Widows can do whatever they want. There is no specific etiquette as to whether a widow should wear her ring or stop wearing it or when it is appropriate to do so.
I’ve read that traditionally widows would put their wedding rings in the casket with their husband. Not sure what the tradition is for cremation but that was not something I considered.
When Mike and I decided to get married, after living together in California for a year, I went home to New York, took my grandmother’s ring that was bequeathed to me out of the safety deposit box and declared ourselves engaged. We had of course discussed this before I went home for the visit. During the week in New York, my mom and I were busy booking a venue, trying on and then ordering a wedding gown, choosing bridesmaid dresses, selecting flowers and inquiring about live music to play at the reception.
Mike’s parents were worried why I had come home without him. He had just started a new job and couldn’t get the days off, so I invited them over for dinner at my parents’ house and announced our plans. They were thrilled. And even a bit impressed at the beauty of the sparkly engagement ring on my finger.
Once I returned to San Diego, I brought my grandmother’s delicate and large diamond ring to a local jeweler. It was uncanny how he admired the ring and said it was designed in New York City around 1920 based on the design of the diamond called the “Old Mine Cut”. The proportions of old mine cut diamonds vary greatly from modern cut diamonds. Old mine cut diamonds have a high crown and larger facets than modern cut diamonds. These bulkier proportions had a purpose – they were chosen so that the diamonds would sparkle under candlelight. Because old mine cut diamonds were cut by eye and hand, each diamond carries a unique charm – they often have chunky, uneven facets and an asymmetrical shape. Every single diamond is unique. Diamonds are no longer cut in the old mine fashion, making them very rare.
After appraising the ring, the jeweler designed a ring to match as a wedding band. This was in the late 1980’s when everyone was changing old platinum rings into new designs with yellow gold. I admired those flashy rings with the diamonds mounted high above the surface; easy to use as a weapon in a dark, mall parking garage I imagined. Resisting the urge and with a lack of additional funds, I kept the ring as is. I am so glad that I did not change the setting because it is so beautiful the way it is.
But, as with many of the things from my marriage, I have acknowledged that some things are no longer true. Like on Facebook it says I am married. I feel like I am married, but I guess I should really change that to widowed. That just seems too real. I’m not ready to let the world know I am a widow.
Most of Mike’s clothes are now gone from his closet, although I still have a few items that I think my sons may want or I just keep them around because they remind me of him and maybe a special time. I have expanded my summer wardrobe into his closet. Recently I was going through some piles of papers and came across his expired license and photo I.D. card from a hotel we worked in together. I didn’t get rid of them, yet. Not sure why – I just didn’t want to. To read about more about my attempts at clearing out the house click here: Finding Joy in the act of getting rid of clutter.
Some widows are ready when their husband passes, and clean out the houses right away. They even remove the ring and get on with their life.
That is not the way I dealt with his passing. Since his death was unexpected, I was in the denial zone for a while. I left everything as is. In fact, I often imagined that this was all a big mistake and he would be back. He died in August and left his flip-flops outside the side door. I left them outside all winter in case he came home looking for them.
Slowly, I made progress in moving on or moving forward and parting with some things that I really don’t need. His toiletries and medicines took a while, but I realized that I didn’t want or need them. One morning, when I was tired of the clutter, I cleared out the bathroom shelves. He didn’t collect much stuff, but I got rid of some of his books and papers.
After two years I felt ready to meet someone and start dating but was reluctant to remove my ring. It was my ring and I felt sure it was a part of me. I could go on a date with a diamond ring on my left hand, right?
Signing up for an online dating site was a big step in moving forward. I thought maybe I would just look. I was curious and I didn’t have to go on a date if I didn’t want to.
After texting a few different people, I arranged a date with a nice-looking guy who lived nearby. Excited and nervous, I came home from work, showered and put on a dress I thought looked quite charming. I considered taking off my ring. I tried. I wiggled the ring around. I pulled it up toward my knuckle. It was stuck. I could not take that ring off my finger. Oh well.
