My husband passed away this June after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease. Years ago, I had joined a group of Parkinson’s spouses who met monthly to support each other. We were all around the same age, going through the same quandaries, and we became excellent friends. Now, a decade later, six of the eight of us are widows. We have something else to share.
When I announced my husband’s death online, many people sent condolences, which was tremendously comforting. Then one woman, herself a widow, asked, “Are you still wearing your wedding ring?” Huh? I hadn’t thought about it; I was far too busy settling legal and financial issues and communicating with the kids. But the question made me stop and wonder, so I brought it to my caregiver group.
Friend #1 is always well-dressed, wearing multiple rings, earrings, and necklaces, even when we meet casually. She said, “Naturally, I’m wearing my wedding ring.” I assumed she meant that it was simply part of her wardrobe. But then she said, “I don’t want any man to get near me.” She’d had a long, satisfying marriage and had no intention of attaching herself to another man, especially an older one who might sicken on her.
Friend #2, who also had enjoyed a long marriage, said she sometimes wears her ring, sometimes not, depending on her mood and the occasion, in that order. Much of her jewelry had been stolen years ago, so she had fewer items to pick from. Nonetheless, she had sentimental favorites, especially a necklace she and her husband purchased on one of their travels. The slim gold pendant reminded her of her guy. She wore it, not her wedding ring, nearly all the time.
When I asked Friend #3 about wearing her ring, she seemed as surprised as I was by the question. She had been a widow much longer than I and said it had never occurred to her to stop wearing her ring. She didn’t see it as a symbol, as did the other two. Putting it on in the morning was like brushing her teeth. Her marriage had been a big chunk of her identity, and it still was. So was the ring.
I questioned a fourth friend, not yet a widow, who didn’t wear any rings. When I asked how come, she snorted, “It’s my arthritis.” Her ring would not slide onto her finger anymore, and she said she didn’t care. She confessed that her attitude had been conditioned by a bad allergic reaction a few years ago. Her entire body had swelled, and they’d had to cut her ring off. She’d had no desire to replace it. Taking good care of her hubby was commitment enough.
Listening to my friends, I resonated with all of them. I can’t imagine getting entangled with a man again, not after 42 years of a marriage that suited both partners; hence the “keep-away” function of a wedding ring sounds good to me. I also like the sentimental side: my husband wore one of my rings toward the end of his life when his fingers had thinned, and I can feel his vibe in that ring. I might wear it for a while to remind me of the good times, not his awful disease.
As for identity, I have presented myself to my community as, among other things, a person who cared about her family, and wearing a wedding ring was part of the presentation. But my interests are evolving, and I can imagine a time when something new comes to the fore and wearing rings becomes impractical (gooey hands or exotic travel or some such). Perhaps I’ll leave the ring in my dresser drawer and present a new face to the world, and to myself.
Of course, all the above is moot if arthritis advances. Right now, the ring finger on my right hand gets stuck, and the second joint is the only joint of all ten fingers that is permanently swollen. (I have no idea why.) I can still wear my ring in its rightful place on the ring finger of my left hand, and I intend to. But I realize that widowhood may bring changes in the near future, and the safest attitude is “wait and see.”
Do you wear your wedding ring? How does that determine who you are today? Do you envision a point in time when you might want to take it off?
Tags Getting Older