Part 1: Today
I forgot to put my wedding rings on today. I still wear my own engagement ring and wedding band, plus I wear John's ring on a chain around my neck. I forgot all three. The kids and I were walking down the stairs to the car when I realized what I'd done. I contemplated going back inside to get my jewelry, but we were already running late, so I pressed on and tried to tell myself that it wasn't a big deal.
This is not, of course, the first time I've forgotten my rings. When John was still alive, I'd occasionally find myself accidentally ringless, which was annoying. I like my rings, and when you're accustomed to wearing something every day, there's something a little off about not wearing it. These days, though, when I forget my rings, it's more than just annoying. Forgetting my rings feels fraught with symbolism. What if I subconsciously "forgot" on purpose? Is my mind trying to tell me that I'm ready to go without? Will people who know that I'm widowed notice and wonder if I'm making some kind of statement? And people who don't know me, will they notice I don't have rings? Will they think that I'm—gasp!—SINGLE?
I don't feel single. I feel married. When to take off the ol' rings is a popular topic of discussion among widows and widowers. (I won't go into all of the other uplifting things we like to chat about.) Some people set a time: I'll take them off after a year. Some people, like me, just wait to see how they feel about it all. I don't need a tangible reminder of John; I think about him all the time with no prompting. But I also love having a sign of our marriage on my hand and around my neck. I like for other people to think of me as married. I like to talk about my husband. I like all of my rings, and for now I will keep wearing them. When I remember.
Part 2: January, 2008
The same day I got my tattoo,* I thought I lost John's ring. I met friends for lunch that day, and during our meal I realized that the chain was there but unclasped, and the ring was gone. I searched the restaurant, my car, and the parking lot. I grimly recalled that I'd been all over the place that day: to Panera, at my mom's house, at a bookstore. I had no recollection of when I'd last felt the ring.
As I drove to my tattoo appointment, I tried to resign myself to the loss of John's ring as some kind of passing of the torch. The ring might be gone, but I was getting a tattoo whose purpose was similar to that of the ring. I would have a more permanent physical reminder of John and our time together. The ring was just a thing. A lovely and meaningful thing, to be sure, but a thing.
I called the coffee shop and the bookstore: nada. My mom and I searched the house. Nothing. I made my peace with the ring being gone. Or I tried to.
The next day, my mom and I were playing with the twins in the living room, which has a shaggy area rug. My mom was on her hands and knees on the floor, inspecting something with Maddie. "Stacey!" she called. "Look what I just found!"
I'm surprised I didn't hurt myself or a twin or my mom as I lunged for her and grabbed it from her hand. I was so happy to see that ring that I cried. It wasn't time for us to be separated, the ring and I. Not then, not now, not yet.
Part 3: April, 2007
When John was in the hospital, what turned out to be a mere week before he died, we had a lot of Talks. White or wheat? (wheat) Mustard or mayo? (mustard) Burial or cremation? (cremation)
We'd actually already talked about all of that, but I wanted to be sure of a lot of things before John died so that I wouldn't have to question the decisions that would need to be made in the aftermath, especially decisions that were likely to be unpopular with my in-laws.
"Do you want to be cremated with your wedding ring?" I asked.
John was not one for jewelry or adornment. He wore the watch I gave him when we got engaged and his wedding band. That's it. He would never have gotten a tattoo or piercing. He could barely tolerate wearing his glasses.
Being married and having a solid, happy partnership was one of the things that John was most proud of in his life. I know he valued the symbolism of his ring in the same way that I value the symbolism of mine. John was attached to few physical objects in this world, but that ring was one of them
The truth is that I desperately wanted that ring for myself, but knowing what it meant to John, I felt that it was up to him to decide if it should with him when he was cremated. As I asked the question, I hoped that his answer would be no.
"I always figured you'd keep it," he said.
"Riley might want it someday," I replied, filled with relief.
"And besides," John added, "that ring is worth a thousand dollars. It would be stupid to burn that ring up with me."
Typical John. Talk about practical.
The night John died, I had to pick out clothes to send to the funeral home, clothes for him to wear when his parents came to view his body before it was cremated, clothes for him to wear when his body was burned. My first thought was his Armani wedding suit, an extravagance from his parents. It's a gorgeous suit, and John looked really sharp in it. But John never, ever wore suits unless he had to, and it made more sense to me to pick out the clothes that he would have worn if he'd woken up healthy and whole the next morning. In the end I chose his favorite pair of jeans and my favorite sweater and one of his thousands of t-shirts from college. As I packed everything up, I could hear John's voice in my head saying, "Goose! That Armani suit cost a thousand dollars! It would be stupid to burn that suit up with me."
And so the suit, like the ring, was spared, in theory as much for practical reasons as sentimental ones. Even if the ring had been worth $5 and the suit had been a hand-me-down, I still would have wanted to keep them, though. Like John, I'm not sentimental about much, but the things that mean a lot to me really mean a lot.
*I still need to post a photo of the tattoo and tell the tattoo story. All in due time.