David, grief, marriage

Removal of the Ring

“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.

bird and ring 019

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.

David, faith, love, marriage, prayer, writing

The Greatest of These is Love

I got a lot accomplished on Monday after I’d discovered the 1999 e-mail from my husband, but I worked at a more leisurely pace. I appreciated the reminder that things would get done in time, and fretting and worrying, along with hurrying at a frenetic pace, would do little in the way of helping, and might actually hinder my accomplishments.

It wasn’t until Monday night that I finally followed the advice to “read a book.” Out of the literally hundreds of books I have in this house, why was it that I picked this one up instead of a light, chick-lit type read?

To Heaven and Back, is written by a surgeon, Dr. Mary C. Neal, and similar to 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper and Cecil Murphey, in that it is a true account of a person who died and went to heaven, only to come back and write about it.

I will preface this by saying that I am actually a skeptic when it comes to this sort of book. Because David loved 90 Minutes in Heaven, I have not only read and re-read it, I have picked up at least half a dozen similar books since his death. However, after carefully and prayerfully perusing a few pages, or even a chapter or two, I have returned most of them to the shelf, not continuing to read. A few just didn’t ring true and others seemed written simply to piggy-back on the success of 90 Minutes. 

I began writing in a journal after David died; mostly prayers and Bible verses, along with passages from inspirational books and sentences and paragraphs from books and articles that touch my heart in some way. I’ve nearly filled one journal, and have another one set aside for these “heartstrings” that I often refer to when I need a lift of spirit, and that I now realize will be incorporated into my own inspirational book.  I left the couch to get that journal before I was half-way through Neal’s book.

I jotted down this Bible verse that she quotes;

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice saying, ‘This is the way: Walk in it.'” Isaiah 30:21 (NIV)

I have heard that voice in the darkest days of grieving.

When I got to page 186, I read and re-read this paragraph, also jotting it down;

“Growing up, I was taught that Psalm 23:4 (Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil. For you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me) referred to one’s own death and the dangerous journey back to God. Now I believe it actually refers to the people who are left behind to grieve. As grieving people walk through the valley of the shadow of a loved one’s death, their sadness, confusion, anger, and despair can inadvertently prop open the door of their hearts, allowing evil to silently enter.”

I have seen this to be true.

Another sentence I copied into my journal;

“Someone told me, ‘When you love with all that you have, you grieve with all that you are,’ and I would certainly agree with this observation.” (page 189)

Me too.

And then there was this Bible verse that I’ve come across repeatedly since David’s death, “And now these three remain; Faith, Hope, and Love. But the greatest of these is Love.” Corinthians 13 (NIV)

I finished Mary Neal’s book before I went to bed, her words echoing in my head as I slumbered.

When I woke up Tuesday morning, I sat very quietly for nearly half an hour, something I’m learning I must do if I want to hear God’s voice. I pondered Mary Neal’s book and the direction God has been leading me in. I thought about the book I began writing the morning of what would have been our 33rd wedding anniversary; a book about faith, hope, and love.

Now, you must understand this; I have signed a book contract for my couponing book, a manuscript I am to complete by the end of December, which I forsee no problems in doing. However, my “other book” keeps calling to me. That book I begun in June, the one about David, marriage, grief, hope and faith. Work on it had completely stalled in recent days. Obviously, from the above description, part of the problem has been a lack of focus. What exactly will this book be about? Who will the audience be?

There was also a roadblock in regards to a section I’d begun writing about my mother’s death. After that short period of quiet on Tuesday morning, I re-read those lines and paragraphs from Neal’s book that I had jotted down in my journal. And then I began writing, and I couldn’t stop, and three hours later, I knew exactly what my book is about. More than that, I had an outline, a working title, and a breakthrough in the chapter I’d stalled on.

“How could we help other couples get this kind of marriage?” David had asked me just a few weeks before his death. “Could we do speeches together? Write a book?”  I’d smiled indulgently. I couldn’t imagine David doing public speaking. I could, however, more easily imagine us writing a book together.

Dare I say that, despite his demise, I intend to do just that?

I don’t believe in coincidences anymore. Finding David’s old e-mail on Monday and choosing that particular book to read that evening were no coincidences.

The death of my mother two years ago is central to this story, as that is when my journey of faith began. Yes, I believe that in her death, my mother gave me the greatest gift any parent can bestow upon their child; a gift of faith. My grandson Jacob and his fight with cancer is integral to the story as well. But it will be our marriage that draws the reader in. They will read about faith, hope, and love, and not just any love, but the greatest of love, the “agape” love described in the Bible.  I want that kind of marriage, the reader will think wistfully, and in the next instant, how could she stand to lose that kind of love?

