Frank talk

By Chuks Osuji Why do wives live long after their husband’s death?

law. Two years on, the civil war with its attendance consequences began. But determined to have a higher education, two years after the civil war, I proceeded to the United States in February 1972. Before leaving, I had been offered admission at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis to read Journalism. However, since my admission would start in July of that year, I had to divert to Dallas, Texas to stay with a family friend. There, I heard horrifying stories about the severity of the weather in Minneapolis. Since weather was one of the principal reasons why I left London, I could not be foolish second time around. I was advised to remain in Dallas where the weather though sometimes unpredictably harsh, could be relatively friendly.

A fine gentleman and indeed very patriotic man, Chris Akukwe assisted me to secure admission from the University of Texas at Arlington. The choice of this university was the only option I had because, in the first place, it was the closest to Dallas although about 30 kilometers away. Secondly, it offered me the opportunity of making a choice between Journalism and Political Science, the only two disciplines that appealed to me. Reading Law was out of the question because of its rigorous process in the United States. As it happens in the American University system, every freshman must in the first two years be exposed to general studies which cuts across several subjects in Humanities, American History, American Government, Economics, Sociology, Political Science, Biology, and one foreign Language, Mathematics, English and few others. The aim is to give every student a broad exposure to general studies to enable a student definitely decide as to what area is he likely to do very well irrespective of his original thinking.

It was in the first two years of general studies that I met one Professor Kauffman from whom I took two years of English Language course. An elegant lady with deep knowledge of the subject, a chain smoker who appeared to draw inspiration from the cigarettes she smoked while teaching was sound and knew how to appraise her students. One of the Literature books she recommended to us in the first semester was that of Geoffrey Chaucer, an English author of close to Shakespearean age, although he was much younger. Prof. Kauffman, a fascinating lady with strong personality, as I later found out was an extreme feminist. She made it compulsory for us to read a chapter entitled: The wife of the Bathe. While discussing this particular story, Prof. Kauffman was stressing on a woman’s strong character which must include ability to assert herself as a strongwoman. Professor Kauffman with her strong character and influence nearly influenced me to take English as my major study because according to her, I could do it because in the two years she took us in English, I did well in her four courses. I politely turned down her suggestion because I did not want to end up in a university class room, the obvious job I would take on coming home. That was when I had a myopic knowledge that an English major even with Ph.D could do so many things in place of teaching- A major that would have probably landed me in a big newspaper house.

In fact, I must admit that Prof. Kauffman had a lot of influence in me because after reading The wife of Bathe, I began to take great interest in women’s affairs. Honestly, the effort I made in producing a book a couple of years ago entitled Nigerian women in Politics could be traced to a long cherished advocacy for women rights.

Thus, after staying around for so long in the society, I have come to appreciate the import of that story. From Chaucer I could link the apparent longevity which widows enjoy after their husbands have died to some sociological and psychological imperatives which every widow enjoys after the death of her husband. I capture from that verse although every woman supposed to be under a husband, it does not offered to her the essential privileges. What are these Privileges?  In short, every woman would like to have love shown to her, to possess authority which her husband exercises and freedom which her husband cannot let her have to the fullest. The love, authority and freedom are certainly heart desires of every woman.

Therefore, it follows that once a woman’s husband dies, she is likely to have these three.  In the first place, in spite of the agony and pains she would suffer as the result of her husband’s death and other traditional imperatives, she would be answerable to nobody. Although her husband’s relations may try to exercise some authority over her, depending on the character of the woman, they are not likely to succeed. Secondly, what of authority? Since she has freedom, she would have authority to exercise her freedom, take decision about the education of her children, her husband’s assets and liability, even where tradition would attempt to impose some control, she will still have her ways because she is in charge of her own fortune and future and those of her children.

What of the love which her husband was giving to her, including its attendant care? This is the simplest of the three she could acquire from several sources. She is more than likely to be loved by some others, including the love from her own children. And if she gets love from any source that must come with elements of care to her.

I have long observed with keen interest, and I am sure that this will be supported by both empirical and normative inquiries ,that widows live longer after the deaths of their husbands. One  needs to sit down, take  casual mental survey of one’s neighborhood  or community to see  how many widows are living in that environment and for  how long have  their husbands died.

Although there may not be statistical evidence, empirical or normative, obtained from a particular kindred, village, community or in certain collection of houses showing the number of widows in comparison with widowers living in that particular area, and to show when and how long ago did their husbands died and for how long did those of the widowers. It is intellectually safe to assume that the evidence will support the postulation that widows live longer after their husbands have died. Curious indeed.

For example, in my community, such convincing evidence bound. Their lives today in my kindred a 91-year-old woman, agile, strong, and never shows any sign of old age. Her husband died in September 1960, that is 52 years ago. Similarly in my village, of 10widows who died about 10 years ago, each lived over 33 years after the death of their individual husbands.

Furthermore, of 12 widows living in my village, the collective average date since their husbands died is between thirty five and fourty two years. Even those widows who died five years ago, their husbands had long been dead upwards of 20 years. Unfortunately, by the same straight of statistical measurement of 10 widowers living in my village today, the longest time each of the wives died is between six and eight years  ago.

It will be an interesting exercise if sociologists and some women activists carry out some survey in this direction and have such survey results published. Such empirical and normative survey is likely to confirm this hypothesis that women live long after their husbands have died. Although, the death of their husbands might be very painful, they soon got over those agonies and began to flourish health-wise, perhaps because they have authority and freedom entrusted on them by the circumstance of their husband’s death. The reasons are as opined by Geoffrey Chaucer. What a life.