Yesterday marked 17 months since my husband died. So much has changed in my life since then. I’ve grieved, and grieved, and grieved some more. I’ve worked through the grief, written through the grief, talked to my grief counselor, cried on the shoulders of family and friends, and – to be honest – I’m really, really tired of grieving. Shouldn’t I be done by now? Over it? Shouldn’t I have accepted it and moved on after nearly a year and a half?
Yes, I’m tired of grieving, but I guess that’s just my tough luck, because every time I think the grieving is over, my life is moving forward, and I have hope for the future, I have a little relapse, and feel the pain of his loss severely all over again. For example, although I had a really great time celebrating New Year’s Eve with my oldest besties, the days that followed seemed bleak. I finally realized that I was still extremely sad that I hadn’t been able to ring in the new year alone with Rick, playing Boggle and drinking Peppermint Schnapps, as I had for years and years before. That’s how I wanted to spend my NYE for the rest of my life, and I still feel robbed of that little pleasure.
However, the benefit of having journaled my way through this grief journey is that – when I reread things I wrote just after Rick died, or I revisit how I was feeling a year ago – I know I’m different, I’m better. In those entries, I see a woman still consumed with loss and mired in grief, attempting to hang onto the past. And I don’t feel the same today. I’m pretty content with life 90 percent of the time now. I even feel joy, again. I might go so far as to not consider myself as grieving anymore… maybe just a woman who gets sad once in a while, a woman who feels remorse for what she lost – if I have to label it at all.
Despite the knowledge that I’m more “myself” again, it still came as quite a shock the other day to realize that I don’t feel like a wife anymore. Having spent the last 17 months alone, I suppose that there’s no way I could. I truly feel like a single individual. I’m no longer an “us.” I’m a “me.”
Yes, now and then I say things like “we used to go there,” or “we did this or that,” but it’s usually meant as a historical reference, it’s not that I still feel like part of a couple. It’s the “Rick and I used to do this” we. But after 17 months of me doing things as just me, I do feel different today. And now it’s easier to picture being alone in the future without that panicked feeling of loneliness or impending doom – or whatever it was – that I felt when Rick first died.
So, now that I feel like a single unit again, the question that’s uppermost in my mind most days is do I take off the wedding ring? I’ve crossed many different milestones since Rick’s death: all the firsts, all the lasts, birthdays and holidays without him, traditions forever changed. And throughout these months and milestones, I’ve been wearing his ring as if I’m still his wife, because I’ve still felt like his wife. But, at the one year mark, I started to think, OK, it’s been a year, I guess I should take the ring off now. The problem was, when I actually grabbed ahold of the ring and started to pull it off my finger, I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. So I let go – of both the ring and the idea.
Every so often in the months since then, I’ve consider the idea again. I picture taking the ring off, and I get that feeling in my gut, and I know I still can’t do it. He put this ring on my finger on one of the the most important days of my life, the day I vowed to love him for the rest of my life. Not only to love him for his too-short life, but for my entire life. How can I take it off? Wouldn’t I be breaking that promise?
But another part of me says taking off the wedding ring is a symbol of healing, of my acceptance of a new and different future. I have survived the death of my dreams for our future, and wearing the ring is a constant reminder of what I’ve lost. It’s a sham. Like it or not, I am no longer a married woman. Like it or not, I am a single woman now, so get realistic, and take off the damn ring.
And, of course, as a person who always tends to overthink things, if and when I’m truly ready to do the deed, how do I do it? Do I just reach out one day and grab it and pull it off? Do I plan a special occasion that’s somehow significant to our marriage? Or do I remove it in a place that we loved to go together? Do I wear it on a chain around my neck? Have it made into a widow’s ring or a different piece of jewelry?
No, I’ll probably keep it in its original condition and put it on my right hand. I like the ring. It’s a set, my engagement diamond and my wedding band, shaped perfectly to almost look like one ring – except in 20 year’s time, I never got around to having them soldered together. And it’s the nicest ring I’ve ever had. I remember how impressed Rick was when it came time to buy the engagement ring and I told him I didn’t want him to buy me a diamond, because I already had one that I wanted him to put into a new setting. He just needed to buy the setting and a matching wedding band.
I remember him being surprised that I would turn down a new stone. He shook his head in disbelief and said, Wow, I can’t believe I’m marrying a woman who doesn’t want me to buy her a diamond! I guess I lucked out!
Although he was surprised, he definitely wasn’t unhappy about the cost savings. But when I explained the history of the diamond that I already owned, he understood. My great aunt Mary, born in 1880, was a spinster. Not a flattering label, but true of the time in which she lived. In fact, she and her sister Katherine, were both spinster school teachers. And both of them, at some time in their lives decided to buy themselves diamond rings. Who needed a man, anyway?
When Aunt Mary died a few years before I was born, she left this particular diamond ring to my Aunt Patsy. Aunt Patsy, was also a spinster. And this would be the only diamond ring she would have in her short life. She was 57 when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. I cared for her in the 10 months between diagnosis and death. (Ironically, this same scenario was to be replayed 30 years later with Rick – same cancer, same treatment, same time length.) Before Patsy died, she told me, since I was also unmarried, she wanted me to have the ring. At age 28, I was the last in the family’s long line of spinsters. (Sidenote, I was the only one of the three of us who had a baby despite not being married. I guess you could say I broke the tradition a bit.)
I’ve never been a real jewelry person, and I couldn’t imagine having more than one diamond. So that’s why, when Rick was planning to purchase my ring, I asked him if he would put their diamond in a new setting that he chose for me. I felt like I was doing it in honor of both my aunts. (Look ladies, I got a man! And he’s putting our diamond in a ring, and he’s going to marry me, and love me forever! Score one for the spinster team!) I felt very fortunate to find the love they had missed in their lives, and it just made the ring all the more symbolic.
I don’t think it’s a great quality diamond. Rick was going to get it appraised for me, but then he asked if the jeweler discovered that it was a poor quality, did I really wanted to know the answer? I decided that the diamond’s worth was in its history and not something that could be calculated financially. So, we didn’t have it appraised, we selected the setting together, then he placed the diamond ring on my finger for our official engagement, and the matching band beside it on our wedding day, where it’s held its place of honor ever since.
After considering the options, I think if I finally break down and take the ring off my left hand, it’s definitely going on the right. Now I’m still trying to decide if I should have some kind of “ring removal” ceremony. After all, it was during a ceremony that Rick put it on me. I don’t mean a gathering of hundreds of people, like the wedding. I mean something that makes it meaningful to me.
Perhaps I’ll sit outdoors in Rick’s favorite chair under the gazebo, under the wind chimes that hold his ashes. Maybe I’ll start a fire in his little burner just like he did on winter evenings, drink a glass of red wine in his honor, and have a little chat with him before I move the ring from that significant place of honor on the left hand to the right. Maybe I’ll sit and talk with him awhile and tell him how much I still love him and miss him. And that, although I may be forced to live as a single woman, I’ll never stop being his wife.
Because that’s the truth of it. In the “real world,” I’m a single woman again and Rick himself would be urging me to move on without him and enjoy the time I have left on this earth. But in my heart, I’ll always be married to the man who put this ring on my finger, looked into my eyes and said…
With this ring, I thee wed.