Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Wedding Ring Dilemma

The department store jewelry case was lined with rows of diamond-studded wedding ring sets, some so brilliant they seemed nearly able to refract themselves into tints of gold, green, and blue. Jim stood beside me, asking which ones I wanted. I questioned if there was a price point, but he shook his head no. "I want you to have the rings you like the most," is what he said. "You'll be wearing them for the rest of your life."

I have never been a showy kind of person. My roots go back to WWII rationing and being thrifty had been the motto my parents had instilled in my head. For fun, I tried on a set with a large diamond in the engagement ring. It had looked so enticing sitting in the case, but on my small hand, it looked ridiculous. At least I thought it did. I tried on a few more sets, but once on a hand with short fingers, they appeared almost clown-like.

Then I spied an intricately carved set with small diamonds, chips mostly, and a single quarter-caret stone set in the center of the engagement ring. I asked to try them on. Perfect for me. Perfect for a tiny hand with short fingers. I thought they cost too much, but Jim insisted he could afford them. He bought them and took them home toward the day we'd be officially engaged and then married.

Over the years, time and wear took its toll on those rings and while the diamonds stayed clear and sparkling, the gold wore through and eventually broke into pieces. Jim said I should have the stones put into a new setting so I looked here and there for weeks, but found nothing I liked as much as my original rings.

My local jeweler suggested I have the rings re-cast. I gave her a couple of 24-caret chains and bracelets to be melted down and the gold reused, but in the end I had to purchase a bit of additional gold.  By the time the wax mold was finished and approved by me, the new rings were cast and the stones set. Even I couldn't tell they weren't my original rings. I brought them home so Jim could slip them back on my finger. They are still there. Even though he isn't.

I have read so many different books that deal with grief and one of the major questions always concerns the wedding rings. Should the widow put them away, move them to the other hand, wear them around her neck, have the stones reset, or keep the rings on her wedding finger? I am friends with a widow who has put them in her jewelry box and brings them out on special occasions. I propose there is no one way to do things. Each widow must do what feels right in her own heart.

My heart maintains that I am still married. My husband may have moved into heaven, but my heart says that while I am still so much in love with him, the rings stay where he put them so many years ago. Perhaps the day will come when I'll move them to my jewelry box. Maybe. About a hundred years from now. Maybe then. But not today.

There are other reasons why I continue wearing my rings. They are protection for me. As long as strangers think I'm married, nobody bothers me and that's how I want it to be. I learned that lesson the hard way. Several months after Jim died, I had an appliance that started acting up so I called a repairman. He fixed the problem and as I was writing the check, he asked a question that I no longer remember. What I do remember is that in answering, I mentioned I was a widow.

"So you're available now," is what he said. My mouth dropped open and I'm sure my eyes must have been wide with shock. My mind began questioning myself as to what on earth I had said that made him think he could ask such a thing. I do remember that I told him I was not available and then I listened to him apologize over and over for having spoken as he had. I handed him the check, ushered him out of the house with my dog, Bonnie, right beside me and double-locked  the door behind him. He was the last person who would ever come into my home to repair anything that would know I was a widow.

I continue wearing my rings for yet another reason. I have two very good friends my same age who have never been married, never had children, never seen a man's eyes light up when they walked in the room. I listen to their heart's longings and I understand how much they wish someone had loved them enough to say they could not live without them and place a ring on their finger. Through their unspoken words, I listen to the longing for the life they wanted to live and never did. I hear the sadness in their words. The hunger for what they wished had been. It is then that I realize how much God has blessed me with a husband who loved me unconditionally. So it is that I continue wearing my rings. They say that some man wanted me. They say that I was loved. Life never gets any better than that.

Author's comments:

Wearing my wedding rings feels normal. Right now, it is the only thing in my entire life that feels that way. It's been said that it takes a while after the death of a loved one to "return to normal." My consensus is that normal is gone--vanished into thin air, along with Jim's presence. For me, normal is a thing of the past--the glory days when Jim and I sat visiting over coffee or taking a ride to the mountains just because we wanted to or planning a cruise to someplace we'd always wanted to go.

