Some versions of wedding vows end with “until death do us part.” Others, “as long as we both shall live.”
I see a substantial difference between the two. In the former, marriage vows would appear to end with a spouse’s death.
I don’t see it that way: both the linguist and the lawyer in me assure me that as a matter of sentence construction, “as long as we both shall live” legitimately can be interpreted the way my heart does, preserving this marriage as long as I live, too.
Now I carry both our wedding rings.
My friend Myra took me with her on an expedition into town. She had me try on the same periwinkle shirt she tried on.
Near the dressing rooms, an exceptionally flattering store light was cast on the necklace Jim gave me for a last Valentine’s Day and for what he called the next “birthday of significance.” He knew he would not be there for any more birthdays.
The sales lady saw it sparkling, diffracting into clusters of bright pinpoint diamonds which surrounded us in the mirrored hallway. She said to me, as I was opening the dressing room door to go inside, “That’s a beautiful necklace.”
“Thank you. My husband gave it to me.” My hand automatically fell to it and then to his wedding band, which hangs on another chain just beneath it.
“He’s a keeper,” she said.
“He was,” I answered quietly as the changing room door clanged shut.
“Oh,” she said, knowingly, from the other side of the door, where she could not see my face and had failed to pick up on the tone of my voice. “Not so much anymore?”
The thought that I am a widow and not bitterly divorced does not seem to enter the minds of the overwhelming majority of people I meet, who do not notice I carry Jim’s wedding ring as well as wearing my own. At my age, I suppose it would not. It is as wildly statistically improbable as it is that my otherwise stunningly healthy young husband, who had neither any known risk factor nor any imperfect health habits, would be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
The only person I did not know previously who has remarked on Jim’s ring was a Grand Rounds speaker from a Vermont hospice. She noticed it immediately—indeed, her talk began with the tactile exercise of having the audience members form objects out of bright, pliable clay. She spoke of talismans, the importance of physical objects one can touch to soothe grief.
After the talk, the doctor standing next to mentioned to her that I had lost my husband two months earlier. She said to me, “I noticed the ring,” and added, “I don’t know how you’re up and walking around.”
I was a bit concerned to hear this from a specialist in the grief field.
My answer was, and continues to be, simple: I have to be.
(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon