To wear, or not to wear (rings, that is!)

One of the most common questions I hear young widows ask is a varation on "should you stop wearing your wedding rings and if so, when?".

It seems such a simple question and yet behind it lies complex layers of self-doubt, fear of judgement and questions of loyalty.

I feel sad when I see this question come up. To me it seems such a personal decision where there is no right or wrong answer but I am all too aware that the dilemma comes from a society that simultaneously judges us for grieving too long and for moving forward too fast. For some, the question is really whether removing your rings is (or will be seen as) a betrayal of your love, others are wondering if they will be judged for taking them off too soon, or leaving them on too long. (If you know a widow and you think that they took their rings off too soon, left them on too long, started dating too early or should be dating again by now, can I respectfully suggest that you mind your own business?!)

The other thing that bothers me about this question is the assumption that all widows were legally married and wore rings. I know so many widows who ran out of time or hadn't saved enough to have their dream wedding, and the rings question seems to exclude them. I was with Chris for 7 years before we got married, and until the point that we decided to get engaged I had assumed that it wasn't for us. I know that I am treated differently by society purely because we had that wedding, and that's not fair. If he had died before we were married I wouldn't have loved him any less! (I also know plenty of people who chose not to wear a ring even if they were legally married).

This question is really about symbolism. I think people are not really wondering "when should I remove my rings", but "what does it mean if I do/don't"?

Unfortunately that means that the answer is as individual as you and the symbolism that you give to your rings.

I'm sympathetic to those who feel that they can never take them off because they still feel married but my opinion is that my vows said "until death parts us" - I will love him forever, but I can't be married to somebody who is dead. That doesn't mean I have to take my rings off though.

I have a beautiful engagement ring and a wedding band of titanium and gold that matched Chris's ring. Unfortunately they can't be worn together because Chris chose the wedding rings and wanted us to have matching ones, not realising that my oval shaped engagement ring wouldn't sit against the flat band. After we were married I wore my wedding band on my left hand and (when I had lost a bit of weight) my engagement ring on my right. I had never considered the question of rings before he died, and I didn't find WAY until some months after, so he was buried with his wedding band, and I have told my daughters that when my time comes I want to wear mine - I assume that's what he would have wanted but we never discussed it. I have regretted that decision, but it is what it is. In those early weeks, I never imagined taking my wedding ring off.

I think society has made the rings question binary - you either wear them all the time or you never wear them. I have rebelled against this, I sometimes do, I sometimes don't. The decision about wearing my rings has been driven by how it made me feel. I continued wearing the wedding band on my left hand and engagement ring on my right for a while but then widow-weight-gain meant I could only wear my engagement ring on my left hand, so I can currently only wear one or the other!

Around the 2 year mark I found that wearing my engagement ring made me happier than wearing my wedding band, and so I swapped them. My wedding band usually evokes feelings of confidence and stability so I swap back and wear it when I need that boost. In contrast, when I wear my engagement ring it usually makes me feel happy and loved and hopeful. However, there are some days when both of them make me feel sad, and so I don't wear either!

Wearing a ring on that finger on your left hand is also symbolic to others. My aim is to get my weight back down so that I can wear my engagement ring on my right hand on the days that I want to wear it. This is simply because it stops people who don't know my circumstances assuming I'm engaged and asking questions that start conversations that I don't want to get into! I also found when I first took them off that I would put them back on when I was seeing our friends or family in case they would be upset (or judge me) for not wearing them.

Even with all my rationality and bravado, I have to admit that taking them off for the first time was emotionally challenging, and I took them off and put them on again several times over a couple of months. Not wearing my rings was another one of those steps in letting go and admitting to myself that this has really happened, he really is dead, I really am going to have to do the rest of my life without him.

If you're asking whether you should wear or remove your rings, then ask yourself whether it's because you feel ready to remove them or that it would help you in your grief to wear them or take them off; or is it because somebody has made you feel judged for wearing or not wearing them?

Like most other questions in widowhood, the answer is "there is no should". Do what feels right for you - whether that's wearing them, swapping hands, taking them off, melting them down into a new ring, wearing them on a necklace, putting them in a box in a drawer, or only wearing them on Wednesdays! And if you decide you don't like not wearing them, immediately or even months later - then put them back on! It's your life, your grief, your journey. It's nobody's business but yours, and so whatever you choose to do is right.

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