“What do you mean it’s missing?” I demanded of my grieving mother in what I now realize in my own elder years, was not a kind tone of voice. In my defense, my twenty-three year old devastated self had barely gotten over the death of my beloved grandfather, grandmother’s husband of sixty-four years and my mother’s father. The blows had come too quickly and too unexpectedly. My anger at the universe, at God, at life, needed an outlet and only just entering adulthood as I had; I’d allowed myself to slip back into those awful, heart-wrenching, parent-hating days of teenhood.
My mother, maddeningly stoic, informed me that someone had stolen it sometime between the time the paramedics had arrived at the house and pronounced my grandmother deceased and the time she was lain within her casket for the final viewing.
“Who took it? She promised it to me? She promised me I’d always feel her with me whenever I wore it; whether on my finger or on a chain around my neck. She promised!”
I broke down, not allowing anyone to console me, not allowing anyone to touch me. The pain was overwhelming, I’d shatter if anyone tried.
Out in front of the dilapidated little Arkansas house stood the old willow tree, carvings up and down its trunk and limbs, all the way to the top. It was me. Every summer I’d climb those old branches and carve into that soft, sweet bark my name, my current crushes name and of course, the names of the most popular teen idols of the time; so sure was I that I’d marry one of them when I grew up.
I sat beneath its branches now, alone. Most of the teen idols had married, had children or died of an overdose, always reported as accidental of course. My sweet grandmother was not supposed to die, at least not yet. I’d felt the same about my grandfather.
When my grandfather had passed, my grandmother asked if there was anything among his personal belongings that I’d like to have. There was only one thing. His thin, nearly worn through gold wedding band. I’d like to wear it on a chain around my neck close to my heart. She promised me she would retrieve it for me when the time was right.
That time never came. His old retirement watch, his ring and his wallet had gone missing, never to be found. It was then that grandmother promised me her tiny little, nearly worn through gold wedding band upon her passing. I accepted the promise with the naive faith of youth, that her passing would not be for a very, very long time.
Now, it had happened again. My heart, rendered raw from the unprecedented news of her death, could not bear to think that little gold symbol of my grandparents long, truly loving marriage, was gone.
Twenty years later I stood in my parents home, listening to a pastor whom I’d never met, extoll the wonderful virtues of the woman who had been my mother. Numb. I was numb. Stoic, I thought. The pain so overwhelmed me that every emotional neuron or synapses or whatever it was that caused the human body to actually feel emotional pain, had shut down. Turned off. Now I understood.
My father was speaking to me, placing something small, tiny actually, and round in my palm.
“Your mother wanted to make sure this came to you. She had me remove it before,” my father made an odd sort of gasping hiccup sound. It was a moment before he could continue, “before she died.”
Opening my palm, there was a tiny little silver and gold wedding band. The shank bearing the scars of repeated soldering. Through the years the delicate, thin band had worn through and each time, it had been repaired.
I had never asked her for it, but she’d remembered. Now, twenty years since her passing I can hardly fathom the level of courage that took. I pray, when my time comes to an end, I will honor her with that same courage when I remove that precious little ringlet of gold from around my neck and place it into the loving hands of my daughter.