The Debacle of Family

Day 4 of the Afrobloggers WinterABC challenge! Here we go… a week of writing on advocacy!


“Lucky is the spouse who dies first, who never has to know what survivors endure.” – Sue Grafton.


People are great… until they’re not! 

Family is often amazing, until there’s some misfortune that shows you what their true colors are. Whoever said blood is thicker than water clearly never met some people. 

My Uncle J was my favorite uncle growing up. He was that uncle that brought you money whenever he visited. That uncle that actually listened when I said I wanted painting supplies – and got them for me.  He was also that uncle that danced with all his heart at all the house parties – the life of the party! He was the supplier of endless crates of beer. The one who arranged for the ‘abotsi’ to come and make proper kebabs at the parties.

He’d lived and worked many years somewhere in the diaspora and returned home barely five years ago to settle and live ‘the good life’. He had been married twice and was currently single and searching. 

Who would have thought that Uncle J would show up demanding part of Ol’man’s property? That he’d look Mama in the eye and say awful hurtful things? It cut me deeply – and I knew for sure that beneath Mama’s strong, calm façade, she was dying slowly inside. 

Who would have thought that my home would suddenly be full of my stupid uncles, aunts and cousins, openly wondering what they would get from Ol’man’s estate? From the TV to his 6-bedroom beach-house in the Central Region, everyone had plans for what they wanted to take.

There’s some ancient cultural thing that happens in my tribe. They say that when a man dies, his sisters’ children succeed him. Basically, what it meant was that if he didn’t have a will, Ol’man’s estate would end up going to my cousins.

In recent times, it had slowly become a very debatable way of inheritance, and the law was there to help the widow and the children of a deceased man. But it seems my family hadn’t gotten that memo!

One morning, I walked into the kitchen, to find my cousin Tina with an overturned tin of milk over her cup, while she washed her hands. She was talking to one other person I did not recognize…. likely another distant cousin. 

“I don’t have to worry about milk when I’m in this house…. my uncle was very rich!” 

I didn’t know what to do… ignore her or smack her on that mouth?!  I walked out without a word. Because I knew that I would go beyond a smack if I started. 

Ol’man why did you have to die?

“So now that your father is gone, what will you do with that useless art you both insisted you do? When we talk, you won’t listen! If you had followed his legacy even, you’d be ready to make some money by now.”

That was uncle Francis. He had never been my favorite, so this was no surprise.

I was so so tired. Tired of all of these people I once thought were family. Tired of being strong for Mama. If I was having it this hard, you can only imagine how hard she was having it. And I needed to be that person advocating for her… making the strong decisions she couldn’t make in the moment.

I was trying hard not to get into any arguments, because I knew Olman had a will. A will that I hoped would settle all of this, and send all these people packing home.

What made me snap though, and pushed me beyond abilities I ever thought possible, was when one aunt, probably twice removed from the family, showed  up one afternoon, a few days before the funeral, with the sole responsibility of ensuring that the widows rites were  done – that Mama would share a bed with Ol’man’s corpse, after which she had to bathe it, and then drink the water she used to bathe it. 

I looked at Mama, with my heart racing in my chest. I looked at her black dress, her haggard look, her bare feet (because apparently, widows could not wear slippers) and I looked at the tears streaming down her face – tears I knew she didn’t want anyone to see. 

I looked at it all, and without thinking, grabbed by aunt’s elbow, and walked her out of our house!

She tried to struggle initially, and she probably would have been able to beat me to a pulp if she had tried. But she looked into my eyes, and probably saw that mixture of pain and intense anger that I felt. It must have scared her. Because she allowed herself to be let out of the house without any drama.

If my father were alive, some of these people would not even have any access to his home! 

The night before the funeral, I slept in Mama’s room. Neither of us slept. She cried tears that had me worried and ready to call an ambulance! The kind of sobs that rack through the whole body, leaving you heaving and unable to breathe. 

