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When the time’s right, take off ring

Catherine Johnston Rebecca Nappi

Q: My wife has been dead six years now, and even though I’ve dated off and on, I still haven’t been able to remove my wedding ring. When and how should I do so?

A: The timetable for removing a wedding ring after a spouse’s death is completely personal. No etiquette can guide the “proper” time to remove it.

Some widows and widowers wear their first-marriage rings to their own graves, even after they’ve remarried.

Ask a dozen of them how they made the decision, and you’ll hear a dozen different stories. Here’s one:

Catherine’s friend, Barbara, lost her young husband to cancer several years ago. She was a young mother who was often caught in the middle of the dynamics between her mother and mother-in-law.

About a year after her husband’s death, a surprise birthday party for Barbara got messed up due to those dynamics.

“The only thing I could do that no one else had any control over was to take off my ring, which I did on my birthday,” she said. “For me, it really symbolized growing beyond my grief and becoming a single person. It was not rejecting my memory of my husband.”

At the Hospice Foundation of America’s bereavement teleconference in April, panelist Kenneth Doka, a minister, gerontology professor, grief author and editor, told the story of a widow he once helped.

The widow wanted to take off her ring because she planned to date again, but she was struggling with the decision.

Her husband had been dead five years, but the ring symbolized the vows they took on their wedding day at a Catholic church, as well as the commitment she showed her husband in health and, especially, during his long illness.

Doka helped her fashion a ritual to remove the ring. After Mass one day, a priest stood with the widow in front of her family and friends and did the marriage vows “in reverse.”

The priest asked: “ Were you faithful in sickness and health, in good times and bad?”

The ritual helped the woman remove the ring – in peace. She later interlocked her ring with her dead husband’s wedding band and welded them to the frame of their wedding picture.

Doka coined the term “therapeutic rituals” to describe acts that help people grieve. Perhaps a ritual of some kind will help you remove your ring, when the time feels right.

Q: I want a home funeral to memorialize my life. I like the simplicity it can offer. My husband says there is no such thing, and a home funeral with a person’s remains present is probably against the law. Is it?

A: First, determine if your state is one of the more than 40 where home funerals are legal, allowing the body to be at home up to 72 hours after death.  Call your state health department for answers.

We celebrate birthdays, graduations, weddings and other rites of passage in our homes, why not the transition from our earthly journey to the next reality?

While the concept may sound trendy, it is how we cared for our deceased loved ones 100 years ago. Family members transported the body to – or kept it at – home, cleaned it, dressed it and welcomed visitors to view it.

We can care for our deceased loved ones in a similar way. People choose this option for ecological, financial, emotional or spiritual reasons.

Do you want your body to be cremated or buried? Let your husband know your preference. If you want cremation, your ashes may be present at a home funeral where a memorial service celebrates your life.

If you want your body to be buried and you want simplicity, a “green burial” may appeal.  A burial shroud for the body is substituted for a casket. The shroud can be made of natural fibers – like linen or cotton – that are eco-friendly.

Mourners can decorate the shroud before the deceased is placed into it. Find out what funeral home and cemetery offer this option.

If your husband is willing to host a memorial service at home, but does not want your body there, you may still get the simple goodbye that you seek. A framed photograph, surrounded by candles, flowers, and a few possessions that symbolize your life, can serve as a focal point for the service.

Just as home births have returned as a choice, so have home funerals. Discuss the details with your husband. Write down exactly what is most important to you. If he is unwilling to carry out your request, you may need to compromise.

While it is nice to create our own farewell, these rituals are intended to give comfort to our survivors.

Catherine Johnston, a health care professional from Olympia, and Rebecca Nappi, Spokesman-Review features writer, welcome your questions about what to do in times of illness, dying, death and grief. Contact them through their EndNotes blog at blogs/endnotes.
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