I went on the date. We had a nice time. Dinner was good and I smiled and enjoyed myself. He did ask about my husband at one point but I had practiced what I would share. Telling all the sad and disturbing details of how my husband died on a first date would not go over well so I tried my best to answer the important questions and then get back to focusing on this new person I was talking to.
He asked me out for a second date. And then again for a third. We began to spend a lot of time together. At one point I may have mentioned to him that my ring was stuck and would be there forever.
If I was not dating I may have kept that ring on my finger for the rest of my life. My grandmother did. She wore it with her second husband after her first husband died and then continued to wear it when she became a widow for the second time. I recall as she aged, her body shrunk and and so did her fingers. In the fashion of frugality from the early 1900s, she tied string to the ring to keep it from falling off. Some people wear their rings forever, and why not?
One afternoon when my new boyfriend and I had been dating for about one year, I showed him that my finger was turning blue. My grandmother’s ring was very thin, and the wedding band attached to that ring was now split. The two soldered rings were so tight I could no longer remove the set. It seemed the only way to remove the ring was to cut it off.
The blue finger and new boyfriend (who wanted to be more than that) convinced me it was time to remove the ring. It is always a traumatic decision for a widow to remove her ring. It’s a visual that signifies that the marriage is over. We did say “until death do us part” and one of us died. Still, it can bring back feelings you may have buried and a part of you may feel guilty or sad. All those feelings are appropriate and part of the moving forward momentum already started.
Using some type of wire cutters, Pete carefully angled them so as not to cut my hand. In just seconds the procedure was over and my swollen blue finger began to return to a matching skin tone with the rest of my hand, but the indent where the ring had been was still pronounced.
I looked at the pieces of the rings. Once again, I considered changing the setting and making it a “cocktail” ring. But, since it is about 100 years old and a family heirloom, I chose to simply resize the diamond ring and wear it on my right hand. It will always remind me of my first marriage and my grandmother.
The wedding band that Mike and I had made is special to me. It represents our marriage. I’d like to use my wedding band and his wedding band and design a piece of jewelry to keep him close to my heart. When I asked a jeweler if he could turn the rings into a new piece he offered to melt them down and purchase the gold, but that just didn’t seem right. I have seen some widows design a necklace using the two rings. Turning the pieces into a heart or a cross would be lovely. Some people use the rings to create a widow ring so the options are endless.
Do widows wear wedding rings? Yes they do.
Some will never take them off. Some will move them to the right hand. Some will even wear their husband’s band on a thumb or middle finger or on a chain. It is definitely a personal decision and not one any one else should make for you. When or if you are ready, you will take it off. Maybe you’ll sometimes put it back on again.
It took me almost 3 years to move my ring to the other hand. I may never have moved it off my left hand, but the fact that it was too tight and broken helped me make the decision. Sometime the universe helps us to move forward.
I also made the decision to move my ring to the other side because I met a NL (new love) and am once again part of a committed relationship. When I started dating after three years, I did not remove my ring. Some men might be offended or put off by this. I left it on because it is pretty and it represents who I am. Telling a date that I had been married and that my husband died was sure to come up in conversation. It’s different from wearing a wedding ring and still being married.
I loved being married. Our relationship of course had its ups and downs but overall we had trust and love and continued to enjoy each other. The shock of him being gone is going away and I am learning to live in the life I have right now.
I first wrote this post only three years after Mike had died. It was such a popular one. Many women wanted to know if they should keep wearing their wedding rings or if there were rules about removing them. Maybe we just want to know there are other people like us out there wrestling with these decisions.
Wearing a wedding band on your ring finger on your left hand signifies you are married. Technically a widow is no longer married after her partner has passed, nullifying the marriage by law.
Each widow or widower will make that decision and there is not right or wrong answer. If seeing the ring on your finger brings you comfort, there is no reason to remove it. If it brings back memories of his death and you feel more comfortable not wearing it that is fine too. And I think it is fine to change your mind as well.
My plan is to pass on my grandmother’s ring, a family heirloom, to my children. Oh, the stories that ring could tell! Maybe that will be my next book!
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