About four months after Phil's death, I returned to my nail salon for the first time since being widowed. As I sat in the chair trying to keep it together while idle chatter swirled around me, my manicurist looked up and asked if I was going to take off my rings. Absently I handed them to her (my engagement ring, my wedding ring, and Phil's wedding ring were all crowded together on my finger) and she set them down awkwardly on the table next to us. Then she looked up at me and said, "Isn't your husband dead?" At first I was sure I heard her wrong. "Excuse me?" I said. Turns out my hearing was fine, because she repeated herself.
I almost jumped out of my seat. If it weren't for the fact that one hand was in warm water, the other was being filed, and my rings were out of reach...I think I would have run out the door. Instead I stammered something unintelligible, as she indicated that the only reason she asked was because I was still wearing my wedding ring. I felt like I had been slapped. First with insensitivity, and then with reality.
My first instinct was to let her know that I was NEVER going to take them off. But I couldn't find the words. I just twitched in my chair until I was finally free to go. I ran into the parking lot silently quaking. How dare she? What does she know? That is what she thought was an appropriate thing to say to someone whose husband just DIED?! Forget her, forget that remark, forget the idea that my wedding ring told others that I was currently married. But the seed was planted; I couldn't erase her words. Slowly, every time I looked at my rings I was reminded not of my marriage, but of the fact that my husband was dead.
One particularly tearful evening as I sat crying and twirling my rings, I experimented with taking them off. Looking at my bare finger caused an avalanche of feelings which resulted in me laying on the floor in a ball shaking with sobs until I put them back on. I just couldn't imagine an empty place on my hand where the symbol of my commitment, of OUR commitment, belonged. But I couldn't figure out how to keep the reminder of our amazing love and also avoid the uncomfortable assumptions that wearing a wedding ring encouraged.
My solution became clear sort of out of the blue. Phil and I fulfilled our promise to love each other till death do us part. No matter where else my life may take me, I did that. And so did he. In fact, as far as this life is concerned, I will be his one and only wife. To honor that fact, I decided to re-size his wedding ring and wear it on my right ring finger. Tears flowed down my cheeks as I walked away from the jewelers the day I dropped it off, and it took every ounce of control I could muster not to run back in and tell the kind person behind the counter that I changed my mind. But when I slipped Phil's ring on my finger for the first time, I knew I'd done the right thing. He was with me, his love was with me, and I could literally feel the fulfillment of his promise against my skin.
So what became of Phil's ring when another amazing man placed a beautiful new piece of jewelry on my left hand? It stayed put. When I told Michael about the band I wear, and why I wear it, I followed the explanation with the announcement that I planned to continue wearing my right hand ring for an undetermined amount of time. Then I held my breath. His response: "Why wouldn't you? It is a part of who you are now."
And so it is.
I rarely use words like never and forever these days. What I do instead is honor what I need right now. For the moment I still need a physical reminder of what was, and am grateful for the fact that my present is willing to embrace the past that made me who I am today.