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Making Promises: What Does a Wedding Ring Represent?

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She was my fiancée, not my wife. I am widowed, but never married.

At my first spousal-loss support group meeting, I felt out of place before we even started, because I was the only one there who was unwed. To ease my mind, the social worker that ran the group introduced me to the other attendees by saying, "Eric wasn't married, but he was with her for 13 years."

The widows all nodded in sympathetic approval, but it only made me feel more alienated. Being given that kind of approval reinforced the notion that my grief needed to be justified or that my love for her needed to be validated.

As incidents like that chipped away at my sense of identity, I began to fixate on wedding rings and what they represent.

Of course, I had no wedding band of my own. The only ring I purchased was her engagement ring. It was a platinum setting with a brilliant cut diamond in the center and two tapered baguette diamonds on the sides. I made every woman in the store (including the other customers) reassure me that they liked the ring before I let the sales associate wrap it up in the little blue box.

The days between picking out the engagement ring and finally being able to give it to her were nerve-wracking. Like everybody else preparing to propose, I was afraid that she might say "no." However, this commonplace nervousness was dwarfed by a worse fear: What if one of us died before I could ask her to marry me? I was horrified by the thought that I wouldn't get the chance to tell her that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, that she would never know how much she meant to me.

Early on in the grieving process, I discovered a secret community of young widows. We'd meet in restaurants to share our stories and comfort each other. I recall sitting in a coffee shop with two widows. They were comparing their wedding rings and asking each other the inevitable questions. How long would they keep wearing their rings? What did they do with their husbands' rings? I sat there, silently trembling, staring at the rings on their fingers while they talked about their options. I kept touching my own finger, twisting and scratching the spot where a ring should have been.

They should make engagement rings for men. I want a visible sign that she said "yes." I want proof of the promise that we made to each other. If I can't have the future we planned to have together, then I wish I at least had evidence that we once had plans.

When it came time to go through her belongings, I didn't know what else to do with her ring so I put it in a safe deposit box. It still sits there, alone, an engagement ring without a wedding band, a promise unfulfilled.