Widower Ponders What to do With the Ring

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

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Richard Ballo

More Articles Written by Richard

Richard Ballo is a national speaker and author in grief and healing and has been a professional writer since 1980 and has a B.S. degree in Journalism. Richard’s general interest articles have appeared in the Montachusett Review, Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise, Neapolitan Families, Byline Magazine, Suffolk Evening Voice, Retrop Times, The Lynn Daily Item, The Waltham News Tribune, Florida Kiwanian, Resource Recycling magazine, and BMW ON Magazine. He is the author of the award winning book “Life without Lisa: a widowed father’s compelling journey through the rough seas of grief.” This book was awarded theFlorida Publishers Association's President’s Pick award. He has been a guest speaker to numerous groups about healing from grief including Hospice of Hilo, HI, Hospice of the Valley, San Juan, CA, Wings of Hope Hospice, Allegan, MI, and Charlotte Hospice, Charlotte, NC, and many churches and hospitals. He has been a guest on over 20 radio stations in the U.S including KKUP Cupertino, California, WXZO Kalamazoo, Michigan, WFLO Farmville, Virginia, WQQQ Lakeville, Connecticut, WOCA News Talk 1370 AM Ocala, Florida, KPQ 560 AM Greater Seattle, WNTN Boston, MA, and KLPW-AM St. Louis. He has also appeared on TV, including Fox News, and had book signings at bookstores across the country including Barnes and Nobles and Borders. Richard has experienced many sides of grief including the death of his wife early in their marriage, raising two sons as a single father, giving up a daughter he was going to adopt, the loss of his father and other loses. He is on the Board of Directors, and the Physicians’ Advisory Board, of Avow Hospice in Naples, Florida, and Avow bestowed on him recognition for all his work at Avow and in the community. He has been a member of the Kiwanis Club of Northside Naples since 1995 where he has served as the newsletter editor, a distinguished Secretary, and Past President. Richard continues to speak on grief and healing around the country at hospices, churches, and libraries. For bulk-rate discounts on his book or to bring Richard to your organization as a guest speaker to help you heighten community awareness of your organization, call 1-877-513-0099 or email Books@QoLpublishing.com.

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  • Diane says:

    Very well written and thoughtful. Especially for young widowed people.

  • Susan W Reynolds says:

    Melding the two rings into one symbol might be nice down the road. Two pins for the boys or keychains? I have mine in the safety deposit box as well and am going to create something for my daughters. Not certain what yet. To lock them away seems sad, to “renew” seems right to me now. Just a thought and thanks for yours. Susan

  • Ihab says:

    May God give you strength. I share with you a parallel life. After nine years of marriage, my dearest wife, the most wonderful woman one could ever imagine, died a month ago at the age of 33, after suffering from years of an extremely painful cancer. I am now raising our beautiful 6 year old daughter, with support of family.

    Wearing the ring has also been a similar preoccupation, and am wearing it with similar feelings lost between love, attachment, and guilt. There is no pain killer for this experience except knowing, not just believing, that there is a single God and that for those of us who have worked hard enough there is a much better life waiting for us after this one.

  • PKM says:

    My husband left this earth Aug. 23, 2011. I am still wearing my ring. I know that people and friends wonder, but I can’t bear to take it off. Why should I? It’s my ring. Just a ring now. I know I will not re-marry. There are not rules. Maybe one day I will take it off….or put on my right ring finger.

  • Laura Mitchell says:

    I wear my ex husband’s wedding ring on a gold chain around my neck,i wear my own wedding ring on my wedding finger as a symbol of our undying friendship. We may have divorced,but our love and friendship was stronger than ever. I dont plan on marrying again,nor do i plan on taking it off. Life is ok,but i will never forget his passing.

  • John Gardner says:

    I just lost my wife and partner of almost 8 yrs last week, very suddenly. She was only 41yrs old. The loss is still so fresh and I’m having a hard time even consdering removing my ring, which signified my undying love and devotion to her. The thought of removing this ring almost feels like some kind of betrayal to her memory. I believe that when I’m able to finally process all of this grief and loss that I will probably put it on a chain and keep it close to my heart, as she will be for the remainder of my life. God, how I miss her.

