The wedding ring issue. What to do, what to do?
John wore a ring that we bought together, engraved with our initials and the date of our marriage. At some point in the ICU he was puffed up with fluids. One of his marvelous nurses suggested that he take it off while he still could, since she would have to cut it off otherwise. I don’t think he ever removed his ring, even during his idiotic affairs. I slipped it on my own finger, since we didn’t want to lose it—and there it remained for quite some time.
It’s a dilemma to know what to do with the rings. I didn’t remove my wedding ring for a good long time, in fact for nearly a year. I experimented with putting different rings in place of my engagement ring, although I had also done that when John was still alive. Around the date of our wedding anniversary, I bought myself a strong gold necklace and put his ring on that, along with a gold charm of the Space Needle and a gold charm of the state of Texas given to me many years ago by a dear friend. The three symbolize the journey of our life together—we met in Texas, we parted in Seattle. At the same time, I shifted my own wedding ring—which had been my grandmother’s, engraved with their initials and their wedding date in 1918—to my right hand and it feels right there.
The other day, I was chatting with a widow friend who had celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary in October of 2008. Her husband died in March of 2009. Three weeks later, she was playing bridge with some friends when one suddenly said, “Oh, I’m so pleased to see you’re still wearing your wedding rings!” Three weeks after he died, following fifty years of marriage. For heaven’s sake. Was she supposed to take them off the minute he died? What for? To signify her single-hood? To catch herself another man? Just because she wasn’t technically “married” any longer? I’m certain that the rings were the last thing on her mind, but even if they weren’t, she can wear whatever jewelry she wants, widowed or not. And that particular jewelry, symbolism aside, had been on her hand for fifty years, longer in the case of the engagement ring! I’m sure it didn’t even cross her mind until someone pointed it out. That’s a shame.
Another friend had divorced her philandering husband and flung her rings from the deck of a Washington State Ferry into Puget Sound. Sounds cathartic, doesn’t it? She was, of course, smart enough to remove the diamonds first. I think there’s a certain anger toward the symbolism of the rings which happens in divorce but isn’t there in the case of widowhood. I was certainly disgusted at the rings when John was the one doing the philandering. I can understand wanting to fling them into the deepest, coldest water I could find.
But as it is, I still wear rings on my left ring finger. I just like it. Partly, it reminds me of the idea of being married and everything that meant. Symbolically, like a nun. But truthfully, I have several lovely rings and only have two fingers they fit. One of them is the traditional wedding ring finger. So there you go. If you want to know my status, well, don’t be afraid to ask. But you should know what the answer is: I’m a widow. I’m no longer married. And I wear lots of rings.
UPDATE: July 2009—Oddly, I’ve developed some arthritis in the middle joint of my left pinky finger. Many years ago, I sliced the side of it open on some glass and had restoration surgery done on it, which has probably accellerated the inevitable arthritis I’ll be getting in all my joints. But the joint has become somewhat sensitive and was rubbing against the ring I was wearing on my wedding-ring-finger. Therefore: I had to remove the ring. Perhaps a sign of some kind? A goose from beyond to remove the symbolism? Just getting old and creaky? Who’s to say. At any rate, I’m now ringless on my left hand and my joints feel better.
John was a fantastic cook and he just got better as the years went on. In the very beginning, I would try to help out in the kitchen, but he didn’t really appreciate it and I found it boring. He made every meal for me—breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks—all of it. If he was out of town, or if he would be late, he would call and dictate exactly how to prepare something for me to eat until he could get home to do it for me. He did all the planning, shopping and preparation. The kitchen was his kingdom and he reigned with an iron skillet. We were sweethearts since I was 24, therefore I simply forgot—or never learned—how to prepare any kind of food on my own. Even during our separation, he would call me or come over to be sure I had enough to eat and that it was good food. I had to look up how to scramble eggs in his “Julia Child’s Way To Cook” book. I was, in a word, spoiled. Rotten.
Shortly after his death, I stood in front of the refrigerator, staring at the empty shelves and actually found myself thinking: Why didn’t he leave me anything to eat? The selfish bastard… didn’t he think ahead?
So I have had to learn to cook. I have two advantages, one being that I was used to having good, healthy food which kept me from heading to the KFC every night. And I would putter along after John in the grocery store so I learned good patterns of shopping: buy fresh, buy local, buy what’s seasonally available. That all provides for a good start.
I started a 30-minute-supper club to which I invited friends who could cook to come over and prepare a meal together. The rules were:
- all dishes had to be easy with simple ingredients and no fancy cook’s tricks
- all dishes had to be prepared within 30 minutes or less, something you’d do after work on a long day
- you had to bring your recipe with enough copies for everyone
- they had to be tasty!
I’d invite enough people to get a main dish, side dish, salad and dessert. I would provide wine & other beverages, sparkling conversation and the kitchen/dining room. I’d gather all the recipes together for everyone to take home and each person would show me how their dish was put together.
