Eight months after my wife Lisa died of cancer I sat on our bed staring at my gold wedding band, the symbol of our love and marriage that I still wore. I don’t want to let go. I didn’t want my marriage to end after only 8 years and the thought of removing my ring plagued me with guilt. Yet, I knew that I had to, at some point, remove my ring. I had to admit that at age 40, I was a widower with two young sons to raise.
My ring is a symbol of the oath I took on my wedding day. It is a symbol of the love I feel for my wife. Even more than a symbol it is part of my identity. It identifies me as a married man, one who is committed to his wife and family and proud of that fact. It identifies me as someone who is loved and loving in return.
If I take the ring off does that mean I am not loved? Does it mean I don’t love Lisa anymore? Does it mean I am a failure? Does it mean I’m single when I still feel like I am married? Does it mean I’m giving up on the marriage when it was death that stopped the marriage? Without the ring should people see me as a single, never married, or divorced? I want people to know that I had a happy family life and that I kept my wedding vows until death parted us. The ring tells me that is what people see and the ring tells me that also. But I reason that to grow I must admit the facts of my life.
I slide the ring off my finger and feel the cold air spread over the exposed skin. It is a strange feeling, so strange in fact that I put the ring back on. The next day I take it off for an hour before returning it to its place on my ring finger. It’s a struggle between wanting to move on and wanting to hang on, between having someone to love to no one to love. Two nights later, just before I go to sleep I take the ring off and place it on the night stand. I sleep the night away but in the morning I put the ring back on.
I survived the night without it but I was asleep. On the weekend I again take the ring off, tape it to a piece a paper and leave it on the night stand and go the whole weekend without the ring.
Without the ring I am a new man. I have to adjust my thinking to my new identity as a widower and adjust to having people look at me without the ring and assuming I’m single or divorced. They will not think I am a widower because I am too young. After the weekend without the ring I accept the fact that I can leave it off and I won’t crumble or disappear. I have made the decision to move on.
I go to the bank and sit in the small private cubicle and open our safe deposit box. In the box are real estate deeds, cemetery deeds, and a safety pin holding Lisa’s engagement ring and wedding ring. I open the safety pin and hold her engagement ring and the memories flood back to nine years ago.
Nine years ago on the day after Thanksgiving we were in line for the first day of snow skiing season. It had become our tradition to ski on this day. It was a special day for us and it was the day I planned on proposing. We sat on the chairlift for the first ride up the mountain. The temperature in southern Vermont was near freezing as I reached into my puffy down jacket and pulled out the small, black velvet box and handed it to Lisa.
She put her gloves and ski poles on her lap took the box and opened the box. Her jaw dropped and she looked at me with a puzzled look.
The look on her face was priceless and thinking back and feeling the love and happiness that I felt on that day still makes me smile.
“Will you marry me?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
It was one of the happiest day of my life but the worst day of skiing.
I pick up the wedding ring. A gold band inset with diamonds. Engraved inside is our wedding date and the initials ‘tmwlr’ which means “to my wife, love Rich.”
We had an evening wedding at our church and in front of one hundred people we vowed to be husband and wife till death do us part. Five years and two kids into our marriage Lisa was diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live. I didn’t know what to do except support Lisa in her quest for a miracle. The miracle was that she lived three and a half years longer than the doctor’s diagnosis before her body gave out and she passed away.
I put her rings back on the safety pin. I don’t know what to do with them except keep them safe.
As I peer into the interior of my ring I read the date and the initials ‘tmhll’, which means ‘to my husband love Lisa’. I smile. She loved me and I loved her. I thank God for giving her and the boys to me.
I take my ring and slip it over the open pin and the ring slides down and rests against Lisa’s ring. I close the pin, then the box and sit absorbing another step in my healing. I know that I am healing and I will still love her until I die. Our rings, the symbols of our love, are together as I know that Lisa and I will be together again.
I leave the bank and start the rest of my life.