit.
Yet each morning with the predictability of sunrise, our problems returned with a thud. With me always feeling used, manipulated or objectified. By the end, I’d turn away after sex so he wouldn’t see my tears. I couldn’t fix what was irretrievably broken.
When we finally decided to end things, I felt indifferent, I had been shut out of marriage long before then and we were more like bed mates or roommates. I felt relieved that our kids, then fifteen and seventeen, took the breakup calmly. They weren’t always home anyways and we both promised to give them the best of everything so they don’t feel the split.
“What took you so long?” my twin sister asked with great sarcasm when I told her Caleb and I were getting a divorce. His family and mine knew we had issues already.
We hired divorce lawyers but it took a while before I was comfortable calling him “my ex.” Because technically, he wasn’t. There was no legal separation, just my insistence to remain amicable and settle out of court.
Reaching a settlement proved elusive and frustrating, but we did manage to remain amicable.
My ex-husband owned a hospital and he eventually moved in with his girlfriend Sade, a pretty nurse and single mom who was 10 years younger than Caleb, 6 years younger than I was. I don’t know what she did better, but they seemed quite happy together and I had no problems with her.
I was later glad he had her because when he had a heart attack one evening in mid-January, one year into our split, it was Sade who was with him. It was she who called to tell me.
He went into cardiac arrest and was comatose. I was out partying with friends while she was desperately performing CPR on the man who was technically still my husband.
“I’m at the hospital,” she said tearfully when she called. “Come quickly.”
When I arrived at the hospital, a bored-looking attendant took me into a small, empty waiting room. “You’ll need to wait here,” she said. “The doctor is talking to the family.” He motioned to the doctor’s office across the hall.
“But I am family,” I said.
She squinted at me, her brow knitted in confusion. “Who are you?”
“I’m his wife,” I said. “The mother of his kids.”
The look on her face said “this can’t be good” and I was ushered through those double doors.
“When we found out there was a wife and a girlfriend, we thought, ‘oh no!’” a matron confided to me later, only after they realised there was no reason to worry. Legally, as Caleb’s wife, I called the shots; I was his healthcare proxy with the authority to carry out his living will.
Over the next five days, accompanied by the constant hiss of the respirator and the beep-beep of the heart monitor, it became clear there was no hope, so we – Sade, Caleb’s brother, and I jointly decided to take a once vital 55-year-old man off life support. With his final breath, I went from almost-ex to widow.
There’s no protocol for my kind of widowhood. So I created one. Caleb’s funeral featured eulogies from widow and girlfriend. His gravestone read “Caring Husband” on one line, and “Beloved Companion” on another. We even shared the pain: Sade with dashed hopes and a broken heart, me with endless executor’s paperwork and two grief-stricken children. I went from getting a divorce attorney to estate attorney.
Today, five years after Caleb’s death, I still hesitate before defining my relationship with him. Saying “my late husband,” while technically true, feels like a lie. Having said it often enough makes me wonder if we were ever getting divorced in the first place.
Yet the truth – “We were separated when he died” – often comes across as too confessional, Most times awkward, so I just clam up, I’m not sure why, but it saves me harrowing explanations.
Or maybe I should simply call him my “late soon-to-be-ex-husband.” It’s a mouthful, but at least it’s accurate.
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