The grief of a young widow

Early this year, a local pastor chose to remarry after losing her husband and the father to her three children. As a young woman in her late thirties, her husband had passed on due to health complications and she had waited for over four years to get married again, however, this didn’t save her from society’s scorn.

She was ridiculed by many for her choice and on top of the loss and sorrow of young widowhood, the young woman suffered contempt.

But if loss of a spouse is that devastating, how is a young woman who has just started relishing the fruits of marriage supposed to deal with the abrupt loss of a spouse?

Losing a life partner is devastating no matter how old you are. Net photos

Losing a life partner is devastating no matter how old you are, but it may be hardest on younger people. Though most of the research on the loss of a spouse focuses on the elderly, psychologists have examined the impact of this event at different points in life.

Middle-aged people, it turns out, are more likely than older widows and widowers to exhibit symptoms of depression and what’s known as ‘complicated’ grief-grief that becomes a preoccupation and prevents the bereaved from going on with life—for months, years, even decades, this is according to an article published on the Women In The World.

The article goes on to highlight that in middle age, people are at maximum engagement in the world. It’s the point at which they are most in need of a partner, they have committed themselves to careers; they are raising children; they often have older parents they’re responsible for. People in middle age, more than any other age group, have a heightened risk of dying in the period immediately following their spouse’s death. Overwhelmed by an unexpected encounter with mortality, they may get careless about life and death.

When grieving, counsellors advise to try and seek comfort in the company of friends and family.  Below: Religion can be an incredible comfort in times of loss. 

“Older people, it appears, are more adept at coping with loss. By old age, they have come to accept that death is a part of life. As you get older, you realise it’s going to end. You start losing your parents, people you know. It’s less of a jarring event. Young survivors may struggle to understand their loss. The death can have an outsize impact on their worldview, which might not be fully developed. When we experience death early, a lot of our assumptions about how the world works may die right along with our loved one.”

Sheikh Yusuf Mugisha explains that because at this age, a woman has just entered the marriage covenant and abruptly her husband passes away, this causes unspeakable trauma.

She is traumatised due to the absence of her husband; second, the responsibilities that have to be carried by two people are now shouldered by her alone yet she is still grieving, Mugisha says.

He also notes that at this age, most women still want to have children or marry again, yet this at times causes a conflict of emotions.

“It is natural for a widow to want to remarry especially when she is still young. However, moving on might be hard, especially that she can walk into her new relationship or marriage with the trauma of her previous marriage,” he says.

Mugisha also notes that on top of grief, some families (in-laws) can make it even worse for the widow. They can reach the extent of blaming their son’s death on the grieving wife accusing her of carrying bad luck to their family, he says.

This can be devastating and it is not right. It is also not right for those who choose to condemn a widow who chooses to remarry because it is her right. Because marriage is regarded as a protection and security, in Islam, normally when a husband passes on, the lady waits for four months and after that they can choose to date or remarry, Mugisha explains.

Overcoming patriarchal customaries

Counsellor Damien Mouzoun says widowhood is one of life’s tragedies that most families hope to avoid. However, for most married women, it may be inevitable. This, he says, affects even those who appear to be safe.

When the husband/spouse dies, this stressful situation makes women to suffer a lot of emotional physical, mental and spiritual problems. It is taken as somewhat normal for a woman to suffer profoundly as all cultures have rules which govern women’s lives, he says.

Widows are often silently subject to patriarchal customary, religious laws and even confront discrimination in inheritance rights, he adds.

Mouzoun notes that for young widows, loss is often accompanied by the challenges of becoming a single mother, dealing with financial hardships, and trying to navigate the waters of dating again and also keeping some complicated memories for the rest of life.

“If only one could resurrect a husband by any means, we will all be fine; but since this remains quite impossible, young women who have lost their husbands must seek proper counselling and move on with life.”

Widows are encouraged to overcome their vulnerability and find the way to rebuild their families. Some countries have widows’ associations to promote their rights and protection in the society. Unfortunately for many, nothing could ever match their first relationship. Even if one may not easily get over the loss, it is important to learn to accept and live on, the counsellor advises.

He also cites that many years ago marriages lasted for a very short time, after which one of the spouses died from health or war issues. It was normal, for women to be taken as wives by another man whose wife had died in childbirth, and vice versa for men to be taken as husband by wives who had lost their husbands.

“Today with better health and longer lifespans, more information about all these issues, there should be no cultural qualms, especially as we are moving towards a more liberal and healthy approach. We must adopt and understand that we are one race, one global family, without borders or prejudice. We must support the vulnerable among us, particularly the widows and help them in their choices, rather than mocking them,” he adds.

How best can one move on after the death of a spouse?

They should avoid resorting to drugs as a means of dealing with the pain; this will only cause more trouble. Instead, a grieving widow should seek comfort and support from family and friends. 

Penina Umutesi, Mother


Seek services from a professional counsellor. Finding a professional to talk to can help in unloading the pain of unsettled emotions, and this can help one to heal consequently.

Sarah Mbabazi, Businesswoman


Take care of yourself; this includes caring for her physical, mental and emotional state. Eat healthy and exercise. Also, a bereaved person needs company, hence, should avoid staying alone.

Robert Mugabe, Reflexologist


I would advise them to join a support group with other people who are grieving as this can also be very uplifting. Sharing each other’s experiences can be comforting and it helps one to understand that they are not alone.

 Rodgers Munyaneza, Banker

editorial@newtimesrwanda.com

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