When my mom died 6 months ago, I started wearing one of her rings. It’s a simple ring, flat and silver with some inlay of turquoise – might be Native American or Mexican origin. Not a fancy ring, but very wearable and fit me well. They handed me the ring in a plastic bag in the hospital after she died. It had been on her hand when she fell at my dad’s nursing home, after which, despite major and expert brain surgery, she did not wake up again. I have been wearing that ring every day since then, along with a few others which are my mainstay rings. I am a ring person and have a lot of rings. I wore this one both because I personally liked it, and because it connected me to my mom.
I had not found it easy to be connected to my mom in her lifetime, because pain, bitterness, disappointment seem to have been the chief things she communicated to me, and being the receiver of her sadness over the last few years in particular has been difficult and burdensome. Nevertheless, when I sat quietly in the palliative care ward at the hospital, with the beautiful garden out the window, and heard my mom peacefully and without strain take her last breath, I felt that a lot of this negative emotion dropped away, and that both for her and for me there was a freeing up. I grabbed the Gideon Bible and read to my mom for an hour from the psalms. It is a Jewish custom for the psalms to be read over the deceased in the 24 hours prior to burial, so this was my best way to feel connected to my religion. Not my mom’s – she was an atheist and raised Christian, but I continue to feel reading the psalms was just right. I wore the ring from this place of connection.
This past week I made my second trip to the house in Monterey since my mom died, to look over her house, and then to take a week visiting friends a couple hours away. After weekending in the house, and dealing with car title, home gardener, internet connections, house structure, and interviews with potential realtor and home move specialist, my first stop was Santa Cruz, to visit my old college roommate. As I arrived, the sensation of my empty finger came to my consciousness, the finger where I knew I had put that ring in the morning. My immediate reaction was shortness of breath, anxiety, and sense of loss. This was the ring connecting me to my mom. I started hunting for it. I had not stopped the car since leaving Monterey, so I knew it had to be in the car or in the house, not on the road somewhere. I hunted as many places as I could in the car, and thought about what might have happened to the ring. I have not had this ring fall off ever, although it was not a super tight fit – none of my rings are. So it must have caught on something I thought. I hunted until giving up, and decided that the only logical place it could be was the disposal at the house. The last thing I had done was reach into the soapy dish pan and wash my coffee cup, and then pour the water into the sink. But I was pretty sure I had not run the disposal after that. I would be returning to Monterey for my flight in a week and could look then.
After this discovery, the anxiety lingered. There was no guarantee I would ever find the ring. My stop in Santa Cruz was to walk some of my memories as a college student and resident, and to visit one friend. I started my walk, enjoying the warm life-giving sun (after 0 degree weather in Boston), and started thinking about a friend of mine whose paper I was reading, and would visit the following day in Berkeley. The topic was pastoral care, and the specific idea I pondered was inhabiting another as a witness. It’s a deep and meaningful aspect of caregiving. It put my mind into a place of calmness and of feeling inhabited and understood by my friend. Quite suddenly I became untethered from the ring. I pondered this for quite a while and celebrated it. I untethered from the physical object for sure, but more than that, I felt a release from the heavy and painful tethering to my mom. I had noticed this untethering to occur when I read the psalms, but now I saw that untethering is in stages.
The absence of the ring became a presence of untethering, a palpable sign of freedom. I felt both my mom and I had taken another step towards loosening the bonds of disappointment and despair that had bound us for so long. I walked along feeling the empty place on my finger as a release, not a loss. I felt good and done and the ring left my mind as it had left my finger.
As it turns out, when I got to my Santa Cruz friend’s house a few hours later and opened my suitcase, there was the ring. After all the work I had done to be at peace with losing it, I still felt a surge of happiness that the ring had come back. I do really like it personally. I hope it will now serve as a reminder of untethering.