  • Alex says:

    I lost my wife almost nine months ago and this letter perfectly reflects what I went through. I’m 32, she was 34. We were married for 1 month shy of 7 years and we have 2 beautiful girls that are as lovely as their mom. I pray you will remain close to the Lord as you and your family walk on this path.

  • Bill Gard says:

    My wife of 6.5 years died of cancer about 7 weeks ago. I too have fought the battle with the ring. I wear her wedding band on the pinkie finger of my right hand and my wedding band where I always wear it. I’ve taken it off for as much as three days, but always put it back on. I feel like I’m betraying our undying love if I remove it. I suppose some day I will take it off, but for now, it feels better with it on. I am having a really hard time dealing with her death. bill

  • Becky says:

    After my Ronnie’s death almost a year ago, I have continued to wear my wedding ring and anniversary ring on my left hand and Ronnie’s wedding ring on my right hand. I’ve been struggling with taking the rings off. Between the 3 rings there are a total of 22 diamonds, the same amount of years we were married. Knowing my emotional struggle with the ring, God answered my prayers. I’m going to have my jeweler create a butterfly ring using all 22 diamonds. Just like the butterfly we are all on a long journey of the soul. On this journey we encounter endless turns, shifts, and conditions that cause us to morph into ever-finer beings and at our soul-journey’s end we are not at all the same as when we started, we are inevitably changed. I want to be able to look down at my ring and know, I am better today than yesterday because I loved and I was loved.

  • Steve says:

    Wow, I am 43 and a widower, my wife Lisa died 6 months ago. I am also torn as to what to do with my ring. I feel anf think all the same things. I don’t know what to do. The story is as if I wrote…very uncanny.

  • Pat Lamey says:

    My spouse of 13 years died of cancer last year. For the anniversary of her death, I had our jeweler re-size my wedding ring to fit my right hand. I now wear it constantly and am always willing to answer the inevitable questions. And, I feel true to our love and commitment wearing the ring daily. I still don’t know what to do with her ring.

  • p dase says:

    thanks for the write up

    so inspiring and refreshing

    i brought his ring with me when i attended the mass which incudes renewal of marriage vows .

    when the ceremony started for renewing vows, i wore his ring in my biggest middle finger touching it and with the photo near my heart. The singing friar sung, “the nearest thing to heaven is finding you”

  • Angela says:

    Thank you for shareing. I lost my husband of 16 years a month ago today. It seems as if it were yesterday.

  • Ray Cuevas says:

    My spouse of 18 yrs passed away of CLL (leukemia) 11 months ago…I know I wont have any issues on removing my wedding band cause I had decided to wear it only for 1 year only after her death…maybe I’ll wear it on my right hand or on my neck chain or put it in my ring box…I dont know…I have more important issues to deal with right now…my grief…it has gotten worse with my healing…but I know I wont have any problems removing my symbol of my love for my departed spouse…I take it off all the time but I do wear it in public…

  • Linda says:

    I lost my husband suddenly on New Year’s Eve. I am lost without him, incomplete, a stranger. I pray every day to be with him soon, and I will never love again. He was the love of my life, my best friend, my world. I have worn his ring on my ring finger with my own since I removed it from the plastic bag at the hospital while I sat with him for the last time and said goodbye after he was gone.

  • Marsha says:

    1 year ago today I lost the my husband of 34 years. I wear his wedding band on my left hand long finger, I placed my wedding band on his left pinkie. I miss him more every day and feel so alienated from this life.

  • carrie says:

    I was married to the love of my life he died march 1,2011 its when my world ended and when we married years ago we changed our vows and our vows were death do us not part i an glad we did this I will proudly keep my wedding ring on and never remove it because i still consider myself his wife forever it is hard being a widow very painful especially dealing with the painful loss of my husband and our sons losing their dad and i was faced without and income and being disabiled with our youngest son still home and in school alot of scarey and painful days ahead but one thing I know i will fprver keep my wedding ring on i will jnot date look at or married again my husband is my love

  • Dean says:

    I lost my beloved wife of 42 years on Oct.3, 2009. It was the worst day of my life. I never knew what love was until she married me. That was the happiest day of my life. I became a complete man at that moment. I know I will never love again and am alright with that. When she died more than half of me died with her. I sized her ring and wear it on my little finger next to my own where it will stay until I leave this world. For those of us you have been blessed with this kind of love, you are not alone and it is okay to go the rest of the way in love with a memory.

