Thursday, July 30, 2009

On the Other Hand

Tuesday should have marked our eighth wedding anniversary. It is a date that I share with another widower, though we only know this now because of our widower status. My wife and I celebrated five of them together, and even took a trip for our fifth, though we hadn’t the slightest indication at the time that it would be our last.

The first anniversary without her came five months after she passed away and one week after her first birthday without her, which I will save for another post. Sitting here now, I can scarcely remember what we did during the day, but I am almost certain we went to the beach. I know that I planned something fun to do with my daughter, who was unaware of the date at that time, in order to take my mind off of it. Whatever we did, I remember dreading having to face the date that evening after she was tucked safely into bed.

Once my daughter was asleep that night, I did something that I should not have done then, and have yet to repeat since. I watched our wedding video. From start to finish. Part of me wanted to see her move, to hear her speak, to watch her smile and laugh. And the other part of me wanted to torture myself. I had spent a lot of time trying to run from my grief up to this point, but on this night, I opted instead to wallow in my misery. And wallow I did. For two hours.

Sometime during the video of the wedding itself, I took one of my hardest steps as a widower. I removed my ring from my left hand and placed it instead on my right hand. It was a planned moment, but that did not make it any less difficult.

The summer before my wife died, we attended a wake for a woman who had been her assistant two years prior. She had died within about a year of her lung cancer diagnosis, leaving her husband, and elementary aged son and daughter behind. That fall my wife came home one day and mentioned that the assistant’s husband had come in to eat lunch with their son. She then told me about how several of the ladies had taken notice of the fact that he was “still” wearing his wedding band and pondered as to how long he might continue to do so.

When my own wife died just a few months later, the memory of that conversation resonated with me. Since I also work in a school, I knew that people would be talking about me in the same way, even though I would surely never hear the words spoken. So I decided to change my ring on my own terms. But the idea to wear it on my right hand actually came from a friend and co-worker who had been widowed in her early twenties and has since remarried. I had never paid attention to the fact that she wore a diamond on each hand, but she told me that it was her way of keeping her first husband’s memory alive. I liked the idea, so when it came time for me to do so, I followed suit.

In retrospect, I wish that I had waited longer to move my ring. I knew I wasn’t ready, but it was the one time thus far in my grieving process in which I gave in to my perception of what other people expected of me. I thought I should do it before the new school year started, and I knew that there would be no more poignant day to do so that my first anniversary alone. So with hands wet with tears, I made the switch.

My second anniversary alone (the seventh overall) was rather uneventful. I worked in the yard during the day, then my daughter and I went out for dinner that night. I did not watch the wedding video, but I thought about her all day and into the night.

When my daughter and I visited my wife’s stone last week, she asked me to read each item to her as she always does. Our anniversary is written on her stone, and since my daughter has a much better concept of months and dates now, she realized that July 28th was coming soon. So she suggested that we go to my favorite Italian restaurant for dinner “because I needed to celebrate my anniversary”. It was a sweet and selfless gesture, especially coming from a five-year-old, but we ultimately did not do so.

The day started off on a sour note. We had haircuts in the morning, then were to head to her appointment an hour and a half away to have her ear checked. That’s when I realized that I had forgotten something.

Now, I am not someone who forgets things easily or often. Nor am I one who accepts that I am human in the rare instance that I do forget something. But typically when I forget something, it’s something big.

One week prior to this appointment, I was supposed to begin putting ear drops into my daughter’s ear to help clear out any packing left over from her surgery. I remembered this when I grabbed my book to take with me and noticed the prescription slip inside where I had placed it, ironically, so that I wouldn’t forget! I called the doctor’s office and rescheduled the appointment for next Tuesday, but I was pretty hard on myself about my mistake.

Due to a miscommunication with the guy who was supposed to mow my yard while I was on vacation, coupled with over a week’s worth of rain, my lawn was severely overdue for a good cutting. I decided that I would take care of this when we got home following our haircuts and errands. It was a fine plan, but for one problem. The beautiful, sunny day suddenly morphed into an angry, stormy day just about the time I was ready to mow. I’m pretty meticulous about my yard, so that fact that it was overgrown and had been for quite some time did not sit well with me. (I finally got it taken care of today).

These are two seemingly insignificant events, but nonetheless are two which irritated me greatly. Still, I managed to have a pretty decent day grief-wise. Until about five o’clock when someone called to chastise me about something I had posted on Facebook. It was all in good fun, but this was the one day I really didn’t need to hear how “lame” (his word) I was. I probably would have been able to take it if he hadn’t kept on about it. But for some reason it just really bothered me.

After I hung up the phone, I realized the reason it had bothered me. He is usually one who calls to make sure I am doing okay on significant days and he hadn’t mentioned it. He hadn’t even remembered it was supposed to be my anniversary. And sadly, neither did anyone else.

I always wondered when people would stop calling on those days, but I just assumed it would be sometime down the road, when I started dating or was married again. For me, it was the third anniversary alone.

So I spent the rest of the evening thinking about the unfairness of it all. My wife and I had a good marriage. We rarely argued, and when we did, we worked it out so as not to have to go to bed angry. We communicated well. Sure, we had our share of problems, but they were minor in comparison to what a lot of other people deal with inside of marriage. In this world of marital decay, we were the ones who were supposed to make it.

I went to a 50th anniversary party for a couple once, but found little reason to celebrate. It was well-known that he had cheated on her for the majority of their marriage. So what good was it to celebrate their marriage when we were in effect celebrating 50 years of bitterness and deception?

