"Mom, may I have your engagement ring?" My daughter got engaged this spring, just a few months before I got divorced. The wonderful young man she'll marry proposed on his knee and was prepared to buy a ring, but my daughter wanted a family ring, and mine was available, since I'd taken it off when my husband and I separated.
I have friends who wore their rings for months after their marriage was over. But I couldn't. I pulled my gold band and engagement ring off on a blustery winter morning as my husband packed the last of his things and moved out of the house. I tucked the rings in the back corner of the jewelry box where I wouldn't have to look at them. I hadn't, not since that day.
Mine wasn't a showy Elizabeth Taylor diamond (her first ring from Richard Burton weighed in at 33 carats), but it was clear and bright-white and beautiful, I thought. We bought it when we were young and in love. Like my daughter is today.
It's a defining moment when you take your wedding rings off for good. Those rings had been with me through decades of married life - as I fed babies, cooked, played the piano, typed at the keyboard, stroked my children's foreheads, and watched the sunlight bounce off the sparkles on my hand on blue-sky summer days. When you split up and remove your rings, it's a shock to your system. They're a part of you, they're missing, and it hurts. It's like the phantom limb pain you read about.
Every ring has a history, a story, and mine did, too. The diamond had fallen out of its setting on a ski trip years earlier when the kids were young. I noticed the gaping hole on my finger when I got to the top of the chairlift and took off my glove to fix my goggles. "My diamond's gone!" I cried. We raced down the hill as fast as we could, our kids and friends and their kids in tow, and we ran into the ski lodge to come up with a plan. As we sat on a bench discussing the options - there weren't many, since looking for a diamond in the snow is like looking for a contact lens in the middle of the ocean - one of the kids spotted the diamond in a puddle of water on the floor by his boots. We were ecstatic, the children as much as the adults. It felt like a miracle, the kind that happens in meant-to-be love stories, and we recalled that story for years to come. I had the diamond reset to withstand the test of time and life's wear and tear.
Now my rings were forsaken. I wondered what others did with their castoffs. Some women give them to their children and in-laws. Some sell them off or dispose of them. "Do you know of a place that will melt them down?" a divorced friend asked me recently, wondering what she should do with her old rings. " I'd love to witness that."
I have a friend who tried to throw her wedding ring into the Pacific Ocean when she and her husband were separating for the second and last time, but he stopped her. After they split for good, she put the ring in a safety deposit box. "I came upon it recently looking for another piece of jewelry," she says, "and didn't recognize it. It seemed so small." Who knows how many abandoned rings lie in safety deposit boxes everywhere, beside the birth certificates and the last wills and testaments.
"Diamonds should stay in the family," Matthew Feldman told me recently when we were talking about diamonds and divorce. He owns a jewelry shop in Cambridge, has been in the business for years, and has seen it all when it comes to engagements and disengagements. "I always tell people, keep the diamond in the family and sooner or later the feelings attached to it that are negative will pass. And you can always reset it."
Or pass it on as is, which is what I did. There's nothing sweeter than seeing your daughter wear your ring - happily, joyfully, with hope in her heart. I thought the ring had lost all its meaning. Now I see that the positive new memories are only just beginning.
Marianne Jacobbi lives in Cambridge. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.