  • Elizabeth says:

    This month marks a year since my husband of 8 years unexpectedly passed away. In some ways I feel like it’s been forever since he has been gone because I miss him so much… but in other ways I feel like it happened yesterday.
    I still wear my wedding rings and sometimes ponder if I will ever remove them.
    I make it through each day by God’s grace in my life. He has been my sufficiency.
    I am 33 years old and I am often asked if I will remarry. I find it hard to imagine being remarried but only God knows the answer to that question.
    Praying that you and your family will find the peace that only God can give!
    God Bless,
    Elizabeth

  • Hi its 11 months since my husband died we had planned to retire together on July 29th 2010 sadly he was diagnosed with cancer in April 2010 it was savage,up until then he was a fit man never smoked, excercised regularly. He was my soul mate for 35years and each day is a challenge. I will never take his ring off it signifies what we shared together, our love lives on in our two sons and now in our granddaughter who was born on the 31st July 2011. For me it is the second time I have been widowed, my first husband died at age 26yrs we had been together for 7yrs married for 4yrs I still have his wedding and engagement ring which will pass down to my niece as we did not have any children. My wedding and engagement ring will go to my granddaughter so that the significance of our love for each other will be passed down.

    Life goes on so does the love we shared.

    Wishing you peace
    Margaret

  • Joan says:

    I lost my dear husband of 31 yrs just a few weeks ago after a 3 yr battle with brain cancer. I just picked up his ashes today. There will be a memorial service for him tomorrow and I will proudly wear his ring on a gold chain around my neck. I’ll wear it for a VERY long time…there are NO RULES for mourning. Everybody heals differently and at a different pace…and then unfortunately there are those who never get over the lose of their spouse.

  • Richard Ballo says:

    Thank you all for sharing parts of your life with me. Grief and how we deal with our rings, and other items, is so individual that each answer or decision is right. We are not alone. I feel blessed but reading your comments and wish you all peace in your journey.

    Richard

  • Renee says:

    My Uncle (who was only 4 years older than me) died in a car accident in August. He was married to a wonderful woman who is 40 and they have two beautiful girls 12 and 9. My Aunt just texted me to ask if it was OK to move her own rings to her right hand. I did a search to see what other people do and came to this wonderfully written story and all of your comments. I am a grief counselor and just want to say that nothing I could say after 20 years of grief counseling is as good as all of this. I will send her a note to read this. Thank you.

  • kelvin says:

    Reading all these story’s are all so sad, When you lost a loved one, You feel no body understand’s the pain your going though,…
    On 18/04/2011..After 3,1/2 years with my girlfriend we were married it was such a wonderfull day, Happy, Proud, so in love, we were starting out on our own road of happiness….23/08/2011.. My wonderful beautiful wife, just 55 years of age Died of cancer, we were married for 4 months and 5 days,..before my wife died, She gave me her back name, I wear this name in my passport, tax papers, all documents..with pride, love, and honer..A little bit of my wife lives with me every day. No one and no body could every take my wife’s place. we live’s by the word’s “We are as one, We stay as one” Two heart’s beat as one”..i am 49 year’s of age,… I only hope i never make old age, we were not alond to have a long, happy marriage on this earth, but we will in the afterlife..God bless you Mary, Never stop loving you xxx

  • Sheryl says:

    I hear and relate to all you are saying. My heart reaches out to each of you, because I know the pain. My husband crossed over in June 2011. I still wear my wedding band. I am not yet ready to move on. We are best friends and for 22 years. We only had each other.No close family. Now,I am like a lost puppy in the woods. I have no one. I sat by his bed alone,. I was only one there when he crossed over at the hospital. I arranged his funeral all alone. I will wear his band on a chain around my neck, along with the ashes I wear. I am putting his other jewelry in the safe deposit box until I decide what I want designed. At this time, I am trying to get through one day at a time. They say things get better. But they don’t say when. It is individual. I look for support groups. Not so easy to find places near enough to get to the meetings. Wish I knew how to start a group.

