This essay aired 18 June 2010 on NPR affiliate 88.1 FM WVPE.
“She…held it to the v-neck of her blouse which she pulled down a bit and to the side, and revealed an elaborate tattoo which replicated the picture in the photo. She confided to us that she had had the artist add some of her husband’s ashes to the ink.”
I recently traveled out of state to the university where I earned my master’s degree 22 years ago to begin a program for an advanced certificate of study. I learned a staggering amount about rare books and paper in the two courses I took over a two-week intensive session.
But the biggest lesson I learned began on my first day back in that beloved University town where I met and fell in love with my husband 24 years ago. I had dinner with his mentor, a woman who from that time onward took great pride in his professional accomplishments and who loved him like a son. This was also my first opportunity since his death to talk with another widow.
As we were comparing stories, I noticed that after more than thirty years of widowhood, she still wore her wedding band. This surprised me, though I understood. I myself have not been able to remove mine nor to change my status on Facebook. I have told myself that I can wear my wedding band as long as I still feel so married.
When I returned to my hotel that night and went to the bar to cash-in my coupon for a complimentary drink, I struck up a conversation with the bartender and two sisters in their sixties who had very recently attended a family reunion in Mishawaka.
After talking quite a bit about how much the Michiana area has changed in the decades since the sisters had grown-up here, they started asking me questions about myself. When I disclosed that I was recently widowed, the bartender, who also wore a wedding band, told us that she, too, was a widow of 12 years. She reached down into her purse, took out a black-and-white snapshot of her husband taken sometime in the mid seventies, held it to the v-neck of her blouse which she pulled down a bit and to the side, and revealed an elaborate tattoo which replicated the picture in the photo. She confided to us that she had had the artist add some of her husband’s ashes to the ink.
I was flabbergasted. Unlike a wedding band that is easily removed, she had marked her heart as his for the rest of her life. This woman was not much older than me, yet by indelibly marking herself with his image, she had closed herself off from falling in love again. For what man would make love with a woman with a 2 by 3 image of her dead husband staring him in the face?
I learned that night that I will not be wearing my wedding band for years to come because I want to be open to the possibility of love, and maybe even marriage, again some day. But doing so means letting go of my beloved.
Grieving is a process of many big and small goodbyes. Every day during my two weeks in that University town where we fell in love, I walked through the quad, back and forth from the parking lot to my class room, avoiding a certain path. It wasn’t until I left my last class that I was able to walk on the sidewalk where Scott first told me he loved me, the moment, in my heart, that cemented us together. Just ten months ago we had stood in that same spot, celebrating that first declaration of love, kissing, crying, holding each other very close. Eight weeks later he was dead.
I breathed in deeply as I walked through that precious space on the sidewalk, as if I could breath Scott in through time and into my soul. I said a goodbye.
He was everywhere and nowhere.