(This note is dedicated to all mothers, wives, future wives and future mothers who have and will always stand by their families)
The microphone was handed over to her. She had sat quietly by her husband of fifty one years, nodding her head in agreement to every word he spoke. There she sat devotedly supporting her husband as she had always done since the second she said ‘I do’. Now it was her turn to speak. She and her husband had been invited to be guest speakers on their church’s family night. They were the oldest couple in the church and they were asked to impact the younger ones with their divine knowledge, especially on how they’ve made their marriage work over the years.
After over an hour of listening to her husband answer questions, she was finally asked to relive her experience as a wife so far. This will be the first time she’ll be telling her story to a crowd; though she’d use her past experiences various times to counsel her children, neighbours and younger relatives, she’d never really told it all at once.
She opened her mouth to speak but the words didn’t come out. She took in a deep breath, reminiscing on her life. Tears rolled freely down her cheeks as she began to speak finally. Her marriage had had its good times, bad times, beautiful and ugly times. But in all, as far as that very minute she was sitting by the only man she had ever loved, she knew her marriage was a success and she couldn’t be any more grateful to God.
Her husband was a senior worker in one of the government parastatal when they got married. It was not common then for females to be career women, so she stayed at home in the early years of the marriage, taking care of the five children God blessed them with. She had it all then, the perfect life; a faithful husband who came home every evening after work, once in awhile showering her with jewelries. He tried his best to bring funds for the household up keep on time even though certain times there was delay in payment of his salary. Her children were doing great in school and the family lived in their personal house. What more could she ask for?
Then ten years into the marriage, tragedy struck and her life never remained the same. Her husband fell ill, becoming bed ridden for the next eighteen years. Eighteen years of hardship, pains and struggles it was. Eighteen years she had to give up her social life and pleasures that her family may survive. Her friends called her a fool for staying with a man who couldn’t provide for her and her kids. One by one they all abandoned her. Her social group disbanded her due to her inability to pay her monthly dues. Her family neglected her since she paid deaf ears to their advice to pack out of his house and find a healthy man to remarry. Her in-laws were no better; they accused her of witchcraft, saying she was the architect of their son’s illness and misfortune.
No matter how hard they tried to discourage her or how painful the persecutions were, she stood her ground, fighting for her husband, her children and her family. She never lost hope. She found succor in the church, which was her pillar. God indeed was her strength, never leaving her side even though most times she felt alone; she knew God was working it out for her. Each day she read the bible, looking up to the proverbs 31 woman as her ideal role model, striving to be like her.
Without any foresight or preparation, she became the bread winner of her home. She started petty trading at the front of the house when all their saving had run out. When that wasn’t enough to cater for her husband’s medical bills, pay for her children’s education and also run the home she began to fry akara (bean cake) each morning and evening. As the years went by, the expenses grew especially those of the children as they moved up the academic ladder. She began moving from house to house; washing dirty clothes of her neighbours in addition to her trading just to make ends meet. When her kids were on holiday, she left the store in their care and went in search of construction sites, carrying blocks and concrete to augment her income. Theses she did for her family out of love. She never complained and never made her children or husband feel they were a burden. They were her responsibility and she owed them her care, devotion and unconditional love. Their happiness was her happiness.
When she was ill and had body pains she never showed it. She never allowed her children see her weak. She knew she was their strength and they all looked up to her. She needed to be, had to be strong for them. She told them tales of the hero their father was before he became bed ridden, of how he was a loving and staunch husband, an amazing dad. She filled them with hope of a better tomorrow.
During festive seasons she doubled her effort because she never wanted her kids to feel left out or unfortunate amongst their peers. She taught them the way of truth according to God’s love. Every day she said a silent prayer to God on their behalf. She made sure they ate to their satisfaction and ate only after her household was satisfied. She sold the jewelry her husband once gave to her. Piece by piece she sold her wrappers till she was left with four sets. Her wedding ring, she never let go of; it was a reminder of the vow she took on her wedding day, promising to love her husband in sickness and in health till death did them apart.
On each individual birthday anniversary she made her kids feel special, always cooking their favourite meal. At times when they seemed to stray, she never hesitated to bring them back to the right path with strokes of the cane.
The years rolled by and she grew stronger. She was faithful to a fault, times when life seemed to devastate her especially when she saw how glitzy the lives of her mates were, she turned to her God for strength to carry on. After 17 years of pain, her first child graduated from the university and heaven smiled at her. He got a good job and helped to relieve her of her burden. Soon the others followed and in the next few years her husband was back on his feet.
As she spoke, she looked at her five children, each seated beside their various spouses at the front row of the church, some of them holding their kids; her grand children while the more grown up ones sat at the children section of the church. She smiled and saw in each of them the reward for her labour of love. Then and there it hit her; though she never made millions out of her trade, she was rich. Her family was in one piece because she chose not to give up on them. She bore the pain and the shame, going through the most difficult institution in life which even the world’s greatest billionaires and celebrities have failed to succeed at -‘marriage’. Indeed she was a success and she owed it all to God who saw her through. Her husband and kids and grand children were doing fine spiritually, financially and in all aspects of life. Indeed the glory of the latter years was far greater than that of the former. In pain did she sow but in joy was she reaping her reward.
Even now she loved her family more and was ready to give her life for them. Only a true mum and loyal wife can truly love her family to this extent and even greater.
N/B: this note was inspired by a woman who told her story about how she struggled to stay by her bedridden husband and her family for years and also from the women I see each day carrying concrete at construction sites on my way to work and those I see struggling to make ends meet from various jobs. Above all from my one and only mum whose love has carried me through life and also whose labour of love has built our family.