  • Richard Ballo says:

    Hi Sheryl
    Yes, things get better and no one says when. I remember just trying to get through each day and some days, or hours, everything seemed fine, then, wam, back down. Making arrangement alone is tough. then I after a year I had better days. For me to really say I was out of grief was about 5 years. That is when there were more good days than not. I was more alive. I know you will make it. I pray for your peace and acceptance.

  • Peggy says:

    I feel what you are are feeling. I lost my husband 1/6/12. He was my best friend. He passed away suddenly and unexpected. I am still in shock and disbelief. We had 32 years of marriage. We still held hands and spent all out time together. There is not a moment that goes by where I do not think of him. I find myself waiting to get home to tell him of something I saw or heard before I realize I can not. I miss our talks and planning of our future. I do not plan on ever taking my ring off. I take each moment as they come because I do not now when the tears are going to start and what a kind word from another might make me feel. I miss Him and wonder how I’m going to be without him and who am I without him.

  • Jess says:

    Exactly ten weeks to the day after I married the love of my life, he died unexpectedly. I went from being a newlywed to a widow in just over two months. I still wear my ring and even moved it to my right hand on what would have been our one year anniversary. However, it just seems strange. His ring, I wear on a chain around my neck since it’s too big to fit any finger. Even though I know he would want me to move on with life, I’m still grieving every day.

  • Richard Ballo says:

    Jess. My heart just broke reading your story. TO have loved and lost is painful but to lose after such joy is truely heartbreaking. May you find the strength in the days to come to reach the point of smiling again.

    Richard

  • Gisele says:

    Richard,

    Thank you for a beautiful essay to and about love. I also want to thank each person who generously shared their experiences and solutions to a knotty, painful conundrum.

    My husband died nearly two years ago of pancreatic cancer at 43. I was 27 at the time. In ten days I will be completing a promise made to him — one he clung to passionately — by defending my doctoral thesis. Ironically, I work in oncology.

    Afterwards, I plan to visit the jeweler from who he purchased my engagement ring and our wedding bands. They have graciously agreed to use them to create a single ring, including the stone, that I will then wear on my right hand.

    At least, as far as such things go under the circumstances, that is my plan today. I’ve been known to change my mind as emotional winds blow.

    My university’s doctoral convocation, part of the graduation ceremonies, is scheduled for May 13th. The second anniversary of my husband’s death. It is very important to my parents, and would have been the cause of joyful celebration for my husband. Participating is part of the promise I made. It’s not going to be an easy day.

    My kindest thoughts and prayers to all those who have loved well and lost.

    The greatest treasures lives on in us.

    Gisele.

  • tforre says:

    I can relate to everyone that has lost the love of their life. That’s exactly what happened to me. After 37 years of marriage to the most wonderful sweetest woman I ever knew, she passed away with pancreatic cancer. This cancer came from nowhere and she always took good care of herself. There are just some things that don’t have answers and it seemed so unfair. I am having trouble living without her. She always took care of me better than I did myself. We have four grown children and two grand kids that all adored her as did I. All her friends and co workers loved her as a great friend. She was one of a kind and God blessed me and our children with the best wife and mother and grand mother we could possibly ask for. Cancer can take an awful lot from us but it can’t take the eternity we have to look forward to with our precious loved ones.

  • Harry says:

    I lost my beautiful wife of 7 months a month ago. She was only 34 and died very suddenly. We were planning events for our first anniversary when she died. Personally, at 48, I feel stuck in the middle. If I were older, I could wear the ring in the knowledge that I probably won’t wed again. But at 48-who can say?

    I don’t want to take off my ring. I worked my entire life to meet the right woman , and to take off this ring, for me, somehow invalidates the importance of what my wife and this marriage meant to me. We didn’t separate nor divorce, she simply died. As far as I am concerned, the marriage never ended.

    So, what happens if I meet someone else who is special? I have no idea, and I’m not spending much time pondering it either. If that happens, then I’ll deal with the ring issue when it *becomes* an issue. I carry the first Valentine’s Day jewelry that I gave my wife on a chain around my neck (she wanted to be buried with her Wedding and Engagement rings). Perhaps I will someday add my wedding band to that chain. But until that day comes (if it does), I am happy to keep my wedding band on my finger wear it was meant to be.

