TWSC Submission: The day I became a widow at 22

Photo: Esther Matendechere

I’m Esther Matendechere, a widow from Kenya, a mother and a woman with purpose. I became a widow at the age of 22 in May 2020. It was an unusual day, and I felt a bit restless.

It was in the evening, around 5 pm and I heard people wail while coming towards the direction of my house. I had gone to the rural areas to stay for some time while my husband remained working. I didn’t suspect anything at first because I was in shock. I couldn’t think clearly and I was restless because those villagers crying had information on what had happened and I didn’t. I checked my kids to see if they were hurt but they were okay. I went inside my bedroom to try and call my husband and ask what was happening since something was wrong, but his phone wasn’t going through.

I rushed back to the sitting room and one old woman gave me her phone to talk to my brother in-law. My in-law was crying and couldn’t communicate well. So his wife explained to me that where my husband was stationed as a police officer, it had rained heavily and he was carried away by floods and died.

That news tore my heart in two and I remained in shock. I started laughing because I thought everyone was pulling a prank on me. I then watched TV and saw two of the officers were still missing, so it gave me hope that my husband wasn’t dead. That night, people returned to their homes and I left with my friend. I called my dad and told him the tragedy and he was so devastated. Our family was still young. My first born was 3 and my second born, a girl, was 5 months old. Now suddenly the head of our family is gone. Nothing was adding up.

I tried to think and I couldn’t anymore, so I slept. Maybe I was running away from reality, I don’t know, but I knew I needed time to think clearly.

The following morning, I woke with the news that my husband was no more and not coming back again. At this point, I realized that I was alone. I had to start making life decisions without anyone backing me. My husband hadn’t paid my dowry, so I had to go back to my maternal home to wait for dowry.

The following day, I left for my maternal home with my kids and my husband’s cousin. I reach my maternal home and met my grandfather who broke down into tears asking God why it happened to me while I was this young. Being a widow is something that seems shameful. People tend to hide from you or think that you have a curse. Others think that you will seek sympathy from them so they tend to disassociate with you in every way. The elders from my husband’s side came. My dad had already arrived, so the dowry proceedings went on well. Afterwards, I returned with them to my husband’s home to continue with the burial proceedings. The whole time, I’m just thinking, “what if my husband is not dead, what if he survived?”

I decided to wait and see so I could believe, because I couldn’t…no matter how hard I tried to.

The following day was the day that I was going to the police camp to sleep since it’s far from our rural home. It was heartbreaking when the aunts and uncles refused to take me to the mortuary, giving out excuses that they are afraid of a dead person, and I couldn’t judge because I knew that no one understood my pain other than myself and God. So again, I went with my two kids and my friend to the police camp.

We arrived at the camp and we are shown places to sleep and food to eat. It was so unpleasant. We had to share one bed with my friend and kids, but thank God we managed.

In the morning, we woke up at 4 am to be ready to go to the mortuary. We arrived at the mortuary around 10 am and we had to wait for my brother in-law to arrive because he was the one listed as the next of kin. I couldn’t even view the body of my husband because I wasn’t in his records. I was shocked and pretended to be okay, but deep down I was really hurting. I thought to myself, “he is dead and now I can’t view his body because I’m not his next of kin.” I told the police officer in charge that we would wait until my in-law arrived then I would view my late husband’s body.

Around 3 in the afternoon, my brother in-law still hadn’t arrived. What was happening to them, I didn’t know since they were the ones in charge of the burial preparations – the clothes we were to wear and everything. The officers were impatient and I was given permission to view my husband’s body and take him home. I entered where he was laying in a casket with his eyes shut and a smile on his face. He couldn’t move nor talk, but I decided to talk to him.

I told him that I had accepted whatever happened and I was there to take him home. We prayed and then the officers put him to their vehicle. We reach home at around 10 pm and my in-law still hadn’t arrived, but at this point, I don’t care about anyone.

I rode in the car with my baby since I was really tired and I needed to rest for a while. I couldn’t eat when food was brought, and I slept till morning.

In the morning, I woke up early for the burial. It would be the last time I was seeing my husband’s lifeless body. and I now had the responsibility of being a father and a mother to my children. After the burial, people started leaving the compound for their homes. After three days, every one was gone and the compound was empty.

My culture forbids a widow from visiting anyone’s house until one month is over, so this whole time I was alone in my house with my kids. Sometimes I would just stare with no words because my firstborn would ask me why his dad is not coming home. What was happening that we were alone? I couldn’t answer and as the months came and went, I started developing fear and depression.

I decided to go back to my parents’ house in the city to think and try to figure out life in my widowhood. I have learnt that in life we are the author of our stories. I don’t let any situation be the determinant of my destiny. I’m grateful for each day and I learnt that the fact that I’m alive today is a blessing. That’s the key. What I do today to overcome my widowhood and its challenges will always depend on me

My words of encouragement to a grieving woman:

1. The first thing is accepting what has happened. Accepting removes fear and creates hope.

2. Do not let anyone write your story. It’s your book and you are the author of the story. Whatever people say should be at the back of the book so you are not confused by lies and mockery.

3. Healing comes from accepting and living each day thankful to God for mercy and grace.

4. Be a prayer warrior. That’s where we give it all to Jesus to let him take over in our life.

5. Pray always to God before doing anything, be it thinking about remarrying and etc.

6. Despite every pain and struggle, you have a purpose in life.

7. Lastly, create a support system and remember: Don’t please anyone but your God, your kids and yourself. Live in reverence to the Will of God and let Him prevail in your life.

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