When I was running a couple of weeks ago, I rubbed my thumb against my ring finger to wiggle my wedding band. I’ve been widowed for four years and stopped wearing my rings well over three years ago. The phantom wedding band sensation hasn’t happened to me since the first year of widowhood. My rings are in a safe now, but I still have my husband’s wedding band attached to a necklace I haven’t worn in over a year.

For two years, I decorated my necklaces with my husband’s wedding band. I’d sew my little fingers in and out of it when I was nervous hoping to channel some of his quirkiness and optimism. I’d kiss it when I needed luck, and grip it tight when I felt my life spinning out of control and wanted to scream.

But one evening I met a man at the dog park, and we started dating. And as my current relationship turned a corner and we became steady and long-term, I stopped wearing the necklace with the wedding band.

The first few days I went out without it on, I didn’t feel too guilty. But there were days, I remember, reaching toward my neck to touch it, and it was gone. It was my protection blanket, and I thought it was an excellent way to honor his memory. But I also wanted to respect my current boyfriend’s feelings too. I was falling in love with him while dealing with a neverending unrequited love.

Some eye rolls are going on from the widowed community. And I know what you’re thinking: My boyfriend should be understanding of my feelings and the significance of my loss.

But I don’t agree because it was my decision. And I’m trying to be understanding of his feelings dealing with my loss. Here’s my experience and opinion on the matter:

Materials do not define my relationship and marriage. The lessons I carry and the ongoing need for self-improvement are all reflections of how much I still love my husband.

It’s never going to go away, and I do believe my significant other knows that. I also think it’s an attractive quality. It shows loyalty—and in this day and time, honesty and loyalty are hard to find. But keep in mind it took me two years to stop wearing my husband’s wedding band. If someone told me to stop wearing it in the first year, I would’ve said some choice words to them.

However, it is a double-edged sword because widows are harshly ridiculed for still loving their deceased spouse.

We’ve heard it: “are you even ready to date?” or “you should consider getting help, you don’t seem to be over him.” Or my favorite, which is more popular than I thought it was after talking to several widows, “you’re obsessed with being a widow.”

It is the “they-don’t-get-it” camp who says this. The torture of sifting through your spouse’s clothes, belonging, tax files, and everything in between is soul-crushing and frustrating. Searching for a single piece of paper for life insurance through boxes of memories is like going through a crate of red beads looking for the only maroon one. It sucks.

So when I think of the nonsense people say to other widows and me, Cher Horowitz said it best in Clueless: “Anything you can do to draw attention to your mouth…right?”

Taking off his wedding band wasn’t easy. When I saw it in my jewelry box and willfully hovered over it, was I betraying him?

No.

Some days when I missed him and wanted more than anything else to rewind the days, I would wear his ring again because I needed his strength and love.

He was a gladiator. He fought cancer with a smile and his passion for life was contagious. But as I healed I realized his strength doesn’t rest in an inanimate object. I think of my husband’s clothing, items, trinkets as transition objects. They were necessary and mandatory in my everyday life in the immediate aftermath of his passing.

Buried in my soul is our shared love. It has helped me become the person I am today. He is my muse.

About 

Julia lost her husband in 2013 to a rare liver cancer when she was 28 years old. In the months and years afterwards, Julia continues to use her grief into a positive lifestyle change. She has been involved in NCAA Athletics for 14 years, and has continued to document her fitness, athletic and grief journey in her heartbreaking and honest blog The Unwanted W. Julia's journey has been featured in US Lacrosse Magazine, SoulCycle, and The Guardian. She currently writes for an online fitness and nutrition journal and works as a professional fitness instructor in Montgomery, AL. To contact Julia, please visit her website www.lacrossewidow.com or visit her Instagram for health tips at @flippingsteier or @uglygirl.fitness