When your spouse shuffles off this mortal coil you have to take care of a lot of business. As time goes on and the angst recedes a little, the less pressing issues begin to arise, one of which is, should I keep wearing my wedding ring?
The wedding ring is a little piece of bling that is freighted with a lot of symbolism and meaning. It says, “I belong to someone.” It gives the person wearing it a feeling of love and security.
When your spouse dies, you don’t automatically stop feeling married, but over time your feelings do change. I won’t say that marriage wears off, but, yeah, it kind of does. Gradually you learn to live your life without the marriage dance you did with your partner. You stop bringing home leftover popcorn from the theater for him. You get used to watching whatever you want to watch on TV. The habits of marriage begin to fade.
You still see things that you think he’d love to see, and you hear something and you can’t wait to get home to tell him, and then you remember – oh yeah.
You might wonder one day if, seeing as how you are technically no longer married, it is time to take off your wedding ring. One day late last spring I decided to try taking the ring off, and was surprised by how light I felt without it, so I left it off. Look, Ma, I’m healing!
A few weeks passed. One day I went to the transfer station to drop off about a dozen bags of recycling. A kind older gentleman offered to help out by carrying some of the bags from my car and dumping them. I thanked him for his kindness. I was thinking I had seen him around the island – it’s a pretty small island, you know – and asked him if he knew where we might have met.
At that point he got a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face, and couldn’t get to his car and get out of there fast enough.
Now, I’ve lived long enough to know that whatever was going on with him was about him, and not about me, but tell that to my heart. In the moment I felt all the bewilderment, burn, and bitter irony of being rejected by someone in whom I was only slightly interested. It was as if all the hard-won wisdom and sense of the least fifty years had never happened, and there I was, nothing but a bundle of insecurities.
It was like being in high school again. Yark.
I went through a brief spurt of anger and saying, “Men! What the hell is the matter with them?” but eventually I came to see that it hurt to be misunderstood, judged, and rejected. At that point I asked, “What’s wrong with me?”
I had committed the great sin of being friendly to a man. Most women are aware of this rule. If you are friendly with a man, he is quite likely going to put the wrong construction on your friendliness, I’m sorry to say. Of course I don’t really know what set that guy off. Perhaps he suddenly remembered he’d left his iron on.
In the days that followed I thought that perhaps wearing my wedding ring would help me to avoid such awkward situations. My ring says, “I am not coming on to you, thanks, I am simply being friendly.” Friendliness is usually okay on Vashon, but not always.
So I went back home and put my ring back on.
Being married and widowed takes a lot out of you. It has taken a long time for me to begin coming back to the world. Occasionally running into someone who misjudges me, or whom I do not understand and might misjudge, is a risk that I take on by returning to the world. Such misunderstandings do happen, despite your best intentions. So I tell myself.
I also tell myself that I’d better remember that I can’t control what other people think or feel or how they behave, and I shouldn’t take their behavior personally. Hah. That’s a lesson I’ve been trying to grasp for years. I hoped to learn it through therapy, prayer, study, and 12-step groups, as well as the school of hard knocks, but I suspect I am not going to live long enough to truly get it.
I’ll keep working on it, though, and for the moment I’ll be working on it with my ring on, for whatever protection that gives me from the vivid imaginations of strangers. In the end, the question is, who needs this kind of grief? I have enough of my own.