I suspect that in time, a new normal will surface, one that works with the person I am and the personality God gave me. For now, I have set being "normal" aside, content to leave it in the Lord's hands, for I know that if I try to effect some sort of new standard for myself, it will likely fail miserably. You know the tale of the best laid plans of mice and men. They never work. So it is that I save myself the trouble of pushing my way into some sort of new normalcy. I let it go willingly, for concentrating on change when I still have grieving to do is more than I can handle right now.

My widow friend who has been alone two years longer than me says that she would like to marry again. She claims she is the type of person who needs someone to take care of her. I suspect that for her, having someone to carry all the burdens and make every decision is normal. From what she tells me, it is the way her husband was and what she's used to and what she wants again.

I can't envision myself ever getting to that point. As much as I loved Jim, I've always been self-motivated, opinionated, and decisive. They are traits I low-keyed as a wife yet allowed to run full bore as a writer with a freelancing business. And while in the beginning, shortly after Jim's death, I didn't believe I could survive without him beside me, I've come to see that God knew me better than I knew myself. I know I can go on. I've even come to the place where I am willing to do so. There is still much sadness within me and with the holidays approaching, I find I am ambushed by tears more often than not.

My intent to go on and have a good attitude about the whole thing came as a surprise to me. Perhaps you are doing a double take too. The change inside me came about last week and only the Lord could have done it because it happened so spontaneously. It was a day I was once again sitting in Jim's big recliner, teary-eyed by memories of holidays past and dreading those that are almost upon us. For some reason, the sense of loss seems bigger right now, for this will be the second year that Jim won't be sitting at the head of the table on Thanksgiving or Christmas.

That day I especially felt alone and bereft. I felt limp with grief, as though all the starch God had put within me these last months had been washed away. It was then that the oddest thing happened. I saw my grandma. Not visibly, but mentally, and she was smiling. I considered that for a moment and then it came into my head that grandma would have understood exactly how I was feeling. Her long-time spouse had gone to work one day and while sitting at his desk, suddenly claimed he didn't feel well. Before the other employees in the real estate office could even think what to do, grandpa put his head on his desk and died. He was sixty-two.

Five generations of my
family, from great
grandma to my son.
Into my head came this thought: You come from strong stock. "If grandma could live thirty plus years alone, so can you." Believe it or not, I felt starch come back into my soul. I was still saddened that these holidays would be lonely, yet I looked back at my genes and knew I came from a line of tough and determined women. Great grandma lived alone for untold years, running a small farm by herself, the house heated only by a wood stove. She lived to be ninety-eight. 

My grandma went back to work a year or so after grandpa died, walking the six blocks to and from a large department store every single day, eventually becoming the best sales lady in her department and later on, the best sales person in the entire store. She lived to be ninety-four. My own mom, all her life as healthy as a horse, succumbed to Alzheimer's at eighty-two. Every so often I wonder how long she would have lived had her body remained whole. My best guess is well into her nineties. It seems to be our "normal" pattern on my mother's side. 

As for me, I think I'm going to find the bumper sticker that says, "If I'd known I was going to live this long I'd have taken better care of myself" and put it on my car. Jim always refused any kind of sticker on any of his vehicles, but now that I'm in charge, I can do as I wish. I say that with absolutely no animosity. Honest. I didn't choose to go on without him, but if I must, then I will make my own choices, knowing that the Lord is guiding me along the right path.

I will allow my stubborn nature to say "no" when need be and I'll let my decisiveness make decisions without wringing my hands. As for my opinions, I'll say only this. The wedding rings stay put. Death ends a life, but not a relationship. Others may disagree with that opinion. I understand. None of us are alike. Yet that is my opinion and no matter what anyone says, I'm stickin' with it.


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  2. Your post brought tears to my put your feelings and observations in such beautiful words. I've not been able to wear my wedding ring for years, due to my arth. I miss that connection!

  3. Once again I find myself thinking how fantastic you are. Thanks ever so much for sharing.

  4. This is beautifully thought out and written! I love how you bring gratitude in at the end. Lately I've been realizing that almost no one gets exactly the life they wanted; but God can use our disappointments and heartbreaks to bring us closer to Him.
    I found your blog via the vB Hopper Mania Christian Moms group (that's a mouthful!). Blessings!