I think there should be a qualitative measure of marriage. Forget measuring it in months and years, measure it in honesty and love instead. My wife and I had more in our five and a half years of marriage than most couples have in a lifetime.

And that’s why I continue to wear my wedding ring. Because regardless of which hand it sits on, it continues to be a symbol of our love and a tribute to our time together.


  1. i've been having a hard time lately missing my husband, crying a lot and very hard. it has been 6 months since he died, his birthday is coming up, and our wedding anniversary just 6 days after that which is also the anniversary of our first date. the 6 months has hit hard and after reading your words above i don't feel so alone in my grief or abnormal.

    i'm sorry you had such a hard time this past July 28th. any words about the memories that flood and the feelings that come forth will never be enough or exactly right, but if i had known about your date prior, i would have written something to you to show i was keeping you and your daughter in my thoughts. just remembering you were out there.

    i don't have the outside contacts you have so whatever i do that doesn't ring true for what people expect isn't a problem. i'm glad you've decided to go your own way with your decisions. i also very much agree with your remarks about the quality of marriages. my Marine was my second marriage and though this upcoming anniversary would only have been our 7th, we packed a lifetime into those few short years. we loved and laughed and shared secrets. i married a man i respected and was in awe of and had a crush on and adored. he knew it, too, and for that i am thankful. i told him at least once every day how handsome i thought he was and how much i love him. he would blush and smile and let me take his picture and then tell me i was crazy blind and that he loved me in spite of my visual infirmities.

    your words convey that you and your wife had a unique marriage and a commitment to truly being partners in the life. nothing can ever take away from that.

    your words above haven't helped me with my own tormented grief about his fast approaching birthday and our anniversary but it has shown me that i am not so far removed from what other widows and widowers feel. i'm very much alone in this with my son and daughter doing their best and me hiding a lot of how bad i feel from them. all of you on here have become the litmus paper from which i compare my own feelings to see if i am staying in one place or moving past certain milestones. thank you for sharing your feelings. thank you for your words.

  2. Thanks for your post. I've been wondering about my wedding ring and my husband's wedding ring, which I wear on my middle finger next to mine. I also work in a school and I've been wondering if people in general are wondering about when I'll move the rings or stop wearing them. It's been 19 weeks today and I'm not ready but I appreciate reading your thoughts about the issue. Our anniversary is Dec. 31. Maybe I'll wait until then, or longer...

  3. I couldn't take the looking at my hands thing. I had the ring morphed into a right-hand diamond ring and wear it as much as possible. I will (hopefully) wear two diamonds on each hand one day.

    I agree with the measurement of marriage in quality. I get so angry at my friends who are still married to their husbands and treat them like crap. They have no idea how lucky they are.

    I'm sorry everyone missed your anniversary. :( I have the same fear of my friends. I will soon see who remembers and who forgets as his birthday and my year mark makes its first appearance.

  4. Maxine My Hero- RickJuly 31, 2009 at 10:52 PM

    Wonderfully written blog!!!

    I wear my wedding ring also on my right hand some of the time now with a black band wrapped around it. I also purchased a ring that has a chain on it representing the chains of grief in my life now. I have been praying for you a lot lately and for your beautiful daughter! You are an AMAZING father and your wife is SO proud of the job you are doing!!

    You are an inspiration to me and I find much comfort from your blog!!

    May God Bless you in every way possible my friend!!

    Happy Anniversary!!!, I'll never forget your special day either....

  5. When are you a man, and a husband, and a widower, and then once more a man again? These definitions take a lot of time and huge emotional effort to work through.

    And meanwhile, as you've noticed, the world has stopped caring quite so much and may not now be looking, either.

    Yet real progress is being made with every day. I see how your daughter is growing in sense and sensitivity. That's wonderful, and remarkable -- a gift to take her forwards through her life, and which will sustain you through all of yours as well.

    Keep up the good work, and just keep going.

    Spirits up.

  6. Right after the one-year mark, I went back and forth with which hand I wore my ring on. At 14 months, I permanently moved it to my right hand. Today is 18 months and I have days where I am incredibly tempted to put it back on my left hand.

    ((hugs)) to you and your little girl-it sounds like you are doing an awesome job of raising her!


  7. womanNshadows - thank you for YOUR words. Unfortunately as much as we all have in common in our circle, our grief affects us all differently. Just keep hanging in there.

    I have mentioned before that I can be rather oblivious to practical ideas. It never occured to me to let you all know the exact dates of my anniversary and her birthday (post on that is still coming soon), so I have posted some important dates in the sidebar of my blog and will be encouraging others to do so as well at the start of my next post. And I have you to thank for that.

    I consider it a blessing to be thought about/prayed for at any time, especially by you and others who truly understand what it is like to live without our loves.

    Suddenwidow - Please do what is best for you. As I mentioned, I wasn't ready and wish I had waited longer (it took me a full year to take her voice off of our answering machine greeting. Why did I feel pressured to change my ring so early-on?) No one should make that decision but you. And best wishes to you whenever you decide to do so.

    Star - another great idea. I hope that your friends and family are there for you the way mine were the during all of my firsts. You are in my thoughts and prayers often as the hard days approach this month.

    Rick - also more great ideas. I would have never thought of the black band or the chains. I'm glad we both survived this date this year.

    Roads - I don't know if they've stopped caring or if they just don't realize the levels of grief people continue to experience even two-plus years out. It's a fine line, and one I'm not sure I'll ever be able to navigate very easily.

    Heather - it's been two years since I moved my ring, and there are still days I'm tempted to move it back too...