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Caught up in a police shootout, my husband died in my arms. Now I help widows.

When I arrived, I saw Patrick covered in blood, slumped on a tricycle just outside the hospital, with no doctors in sight… They had bandaged his head and attached an IV to his arm… I could not understand why they just left him there.

  • 10 months ago
  • April 29, 2023
5 min read
Joan Seunfunmi founded The Patrick Stevens Purple Heart Foundation for Widows to empower and support young widows emotionally and financially. Joan Seunfunmi founded The Patrick Stevens Purple Heart Foundation for Widows to empower and support young widows emotionally and financially. | Photo courtesy of Joan Seunfunmi
INTERVIEW SUBJECT
Seunfunmi Joan Stephen is a 38-year-old Nigerian media personality, singer, and digital content creator. She is the founder of The Patrick Stevens Purple Heart Foundation for Widows. She currently runs several other programs and initiatives to help young widows find support after losing their husbands.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
In many parts of Africa, widows are subjected to discriminatory and retrogressive stigma that violates their human rights and dignity. According to a report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), there are approximately 46 million widows in Africa. The report highlights that widows in Africa are particularly vulnerable to poverty, social exclusion, and violence. In many cases, widows are denied access to their late husband’s property and inheritance, leaving them without a means of support.

LAGOS, Nigeria — Two days after losing my husband in the most mysterious, unexpected way, I found out I was pregnant. I felt uncertain about my future and too heartbroken to care.

I began sharing my story on social media, and it quickly went viral. While recovering from my grief, I started a foundation to support other widows financially and with food, supplies, and school fees for their children. I never imagined something so wonderful could emerge from the darkest moment of my life. 

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My husband died in my arms 

On a Friday morning, my husband Patrick went out to run errands. I tried to persuade him to stay, since I had a Father’s Day surprise for him. He insisted on going and promised to return quickly. I waited all day. The longer he took to return, the more my concern grew. By late afternoon, I heard a knock at the door. My neighbor stood on the other side with a look of sadness in her eyes. She asked me to come with her to the nearby hospital, not really explaining anything. I started to panic and assumed the worst as I dialed my husband’s phone number. 

Someone else answered his phone and insisted I come quickly to the hospital. I assumed it was a doctor, quickly loaded my two children in the car, and rushed to the scene. I felt so anxious, I had trouble breathing. When I arrived, I saw Patrick covered in blood, slumped on a tricycle just outside the hospital, with no doctors in sight. I never saw anything like it in all my life. 

They had bandaged his head and attached an IV to his arm. I noticed he lost a significant amount of blood. I could not understand why they just left him there. Worried and scared, I started yelling and crying for someone to help. Nobody came. Patrick died right in front of me. I went into shock and passed out moments later. 

News of my pregnancy came two days after his funeral 

Patrick was only 41 years old at the time. I was 36, and we had been married for six years. It took me so long to process what happened. So many questions ran through my mind. I later learned the tricycle he rode that day landed in a crossfire between police and armed robbers. Amidst the chaos, they accidentally shot him. I wept for days until I had no tears left in my body. I cried for him, for my children, and for all the unfulfilled dreams we shared.

After the funeral, concerned friends insisted on having my vitals checked at a hospital. Two days after the burial, I agreed to go. At that appointment, I found out I was pregnant. The news shocked me. It broke my heart to know my third child would never know the wonderful person my husband was. They would grow up without a father. Part of me kept hoping I would wake up at any moment from this nightmare.

I feel lucky to have such a supportive entourage in my life. During that time, my friends, family, and the people from my church became my rock. The first year challenged me immensely. I still feel his loss as if it happened yesterday. On top of it, I began raising our kids by myself. Nothing prepares you for the moment someone you love dies. Grief altered my life and for a time, it became a series of solitude, suicidal thoughts, and the societal stigma I experienced in my community. It felt difficult to meet my children’s needs when I felt completely empty. 

Starting a foundation to support other widows

I shared my journey on social media platforms to highlight the realities young widows face. Suddenly, I began receiving tons of messages from other young widows sharing their stories, planting the seed to launch the Patrick Stevens Purple Heart Foundation for Widows. That was three years ago.

Once a widow registers to be part of the foundation, we take them through several programs. The Adopt a Widow program connects interested individuals with a family to provide a monthly gift, helping with rent and school fees. In December 2022, we supplied food for 58 families, and paid school fees for 83 children. The widows themselves gain access to therapy for their grief and depression.

We also expose the most prevalent problem widows encounter after their spouse dies. Husband’s families often try to disinherit them and take the children. Some in-laws perform ties to bind the woman to the family so they can never remarry or relocate. Great stigma surrounds widowhood in Nigeria and we get insulted and accused of witchcraft.

For many widows in Nigeria and throughout Africa, they face a path of desperation, leaving them vulnerable to abuse and in need of charity. It feels as if losing a husband erases our entire identity in society. Some cultures expect us to dress in black and mourn for the rest of our lives. It all feels so unfair. At the very moment when we are already struggling with the loss of a loved one, we do not need society to make us feel worse.

Through my journey and my work Patrick Stevens Purple Heart Foundation for Widows I empower and support these women so they can move forward and live healthy lives with their children.

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