Monday, November 30, 2015

The Ring In-Between

There's a part of being a new widow that had never occurred to me before.  It's a state of in-between.  Neither here nor there.  Afterloss Purgatory.

The first time the in-between-ness hit me was when filling out some paperwork and having to check a box for either single or married.  This was a test I hadn't studied for.  I really didn't know what to check and didn't like that I had to declare myself one way or the other.  Neither choice seemed correct.  I still feel married, but officially, I guess I'm not and that stupid form was making me say I was something I wasn't ready for.  There should be a box for UNCERTAIN or OTHER or IN-BETWEEN.

Strange.  I guess I'm single, but it feels wrong to check that box. Single sounds flirty, footloose, and fancy free.  It sounds like I should be out on the town on Saturday nights.  I'm not single like that.  But then, if there is no living spouse, I can't actually claim to be married either, can I?  I'm something in-between.

It occurred to me there might be an unofficial symbol of being in-between. If a widow still wears her wedding ring, she is somewhere in-between.

How the ring ties in to the in-between life of a widow came to me after reading a new post from a widow asking advice about when to take off her wedding ring.  How long to wear the wedding ring tends to be a hot topic on many widow blogs.   I come across new discussions on the topic at least every week or two.  The accepted answer from "professionals" is to take it off when you feel ready.  Some widows participating in these discussions can be VERY opinionated and passionate on the topic.  When do you take it off?  Do you ever take it off?  Many widows (especially those in over 50) vow to never take it off and a few of them word their opinion so strongly that you get the impression that anyone who does less obviously didn't love their husbands.  They don't come out and say that, but their message is annoyingly clear.
FYI - This is NOT my ring.

Is taking off the wedding ring a betrayal?  I read on one post, "Your wedding ring is a symbol of your love and commitment to your spouse."  Well, damn.  That sentence alone would pressure a widow to keep her rings on forever if she cared anything at all for her husband.  Sadly, there's an incredible amount of fear and guilt associated with taking off the wedding ring.  It's a symbol to some of dismissing your deceased spouse and is almost like a divorce.  Let that thought sink in.  Removing the ring is like divorcing the beloved wife or husband who died.  That's a really ugly thought, isn't it?  But, there it is.  I hope when I take my ring off, which I WILL do at some point, that no one thinks I'm over Rudy.  You never get over someone you loved.  I don't think any of the people who love me will feel that way.  I guess, if someone I know thinks that, then clearly, they don't know me very well.

Taking the ring off is also seen by some as announcing you're ready to be on the market. I don't like that thought, either. That's turning what should be a gradual transition from A to Z into one abrupt change, skipping all the baby steps in-between.   There are often many stages and emotions between Grieving Widow and Dating Widow.  Removing the ring might be one of those in-between stages.

I have decided to associate removing the ring with something less weighty.  Maybe it will mean I've decided to come to terms with the fact that I'm on my own and brave enough to handle it.  I've been trying to do that all along.  Some people think I've done it pretty well already.  I try to present a good on-my-own front and am proud of how I've handled myself, but, truthfully, I'm not there yet.
Removing the ring shouldn't be seen as a coming out party for widows.  No symbol is needed for that transition.  It's likely something that just happens when the time is right.   I have a feeling most widows don't enter that stage on their own. Most are probably coaxed out by concerned friends or wooed out by a very charming suitor.  If George Clooney came to my door, said he and Amal had realized they weren't right for each other and after reading my blogs, he knew we were soul mates, I feel pretty sure I'd start dating.  In fact, I'd probably be willing to marry him on the spot.  My blog posts would get way more interesting after that!

There are reasons other than devotion that widows wear their wedding rings for so long. One is the safety factor.  There's a safety in being thought to be married.  A single woman is vulnerable. That makes me furious, but most women know it's the truth.  A married woman gets treated a little differently.  Usually.  More importantly, strangers assume there is someone at home waiting for a woman wearing a ring.  A single woman can seem like an easy target. When I'm out in public, I always imply I'm married to strangers.  When I think of the safety issue, I'm tempted to wear my ring forever.

I suspect there's another, more controversial reason a few widows plan to never remove their ring. It may be less about the love of their deceased husband and more about the fact that they are just fine with their freedom.  They don't want a man in their life to mess things up.  I imagine if you've had a domineering husband or a high-maintenance husband, even if he was fairly lovable, it would be easier to only have to answer to yourself.  If you suspect that is the reason a widow you know continues to wear their ring, I don't advise pointing it out. Few widows would own up to it, especially if they've built up a nice facade of, "I loved my husband so much I could never in a million years move on."  A ticked off widow can go off on you like no other!  :-D

The very idea that there is so much drama and guilt and judgment associated with a widow removing their ring makes me want to take mine off right now in protest.  A ring doesn't tell my story.  Things like rings should not be given so much power.

Despite my annoyance, I am reluctant to take mine off right now.  I suppose I could plan to do it on some future special date, like New Year's or the anniversary of Rudy's death, but that would give the removal too much importance and could turn the whole process into a major grief meltdown, which I fear more than removing the ring.

Maybe one day - one random, insignificant day - I'll just take it off, put it away, say nothing about it and go on my way.  I would try not to make the removal mean anything at all.  It would probably be sensible to do it sooner rather than later.  I imagine the longer I wait, the harder it will be.

OR, I could slowly wean myself from it by wearing it some days and not others.  That wouldn't seem so scary.  Taking it off for a day or so knowing I would be putting it back on wouldn't feel so dramatic. The fact is, I'm not ready to remove my ring yet.  Why am I reluctant? What's holding me back? Honestly, I have no idea.  I can't figure it out at all.  I've become a person I don't know very well.

On a positive note, at least we no longer honor the more obvious tradition of widows dressing in black.  "Widows were expected to wear special clothes to indicate that they were in mourning for up to four years after the death, although a widow could choose to wear such attire for the rest of her life. To change the costume earlier was considered disrespectful to the deceased and, if the widow was still young and attractive, suggestive of potential sexual promiscuity."

Interestingly, that tradition gave widows a chance to gradually transition. "Those subject to the rules were slowly allowed to re-introduce conventional clothing at specific time periods; such stages were known by such terms as "full mourning", "half mourning", and similar descriptions. For half mourning, muted colours such as lilac, grey and lavender could be introduced."  Source    I find it interesting that they had  an in-between stage --- half-mourning!

Scarlett O'Hara certainly isn't a role model for widows who actually loved their husbands, but you have to admit she got around the rules of the day.  She even managed to dump her ring without a second thought by donating it to the cause. But then, Scarlett never loved Mr. Kennedy, did she?  For widows who had real love, it's so much more complicated.