“In our culture, wearing the ring on the fourth finger of your left hand symbolizes that the wearer is married or in a committed relationship. When a person does not wear a ring on that finger, other people simply know that the wearer is not married or in a serious relationship. The empty finger does not mean you are necessarily looking for another relationship; it simply means you are not married. And the reality for you as a widowed person is that you are now not married. You may have wonderful memories of that time in your life, but the fact remains that you no longer have that relationship.”
I began reading the book, Getting to the Other Side of Grief, a couple of weeks ago. When I read the above paragraph on page 188, I put the book down and stopped reading. “And the reality for you as a widowed person is that you are now not married.” The author of this chapter, Susan Zonnebekt-Smeenge, seemed a bit harsh, both in her words and action. She’d taken her own ring off right after her husband died, then had both her and her husband’s rings reset. She then wore the new ring on her right hand up until the time she remarried.
When does a person take off their wedding ring after the death of a spouse? It is a question I have pondered as I’ve twisted and turned the rings I’ve been wearing on my left hand; David’s gold band held in place by my band that had been attached years ago to my engagement ring. I’ve worn the engagement ring since January 28, 1979, and the wedding ring since June 2nd of that year.
One option, of course, would be to continue wearing the wedding ring, as my mother did until the day she died, more than 25 years after my father had passed away. My mother also never changed the names in the phone book or on her bills. Her mail was forwarded to me after her death. Two year later, I still get junk mail addressed to “Byron and Irma Potter.”
I think I always knew I would remove the ring someday, but when? I’ve been pondering this for weeks, months even, as I nervously twisted it back and forth on my finger. I looked to other widows for my answer, and noted that just as many continued wearing their rings as didn’t. I worried. Would my children think I didn’t love their father if I removed it too soon? Nothing could be further from the truth. Would other people think the removal of the ring was a signal I wanted to start dating? And why did I care so much about what other people thought?
I thought about conversations David and I’d had in the year before he’d died; talking about whether or not we would remarry if one of us died before the other. Early on in marriage, we’d jealously demand that the other remain single. At some point, though, our joking manner had turned serious. We each realized that we couldn’t bear the thought of the other being alone, and lonely. “Okay, I DO want you to remarry; to have someone to cook for you, do your laundry,” I’d say pragmatically, then add, “and hug you, hold your hand, and kiss you,” knowing how much David enjoyed those activities with me. Needed them, really, especially after his cancer. And then I’d quickly add “But no sex,” and he’d join me in uproarious laughter.
Would taking off my wedding ring signify I was ready for another relationship? Would it dishonor David? I’d twist and turn the rings on my finger as I reflected on these things. Would people think it meant I loved David less than someone who kept their rings on? I couldn’t bear that thought, so I didn’t make the decision; I just left the rings on.
Yesterday I completed the manuscript of the book David had encouraged me to write in March of 2010, a book I’d begun, and abandoned, months before that; an ethnographic history of the world of avid couponing and refunding. That March morning he’d heard that the front page of the Wall Street Journal had included an article declaring couponing as the “newest extreme sport.”
“What happened to the couponing book you started? You need to write that book now,” he said at the breakfast table. When I pulled out all my files and read what I already had written, I got excited about it all over again. It was David who encouraged me that morning, and continued to encourage me for the next two years as I wrote and researched. It was David who supported my dream of seeing this book published, a dream that will come to fruition next fall when it is released. Without him by my side.
I relaxed on the couch with my laptop after I’d completed my manuscript, a manuscript I will go over once more today before submitting it. Of course I had to announce the completion on Facebook, today’s equivalent to running out in the street to shout news at the top of our lungs. Shortly after I typed the words “Almost. Ready. To. Submit. My Manuscript.” (periods meant to emphasize the dramatic), I heard a noise coming from the direction of my left hand, and felt a small poke in my finger. Looking down, I realized my ring had just cracked. Yes, the wedding band portion of my two rings had a definite crack, and was now poking me in the finger. In disbelief, I took the ring off and scrutinized it carefully. My ring had just cracked, for no reason, and without any provocation.
This is it. Time to make a decision about the wedding ring, I thought, and tears sprang to my eyes. I removed the rings and looked at my hand from all angles, reflecting.
It is not an old hand, but neither is it a young one. I do not feel married, but neither do I feel single. I am lonely, but not ready to date. I do desire more friends, both male and female. I think someday I could want more than friendship with a man, but it wouldn’t mean I didn’t love David. I loved him with all my heart and soul, and always will.
I made the mistake of posting my question on Facebook; When do you take off your wedding ring after the death of a spouse? A mistake, because of the wide range of answers. If one cares what others think, and of course I do, then one knows they will disappoint or shock someone, whatever decision is made. Answers ranged from “Never” to “Fix it,” to “Make a new ring out of it,” to the ever-wise, “Whatever feels right.” The problem with asking a question is that we might not like the answer we hear from people, people we care very much about, whose advice we respect. What would my friends think? I was never going to be the widow wearing her wedding ring until the day she died. Neither am I very likely to fix the ring. I wore it in a strangulation hold for years, as it tightened around my finger. That meant it had to be covered with white medical tape during two c-section and a knee surgery because I could not get it off.
I moved both rings to my right hand, testing that option, but my wedding ring was much too tight on that finger, and I could feel the sharp edge of the crack dig into my skin.
I looked at my Facebook post again, realizing that I had added these words “I might move David’s ring to my right hand and put my ring away. I am very sad doing that.” No one wanted me to be sad. Their advice had hinged on my sadness.
Before I went to bed last night, I put my ring in a small leather bag that held the necklace my father had given me for my 16th birthday. I fell asleep with David’s ring on my right hand.
This morning I picked up that book I’d set aside, and continued reading where I’d left off.
“If you’ve not made a decision about removing your wedding ring from the fourth finger of your left hand, now may be an appropriate time to do so. The wedding ring is a symbol of a marriage- a union and commitment between two living persons. That commitment ended with the death of your spouse. Removal of your ring as that symbol is a mark of a healthy transition toward moving on.” (page 190)
A healthy transition.
For now, David’s ring will remain on my right hand. While I probably won’t get the wedding ring fixed, I like the idea of having the rings made into a new piece of jewelry. This morning, as the sun rose on yet another day without my beloved, I realized my tears last night had not really been about removing the ring, but more about the bittersweet reality of what that removal signified; I am moving on, “without” David.
That might be healthy.
But it is still very sad.