Dear God, Ol’man is gone and without him, everything is falling apart! His family is killing us! I have thought about joining him more times this week than ever before. Mama is tired… very tired! I can’t do it anymore. I cannot be strong enough for me and for her. And if fear she can’t do it either! Is there a widow’s advocate somewhere out there? Help us!

Comments (20)

  1. I just lost my mother a month ago. I know how all the ugliness can come out of the people who share blood. This was a wonderful piece and I look forward to reading more!

  2. Elise!
    You got me hook, line, sinker!
    Waiting for the next piece!
    Didn’t know the widows rite you mentioned is same with my tribe

  3. I’m glad to have read your work, whiles poring over it deeply. Themes are very relatable and absolutely significant
    Please keep it up!

  4. Say it again Elise who advocates for the widow? The story “The Dying Things in My Chest” will now by used to advocate for widows and speak against such barbaric practice in our society. This is so important that even in the face of the law in Ghana know as “Intestate Succession Law ” PNDCL 111 enacted in 1985, many widows,and children are denied access to inherit what they worked together with their spouse and father when he dies in both cases of Intestate( no will ) and Will.

    There’s lack of awareness of this law 111in Ghana and legal aid support to widows and their children.
    And cases that are before law courts, have been prolonged for years to be resolved . In case example, a friend rented upper floor of storey building (along main road from Joy F.M to Kwame Nkrumah Circle near Odo Rice) inherited by an old widow after 3months, the family of her late husband, kicked him out with force and took this property. When he met the old widow, she said “l own this building with my husband and High Court ruled in her favor, few days ago l received another judgement from my late husband’s family they have won at Appeals Court. Now l have taken the case to Supreme Court” . All her little savings is now being used to win back a property that belongs to her. Whereas the extended family has now rented the property out till date.

    There’s lack of awareness of the widows and children rights as per Intestate Succession Law111 and other legal provisions stipulated in our constitution and laws of Ghana. Also, there’s no legal aid support to widows and their children, if you can’t afford an attorney/lawyer then case closed.

    Till date, our Traditional system & extended family discriminate against widows, and children on property inheritance in Ghana and in West Africa countries.
    THIS IS CALL TO GENDER ADVOCATE(Women & Men) , JUSTICE SYSTEM , LAWYERS ( with interest in family and children development), GBA, TRADITIONAL LEADERS, QUEEN MOTHERS AND YOUNG PEOPLE TO ACT AND END THIS PRACTICE .
    Thank-you Thank-you Elise for this chapter in “The Dying Things in My Chest” Our Adorable Author

  5. This is an awesome writeup. Also, painfully true. Many African families come up with weird traditions surrounding the passing of a loved one, particularly wealthy men/husbands and it’s really sad.

    In Nigeria, some widows are put through ill practices like sleeping around the corpse, drinking concoctions or staying up late at night, by force! Not to mention, the obvious loss of property they and their children have to go through.

    May God Almighty be the final judge and wreck havoc on the perpetrators of such heinous crimes against humanity, amen.

  6. And sadly this is the truth everywhere we turn. My oh my we need to tighten these policies . Thanks for this as always perfectly portrayed.

  7. Hmmm. It’s all family is everything, family love, family this and that until the head of the family passes away. All that family thing just disappears. I am so glad that he drove that auntie out of the house. As if the pain Mama is going through is not enough. Still stay strong Mama. Our thoughts and prayers goes to you 🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾 Fantastic job so far Elise 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾.

  8. Beautifully written. It reminded me of the ordeal we also went through when my father died. Except that I’m our setting, there’s a bit of difference in how widows are treated.

  9. Great and amazing writing 😊👍👌
    The suspense is just intense that some of us are unable to bear so we binge the story 😄🙈

  10. I was cringing throughout this read. It’s a sad reality, one that breaks my heart so *sigh 😔

  11. You took me down memory lane with this one you even got one of my relative’s names right 🤣. But seriously, Death and tragedy really brings out ones true character. May our generation and future generations do better

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