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Married to a Dead Man

On the first anniversary of my husband Vic’s death, I slipped off my wedding ring and put it near his photo. The next morning, I put it back on. I wasn’t ready.

We had bought the silver ring for $8 in a hippie import shop in 1968. It was decorated with a phrase from the Song of Solomon in raised Hebrew characters: “He is my beloved and I am his.”

After his death, I felt as married to him as ever. I remembered one of many dreams at that time. We hugged and wept. I was ecstatic to see him, but then I said, “You have to leave now, Vic. I can’t be married to a dead man.”

He didn’t leave, and six years later, he’s still here. I still feel married—to a dead man. He’s become my inner masculine helper and friend. He lives in my heart.

I removed the ring about eighteen months after he died and gave it a place of honor on my altar. Ok, I’m a widow. I hated the finality of the word and wanted his physical presence, but it was time to leave the ring behind. Or maybe not.  I felt naked without the reminder of Vic’s love and put it on again. Maybe later.

Eventually, the ring stayed on my altar, next to a photo of Vic, inside the circle of a bracelet a friend made for me. The stamped silver bracelet said: “Death: Honor its power to take and give.”

In 1968, when my marriage and the ring were new, Vic and I stopped at a rest area in eastern Nebraska on our way to San Francisco. I put my wedding ring on the blanket we had spread on the grass for yoga. When we made camp in western Nebraska that night, I realized the ring was gone. While I sobbed, Vic packed the car and drove east toward the rest stop where we’d stopped that morning. He didn’t grumble about what an idiot I was as he drove through the night. At dawn after a futile flashlight search through the grass at the rest area, we found the ring riding under the back door of our station wagon. It must have fallen there when we put the blanket in the car, so it had been with us all the way.

It’s a true story. We found the ring at sunrise, and we hugged and wept—like lovers in a sentimental movie. We didn’t care that we’d lost a night’s sleep and a day’s drive. We had the ring and each other.

Even after I stopped wearing my precious wedding ring and attempted to acknowledge my new status, I still slipped the ring on my finger sometimes, kissed and twirled it with my thumb. I felt the smooth place on my finger where I once had a small callus from that ring. I wished my body were still married and not just my heart.

In 2012, I began hearing clanging and drumming in my ears. I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease, a disorder of the inner ear. “You’re lucky,” the otolaryngologist said. “No dizziness, no nausea, just tinnitus and hearing loss. Must be your good diet saving you from the worst.” I tried to feel lucky as the droning hums made communication exhausting. I depended on lip reading. I envisioned a life of solitude as I waited for new hearing aids and more technological support. I wanted Vic’s hugs and clung to his inner support.

Within months, a stumble progressed to sitting on the sidewalk, unable to walk or stand. Friends and family held my hand and worried over me. Waves of imbalance and vertigo lasting an hour or more came without pattern and with increasing frequency. In case I had any doubt, I now knew I was not in control of my life. I was dizzy and desperate and wanted to feel loved as Vic loved me, as we loved each other, so I slipped my wedding ring on my left ring finger one morning and left it there, twirling, kissing, and feeling safe.  It gave me confidence and courage. I trusted I would find my way back to health.

In time, I found a medicine that kept lightheadedness from progressing to butt-on-the-floor desperation. New hearing aid technology helped with telephones and communication.

After the crisis had passed, I took my wedding ring off again and hung it from a chain around my neck. I can’t say why. It just felt right. My ring sat over my heart as I found new balance–my good luck charm, my medicine bundle, my symbol of undying love.


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About the Author

Elaine is a writer and blogger at her website . Her book 'Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief' is available in September 2014. For information about her book and work, please visit her website. Elaine's life divided into "Before" and "After" when her husband died of lymphoma in 2008, and she decided to make life on her own as meaningful and full of love as her marriage had been. Now Elaine volunteers in hospice bereavement and leads workshops for people who have lost partners or spouses at Hospicare and Palliative Care Services (Ithaca, NY). She loves photographing butterflies and wildflowers on her land bordering the Finger Lakes National Forest.

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