The answer is Faith. Only by the grace of God have I endured the loss of my beloved husband. I hit bottom in the darkness of grief, and instead of propping the door open for evil to enter, I opened the door wide to goodness and light.

“And now these three remain; Faith, Hope, and Love. But the greatest of these is Love.” Corinthians 13 (NIV)

death, love, marriage

Grief at Ten and a Half Weeks

“How are you doing?” is the question.

I want to say;

“I still leave the kitchen light on every night and I’m not sure why, and I had to leave Fareway yesterday because the peanut butter aisle reminded me of David, and oh, by the way, I have yet to make it through a Hy-Vee without crying, and I missed a book sale today because I couldn’t bear to go to a book sale without him. Do you know how many book sales we attended together? We started going in 1995 and Emily was conceived on the night of that November book sale, and is that too much information for you, and how could I even know that? But I do. And our first was conceived on our wedding night, and how cool is that, but it also means we had only nine months in a home without a child and never experienced an empty nest, never even traveled outside of Iowa, or went on an airplane or went to a concert. I cry every Sunday during Mass because I used to hold his hand and now I see older couples holding hands and we will never grow old together, and I miss him, I miss him, I miss him! I don’t want to coupon shop and I always loved to go shopping, but I don’t want to because we did that together, so I haven’t gone to the Dubuque Walgreens since his death. Everything makes me think of him; I hit the buttons on the ATM machine and I think about laughing with him when he kept hitting the screen and then we went out for a banana split and I don’t think I will ever want to eat a banana split again. I peel a boiled egg and remember how he boiled eggs one morning and I corrected his method, telling him I’d read an article about the perfect way to boil eggs and he asked me why I always had to be right, and why did I? Couldn’t he have been right just that once, and why didn’t I lay down to take a nap with him that Sunday before, when he asked me, instead of saying “I’m too busy.” Why couldn’t I have lain by him that one last time and held his hand and gazed into his beautiful brown eyes? Why was I always so busy? Was it easier or harder for my mother, living in an empty house when she lost my Dad? How did she stand it? This morning I watched Abby singing at the final program for Vacation Bible School and sitting in the audience seeing her face, I so wanted to see some joy, some laughter, some happiness from her, and I only saw a tiny glimpse of the old Abby, but it hit me that mostly I’ve seen anger emanating from her. Then she called me stupid after the program because I couldn’t find the t-shirt she’d made, so I sobbed in the car in front of my grandsons and then I really felt stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Stupid with grief. “I hate you!” she railed, and I saw the faces of other women there, and their horrified looks said I am a horrible mother with a horrible child. Then Abby and I visited the gravesite and we both sobbed, hugging each other, and she said she is sorry and she doesn’t know why she says those things. I went to a grief support group on Wednesday and the woman next to me introduced herself and said it had been two years since her husband died and she began crying and I felt a stab of fear. Oh, no, am I going to feel like this in two years? And I don’t think I can stand that, when another person tells me it is worse at five months, and someone else says a year, and I don’t think I can bear hearing that. We ask each other what helps, and I tell them that when it gets really, really bad, it helps me to write to someone who David loved and to reach out beyond myself, and the heads nod, and I want someone to tell me what to do. Tell me what to do. Tell me how to do this, and where is the handbook of grief? And will I write one someday? But if I have learned nothing else about grief, I have learned that everyone grieves differently. And no one there, not any of the attendees or the social worker who facilitated the group, knew where I could get help for Abby. All of them were older than me and none of them had to contend with a young child’s griefAnd how could there be no help for a child who grieves in this town? Surely other children are suffering the los of a parent and cannot wait for a bereavement camp in September. And oh, I am so glad I have my children, but I will never be loved like David loved me, no matter how much my children love me, no matter how much my siblings love me. I will never again feel that love. And I can’t hold his hand or hug him and I miss that already, and if I miss that already, what will I feel like in two years? Will I be sitting in a grief group crying too? And this hurts so much more than when I lost my mother, and that hurt really, really bad, and I can’t stop writing about it and talking about it and my GriefShare daily e-mail a few days ago said that at some point some people might get bored with your grief and it might no longer be appropriate to share with them, and am I at that point, and how will I know which people I can still share with? So I haven’t posted on my blog in a few days because it might be now, at ten and a half weeks, that I am supposed to be “better?” And is there really such a thing for a grieving spouse? And, oh, how my heart hurts, and I feel as though there is a huge, empty void in my life.”


But what I say, after a slight hesitation, is,