Will the circle be unbroken?
My husband has passed away, but I can't remove my wedding band.
“When are you going to stop wearing your wedding ring?” a friend asked me the other day. “It’s been a year and a half now, you know.”
“Of course I know,” I replied. “Why? Is there some etiquette book somewhere that tells a widow when she is supposed to take off her ring?”
When I was married the first time, at the age of 24, I was in Paris, my fiance having been drafted into the Army and stationed in France. We thought of ourselves as beatniks – as the nonconformist people of the 1950s were called – and would have nothing to do with convention, and that included traditional gold wedding bands. And so we found ourselves at a silversmith’s shop on the Left Bank, where the proprietor fashioned rings to our specifications. Each was a wide band with two silver strips that crossed and uncrossed over each other, symbolizing that we are together but each also stands on his or her own.
After he was discharged from the Army, we moved to Italy, the country we had fallen in love with on our travels through Europe. There, especially in the southern part where we made our home, a wedding ring that was not yellow gold was not recognized as an indicator of marriage. So for years I was beset by scores of Italian men who were always following me – the tall, obviously foreign girl – down the street, teasing, nudging, and making life difficult. Only after I got pregnant and then began pushing a baby carriage around town did they leave me alone.
Some years later and divorced (having become the uncrossed strip on the silver ring), I returned to the States to live in Cambridge. There, I stayed a single mother for many years.
When, at long last, at the age of 63, I met the new love of my life and we decided to get married, I told him that I wanted a gold ring. And it wasn’t just because I knew we would be visiting Italy often, Franco being originally from Rome.
“I want everyone to know I am married to you,” I explained.
That was when we went to a jewelry store in downtown Boston and looked at the array of gold under the glass counter. Franco knew that I had never had an engagement ring, so without a word to me, he began checking out the diamonds. I recognized instantly that the one he selected was the one I would have chosen, too, though I hadn’t even considered it until then.
The wedding band that we both liked for me was 18-karat yellow gold, narrow, smooth, simple, and just about as traditional as you could get. The one we picked for him was also 18 karat and, except that it was bigger, matched mine exactly.
Franco later became very sick, and the illness caused his fingers to swell. Twelve years after he put it on, he took off his wedding ring because it hurt his hand so much.
“How can you do that?” I knew he had to, but it made me sad.
“I know I am married to you,” he said.
Now that he is gone, I don’t know what to do about my wedding ring. I have been wearing both our wedding bands and my engagement ring for almost two years. If at night I take them off, I can’t bear to look down at my naked left hand.
A friend of mine who was widowed told me that she took off her wedding ring the first month after her husband died. Another friend who got married late in life never wore a wedding band at all, not while she was married or after her husband died. I have married friends who haven’t worn their wedding rings in years. I often find myself looking at people’s fourth finger on their left hand, and I know a ring or its absence no longer signals if someone is single or married or divorced or widowed. I had to wait 63 years for my yellow-gold ring, and I just don’t seem to be able to give it up any time soon.
Gwen Romagnoli is working on a book, Gray Love, about people who get married later in life. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas: Send yours to email@example.com. Please note: We do not respond to ideas we will not pursue.