Eight months after my wife Lisa died of cancer, I sat in our bedroom staring at my gold wedding band, the symbol of our love and marriage that I still wore. I didn’t want to let go. I didn’t want my marriage to end after only 8 years, and the thought of removing my ring plagued me with guilt.
Yet, I knew that I had to remove my ring. I had to admit that at age 40, I was a widower with two young sons to raise.
My ring is a symbol of the oath I took on my wedding day. It is a symbol of the love I feel for my wife. Even more than a symbol, it is part of my identity. It identified me as a married man, one who is committed to his wife and family and proud of that fact. It identified me as someone who is loved and loving in return.
If I take the ring off, does that mean I am not loved? Does it mean I don’t love Lisa anymore? Does it mean I am a failure? Does it mean I’m single when I still feel like I am married? Does it mean I’m giving up on the marriage when it was death that stopped the marriage? Without the ring, would people see me as a single, never married, or divorced? I want people to know that I had a happy family life and that I kept my wedding vows until death parted us.
I slid the ring off my finger and felt the cold air spread over the exposed skin, so I put it back on. The next day, I took it off for an hour before returning it to its place on my ring finger.
It was a struggle between wanting to move on and wanting to hang on, between having someone to love and no one to love. Two nights later, just before I went to sleep, I took the ring off and placed it on the night stand. I slept the night away but in the morning I put the ring back on. I survived the night without it but I was asleep. On the weekend, I again took the ring off, taped it to a piece a paper and left it on the night stand. I went the whole weekend without the ring.
I had to adjust my thinking to my new identity as a widower and adjust to having people look at me without the ring and assume I’m single or divorced. They will not think I am a widower because I am too young. After the weekend without the ring, I accepted that I can leave it off and move on.
I went to the bank and sat in the small private cubicle and opened our safe deposit box. In the box were real estate deeds, cemetery deeds, and a safety pin holding Lisa’s engagement ring and wedding ring. I opened the safety pin and looked at her engagement ring; the memories flood back to nine years before.
The day after Thanksgiving was our special day because it was our first day of snow skiing and that was the day I planned on proposing. We sat on the chairlift for the first ride up the mountain. The temperature in Vermont was near freezing as I reached into my puffy down jacket and pulled out the small, black velvet box and handed it to Lisa.
She took the box, put her gloves and ski poles on her lap and opened the box. Her jaw dropped, and she looked at me with a puzzled look.
The look on her face was priceless, and thinking back and feeling the love and happiness that I felt on that day still makes me smile.
“Will you marry me?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
It was my worst day of skiing but the happiest day of my life.
At the bank, I picked up the wedding ring, a gold band inset with diamonds. Engraved inside is our wedding date and the initials “tmwlr,” which means “to my wife, love Rich.”
We had an evening wedding at our church and in front of one hundred people we vowed to be husband and wife till death do us part. Five years and two kids into our marriage, Lisa was diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live. I didn’t know what to do except support Lisa in her quest for a miracle. The miracle was that she lived three and a half years longer than the doctor’s diagnosis before her body gave out and she passed away.
I put her rings back on the safety pin.
As I peered into the interior of my ring, I read the date and the initials ‘tmhll’, which means ‘to my husband love Lisa’. I smiled. She loved me and I loved her. I thank God for giving her and the boys to me.
I took my ring and slipped it over the open pin and the ring slid down and rested against Lisa’s ring. I closed the pin, then the box and sat absorbing another step in my healing. I knew that I was healing and I will still love her until I die. Our rings, the symbols of our love, are together as I know that Lisa and I will be together again.
I leave the bank and start the rest of my life.
Richard Ballo 2011