The dinners have been very fun and absolutely useful. I use T’s salad dressing regularly, have made Teacher Tuna Time (Surviving the First Year) for guests and myself, and RJF’s pork tenderloin whenever I find it on sale. And it gave me a way to gather with friends and have fun. It’s been a while since the last one, I’ll have to schedule one again soon.
My menu is still fairly limited. I can make broiled salmon, broiled chicken breasts, broccoli, green salad, grilled steak, cauliflower, pork tenderloin, roasted red potatoes, sweet potatoes and tomatoes & mozzarella. That’s about the extent of it. But you can go a long way on that. And it all makes great leftovers. Plus, I eat fruit like a jungle animal. I will eat fruit of any kind any time.
All that healthy stuff aside, I will also have a dinner of freshly popped popcorn and a bottle of wine. And make Jello for dessert. Or eat breakfast cereal for dinner. In bed watching TV with the dogs. What’s the point of being single if I can’t do all that.
John would be horrified at the thought.
About a month after John’s death, I went out to dinner with two other couples. Three of us got to the restaurant first, and the maître d’ asked how many of us there would be. I immediately answered, “six”… she replied that the reservation was for five. I insisted, no there would be six of us.
Until, of course, I realized that there would only be five of us, two couples and me. I was so used to counting myself as two I simply didn’t realize we were one short. I can still recall the shockwaves that went through me, kind of a public awakening that I was now a table for one.
I was 45 when John died. I didn’t think I belonged in the elderly category of widows, those over 75 say, who have lost their spouses. On the other hand, I wasn’t young anymore either. I feel pretty well seasoned, especially now.
So in looking for support after John died, I had a little trouble figuring out where to go, what category I fit into. Also, we didn’t have children, which made things different. Most of the younger widows had children to raise, a whole kettle of fish I couldn’t even begin to understand. Now I’m in specialized sub-category:
Old enough to have been entrenched in marriage and all that a long relationship entails. Young enough to have another life ahead of me. Old enough to be enraged at having to start over after all those years of work. Young enough to know starting over is possible. Old enough to know children of my own are out of the picture. Young enough to be resentful of my friends with loving families of their own. Old enough to have experienced over twenty years of a deep loving connection with one man. Young enough to feel cheated at only twenty years.
I still don’t know where I fit in on the scale.
There’s so many new surprises when you’re suddenly single. For instance: There’s a widows and gays table. Did you all know that? I don’t think anyone is conscious of it, but it’s what happens to you when you’re (a) widowed or (b) come out. It also welcomes the chronically single and just plain weird. It’s where you’re put when they don’t know what to do with you.
Let’s say you’re invited to a wedding, formal event, big party, fundraiser, or the like. I can guarantee if you are The Widow or if you are The Gay, you’re going to be stuck at the same table. The Widows and Gays Table (W>). And it’s not going to be the one up front, either.
Honestly, I had no idea this table existed, which is shameful of me because it’s a fairly safe bet I consigned someone I know to depths of the W>. I had no concept this is what I was doing when I was part of the Married Mob. It was quite a shock, the first time I arrived at the W> only to discover, that along with widowhood came banishment from the Other Couples. All those years invested in learning how to deal with couples, only to get tossed out with one lousy death.
Let me hasten to add that I don’t think the hosts are being malicious. I think what flits through their panicked brains (after all, they’ve got a huge party looming and a million details to attend to) is, “What do we do with this person? They’re alone, so how can we ensure they will have fun at the party? Oh, let’s put them with the other alone people: Widow X, Gay Y, and Single Z. They’ll all get along swimmingly.” Sometimes they’re right and the W> is the best table to be at. Instead of having to listen to the same stories you’ve heard for the last twenty years, you get to meet new people and pretend to be someone new and exciting yourself. Sometime you get to make fun of the proceedings with an appreciative audience!
I like hanging out at a party. I like meeting people and I like socializing. And I feel strongly that a good party is all-inclusive and even those who are there with a partner should have a good time. But I don’t need to be reminded of my single status by having to eat with others I don’t know but am assigned to simply by my marital/partner status. Does this stratification of singles happen to divorcees? Surely there someone else who your single guests know at the party? Is there other family? Perhaps other friends? The point is, we all don’t need to force couples to be couples. It’s not a requirement, like being on Noah’s ark.
Here’s some wacky advice to big party planners: I do understand the need for assigning seats, it makes it easier to serve and to know how much food to get out there and when. So if you’re planning one, I suggest you randomly assign seats (put numbers in a hat or something) for everyone. Make it a lottery. Shake things up. I think it would be more fun and those people who just can’t conceive of spending even one second without their significant other* are going to defy you and switch seats anyway, no matter where you put them.
* Something I never quite understood. Aren’t you going home together? Can’t you talk later and compare notes? But that’s a different post.