Wedding rings symbolise togetherness. Their significance is both deeply personal and profoundly social; wedding rings adorn, commemorate and demarcate. They bond us to our beloved, until death do we part. But what happens when death comes? What happens when you’re left alone with a heart full of memories and a lonely ring on your finger?
This is a reader’s dilemma. His wife recently passed away. He said goodbye. But now he finds himself looking at his hands – the hands that loved her, touched her, stroked her hair – and wondering about the small, gold band. The one she placed there, 24 years ago. Does he take it off? And when?
We don’t like thinking about people we love dying. But the incontrovertible truth is they do. This relative unpreparedness can lead moments of precise confusion; of unsureness and doubt. It doesn’t help that our youth-focused world prefers to avoid talk of ageing, of loss and of grief. Mourning is, by many accounts, a modern social taboo.
Yet widows and widowers are made every day. Some are young, some are old. Some barely made it down the aisle before fatal tragedy. But in every case, life goes on for someone. Days, months, years might pass before the end finally comes – a whole other lifetime, perhaps, depending on circumstance.
So what happens to things of the past when it comes to the future? Memories linger, encased within our hearts and minds. But what of outward symbols of love shared and lost – what of rings and things?
In days gone by, mourning men and women were easily identified. Victorian England, land of Stiff Lips and Propriety, asked for obvious expressions of grief. The black dress did what the white dress was supposed to – reveal an intimate truth without having to talk about it. Things are less plain now.
Perhaps that’s the advantage of removing the ring. In a world where ambiguity sometimes obfuscates, clear signals of change can make adjustment easier. Clear signals might help avoid uncomfortable situations with people on the periphery. Conversations, with those workmates, casual acquaintances, or distant relations who don’t know, or need to know, the particulars of your personal life could take their cue from you before asking, ‘so, how’s married life?’.
Indeed, the ring’s life began as a public display of affection. It was bought from a store, or inherited, and presented to someone so everyone could know they were special, and loved, and attached to someone. It is a physical thing – a tangible manifestation of a romance – so the physical loss of a lover should be reflected.
Of course, a ring’s role is more than material. Anyone who has ever worn a ring of significance knows its power goes beyond look and feel. Taking it off, in life or death, is unbearable for some. Being without the love token is like being without the love. Losing it would be greatly upsetting. Deciding to lose it would be the ultimate betrayal.
Fundamentally, the choice is the wearer’s to make. It depends on their feelings, their thoughts, their habits and customs. There is no one correct option, only a world of individual possibilities. Some people move the ring to a different finger, others to a different hand. Some people wear their ring around their neck, others bury both rings with the body of their spouse. And some people choose to remove the rings, store them in a safe place, and hope one day to have cause to bring them out again. These rings may live on as heirlooms. They may live on in different married lives – there are men and women who wear the rings of dearly departed.
If you have loved, and lost, what did you do with the ring? If you plan to love, and exchange rings, would it matter who wore it first? A lover’s death will always leave a mark on your heart, but what of the mark it leaves on your hand?
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