A few days ago, a friend noticed that I was not wearing my wedding ring anymore. She mentioned her observation very graciously and cautiously; she observed that I was not wearing the ring that had lived on my finger for almost 17 years. This was not the first time someone had noticed it, but it was significant because it is good for me to talk about. She and her husband are safe people, so I knew I could give a thorough, teary-eyed answer.
One thing that was good about the way she approached it was that she did not ask and she did not expect an answer. She just made the statement, “I noticed you are not wearing your ring anymore.” I could have just answered, “Yes,” and moved on—she gave me the freedom to engage or not. But I took a moment to fill my eyes with tears so I could say things out loud.
I like rules and so I had planned on keeping this comforter on for a year and then taking it off in some personal ceremony, but then, well, I just took it off. No real planning—I just removed it and placed it on the bathroom counter in a slow act of What will this do to me? I had a real, honest fear that I would just crumble and have to reach back to the counter and put it back on, like it had some power that I could not live without. But as I moved through my morning I forgot about it, this companion that had created a tan line and seemed to thin the shape of my knuckle. The day went on and I moved about my business only bearing a tan line where my ring had been. And I was okay.
I remember how annoying this companion was when I first started to wear it 17 years ago. I’m not a jewelry-wearing man, so to have this on was a little uncomfortable. But I joyfully adjusted, just like being married is a joyful adjustment. Now I move to a new adjustment.
In these adjustments I sometimes am struck by fear-filled anxiety. This new normal is not a linear process; I ebb and flow in how I can handle things. A simple activity or conversation will overwhelm me with emotions or unrest. I am comforted in the relationships I have with men who have walked this path before who are continuing to live life.
I asked two of my widower friends about their Removing The Ring event. It was good to know that there is no right or wrong way to do this. One just threw his into the sea with no forethought; the other needed to ask his pastor if he was still married. The pastor cautiously answered, “No, you are not.”
And that is the truth: I am not married. At weddings, I will need to line up with the men when they call the bachelors. I can get free tacos on widower night (please tell me if this exists anywhere). I have been marking the “widower” or “other” category when I fill out paperwork, just like I got used to marking “married.” Moving from single to married was good and hard, and now moving from married to widower is good and hard. I would stress the hard more than the good, though.
This grief that lives with me is sort of a new ring I wear. This ring is harder to see, and causes some discomfort when it is brought out in a conversation. Part of me wishes that I could just put my wedding ring back on and live the life I expected. The temptation to live a peaceful, normal life, using phrases like I’ll have to ask Kara or Tomorrow night is date night or Kara and I would love to come. These assume a life that I no longer have, but I’m okay. I am getting more comfortable in the new shape of my life. I have been reading through James and read James 5:7, “Be patient.” In this new shape of my life, I struggle with patience. I want to move out of this heartbreak; yet the only way to move toward healing in a healthy way is to walk each and every day of grief in this grace-filled dimension of patience.