  • Eric says:

    My heart has been heavy reading these posts which I found today after a friend noticed my wedding ring and asked if I had remarried. “No, I replied. “You must have loved your wife very much”, was his reaction.

    It’s 11 years since a brain tumour ended our marriage of 34 years. I have kept my wedding ring on the same finger where my wife placed it at our wedding ceremony and cannot contemplate the thought of taking it off.

    My heart goes out to all those who have written and as some have pointed out, we grieve in different ways. The hardest part is wondering what others think. Will we remarry? Why don’t they? I think it’s up to us to go forward and not worry or feel pressured by the thoughts of those who would like us to move in a different direction.

    A delightful essay Richard and peace and brighter days to all.

  • John L says:

    Thank you for posting this Richard, so many of thse same questions roll through my head too. My wife Maryann passed away from cancer Oct 6/11, 10 days after our 14th anniversary.She was only 56. Those 14 yrs felt like a few months, our marriage was one of joy and laughter, a love like no other, we were two peas in a pod. I slipped my wedding ring off for the first time last month….but only for a minute, I just couldn’t leave it off. Still re-working my new identity as a widower, but for now I will wear the ring and re-size hers for my other hand.

  • Jennifer peacock says:

    I lost my husband on 28.12.2011 like so many others it was Cancer. My husband was only 43 yr when he passed away and we have 2 boys they were 17 yr and 15yr at the time of his passing. I’m glad the boys are old enough to remember their father and all the good memories and time we shared as a family. I too wonder about our wedding rings I wear his round my neck on a chain and when ever I think about Mark I find myself holding tight on to it, I have no set date to take my band off I suppose the time will come but no rush. Xxx

  • Jennifer
    I am sorry for your loss. You are right there is no rush to do anything with the ring. Time will help you decide what is right for you. The rings are our symbols and only we can decide what is the best way for us to use them.

    Thanks

    Richard

  • Susan Comer says:

    My dear husband, Charles, passed away suddenly on July 18, 2011, from a heart attack after a two-year battle with mental illness. He was 47, I 39. We did not have any children together, but when we met and fell instantly in love in 1992, his daughter was 4. He and I were together all of my adult life. When his daughter was an adult we married in 2008. What would be our fourth official wedding anniversary, and 20 years of being together, is on Monday, May 28. When he passed, I had his wedding band welded to mine. I still wear it, and plan to forever. I’m still deeply in love with him and always will be-he will always be my husband, best friend, constant companion, and lover. I still talk to him and told him that if it was meant to be, he will send someone my way. I requested a widower, because he’ll “get it,” as will I. I don’t expect him to take off his band, for his wife is still a part of him and he’s still in love with her. My friend who was widowed 20 years ago and who recently remarried, said to me, “It’s ok to drive on as l

  • Susan Comer says:

    (this is the rest of what I was typing above-I think I hit send)

    “It’s ok to drive on as long as you don’t forget where you came from.” I don’t expect a widower to forget where he came from, and I hope he would expect the same of me. It would make me feel good, and I hope him too, if we continued to wear our bands. To me, they represent a deep love that we continue to have, a friend on the other side that is always watching over us.

  • Tony says:

    It’s been almost two years since my best friend of one year, and two months of being my wife, was murdered. She was 35 and I was 37. I go back to our wedding ring, off and on, constantly. I find that it is when I am in complete confusion of what my life’s course is, that I return to it. I sit and wonder where we would be if things had not happened the way they did. We have two sets of wedding rings. The pair we married in, I contemplated sending to her mother and father. I’ve yet to send them. I find so much solace in having them within reach when I need them, yet, it feels like such a burden on my chest, when I sit and think about what it is I’m doing, lost inside myself. Everyone I talk to says, “It gets easier with time.” I’ve yet to realize that…

  • Jeff Mazza says:

    I really don’t see any need to remove my wedding ring and don’t understand those that do. Unless you plan to date and perhaps remarry I think that the ring needs to stay on your finger where it has been. To take it off is to remind me that she is no longer here with me. The reality of that is bad enough without adding the emotional trauma of removing my ring.

  • Grace says:

    It is okay for a single, 48 year old man to still wear his mother’s wedding band on a chain around his neck after she passed away 10 years ago? Is this normal?