So... the wedding ring thing. I'm aware that this is a key issue for many men and women in my situation: "When do I take the ring off?"
To take it off too soon gives the illusion of inadequate grief. To leave it on too long is just holding onto a dream that will never come true...
The night Leslie went home, I drove back to our house to get some rest. I had all of her belongings with me-- her clothes, her jewelry, etc... Before I went to bed, I took her wedding/engagement set and put it into her jewelry box. It was a beautiful set. I designed it myself (with the help of the good people at Reis Nichols in Indy, of course)... her engagement ring was unique. Bold. Strong. Yet simple and beautiful. Like Leslie. I took one last look at it, next to her wedding ring, and one more time, gave thanks to God for the marriage with which He had blessed us. Before I closed the box, I looked at my own ring...
It just didn't seem fair that I should be allowed to wear my ring, if she couldn't wear hers. There was something selfishly unjust about that, I felt, at that moment. Those rings were not meant to be worn singly. They belonged together. The commitment which they represented had been absolved-- completed in its fullest... deemed successfully completed-- earlier that night. It just seemed wrong for me to keep it on. So I tucked it into the little box, right next to her rings, and closed the wooden box.
Of course, I called her mom the next morning, before I saw her family, to inform her of my decision... I knew they would've noticed, and I wanted to give them the thought process before it smacked them across the face in broad daylight. They were understanding and appreciative.
Sometimes, when TJ and I are out "in public", I notice people watching us interact... I notice their smiles... "awwwww... that's so cute... daddy and little boy..." And I invariably (falsely or otherwise) sense their glances fall upon my ring finger, to see if I'm a "real Daddy", or am just exercising my court-mandated visitation rights. I just want to scream for all to hear... "She DIED, okay??? I didn't CHOOSE this. And she was an EXCELLENT Mommy, and she'd be here WITH us, if I had anything to say about it!!!"
Which leads me to a related topic...
(I posted this dandy a week or so ago. 5 minutes after I posted it, I removed it. But not before it apparently was read by a few individuals... and subsequently forwarded on to some key people in their lives, with whom they'd thought it might resonate. I actually --and surprisingly, thinking I had deleted it before it had been read by anyone-- got a couple of quite positive responses from it. And it seems to fit, now, given the whole "when do I take off my ring?" topic... So here goes...)
How can a grown adult-- a parent of children, a spouse to another human being-- actually CHOOSE to abandon the family he/she has created in order to pursue his/her own carnal and selfish whims or desires??? How can you choose the lure of superficial infatuation and fleeting beauty, youth, sexual variety, or whatever, over that through which your own blood runs deeply?
I know marriage is hard work. Even with someone as perfect as Leslie. It takes self-sacrifice, compromise, shedding of pride-- even dreams... out of love for the other. And parenthood requires even MORE self-sacrifice and -denial... not just offering humility, but offering yourself up to humiliation. (Nasty diapers, "The Wiggles" songs sticking in your head, outbursts at the restaurant, etc...)
But how much sin and darkness must cloud up a man's heart, in order to be able to look his once-best-friend in the eyes, the offspring of his own flesh and soul in the next room, and say, "I don't love you anymore. And I'm done being a father."
Don't tell me that "some men just aren't wired to be Daddies". I'm a man. I understand the need for freedom. To "sow the wild oats". To howl at the moon and flex my muscles and so-on... But what kind of small-minded, hard-hearted (or heartless) person can actually let it come to that?
Marriage (or family) is an ongoing decision. I used to say to Leslie-- almost weekly, and often after an argument, or when she was grouchy, sick, or whatever-- "I marry you all over again." Marriage vows are not something just uttered at the altar in front of friends and family, with the promise of the honeymoon looming near. You decide EVERY MORNING, when you get up, to love that foul-breathed, messy-haired person beside you. And you decide EVERY NIGHT to do the same, regardless of what your body or mind or "wiring" desires to the contrary. It's a cerebral, conscious decision that needs to be made by BOTH parties, every day. Not very romantic, eh?
When did I know I wanted to marry Leslie? When ALL the emotion and infatuation wore off... I wrote her songs, wrote her notes, spilled the depths of my soul-felt love to her beneath many moon-lit skies, enjoyed the newness of her soul, body, and kisses... and after all that, I too came to a point where I realized... as awesome as she was, I could live with or without her. (To steal a line from Bono & U2) And living WITH her would mean I would have to lay down a lot of freedom, opportunities, and personal desires and dreams that were only possible withOUT her. But to me (to play business manager here...) the "pro's" outweighed the "con's". The "benefits" outweighed the "costs". (Again, not very romantic, I know.) I chose to live with her. And fortunately for me, she chose me back. And we made that choice every day for the next 7 years. The crazy thing is, the "feelings" (the "warm-fuzzies", the emotion, the romance) come as a RESULT of that ongoing commitment-- that trust, unconditional presence and companionship... the execution of those VOWS. Not vice versa. People seem to think that it's okay to "fall out of love" once you've taken your vows. "We've just changed." "The thrill is gone." "I just don't FEEL that way anymore." "I just want something different, now." What they really are saying is, "I am choosing myself over my family. I choose to break my promise." And that choice will prove to be the worst of their lives. (Seriously, have you ever heard someone in the twilight of their life say, "I'm glad I left my wife and kids for that bimbo"?)
That's the thing I want to scream as I imaginatively shake some of these "parents" I know, who have "fallen out of love". "You don't fall out of love! You CHOOSE your way out of it!!"
I haven't struggled much with anger or rage toward God through all of this. I have yet to discover how to do "grace", and "rage" simultaneously. But I admit, I hold a great deal of anger (even "righteous", perhaps, but I've got to struggle through that thought on my own-- between God and me...), when I think of these other individuals-- these families being broken up by choices rather than cancers. Infidelities rather than infirmities... and so-on. Leslie loved me with her last breath. She would have suffered that last year all over again if it meant being able to spend one more good year with me (as humbling as it is for me to admit that). And I would have jumped into her skin and taken her place in that bed at the first opportunity, just to let her live another breath...
And then I hear of another--[censored myself]-- who makes the conscious decision to leave his wife and children so he can follow his fleeting desire to do whatever it is his fleeting desire drives him to do. I could seriously break a fist on a person like that. I don't have "justice issues" with God for taking Leslie. I DO have "sorry-excuse-for-a-man issues" with the guy that leaves his wife for another woman... his family for another life. And don't tell me you pay your child support or you have "visitation rights". Ask your kids if it's a "right" or if it's a "wrong"!
The part that just seems unfathomable to me, that any man making such a decision is able to ignore is this: Your kids won't have your presence and love in Heaven to hold to and give them comfort when the lonely feelings set in... When the turmoil bubbles up in their scared and abandoned little hearts, they won't be comforted. They'll only have the knowledge that Daddy just plain CHOSE to leave. He didn't want them anymore-- at least not as much as he wanted "other things". And that woman you left in your wake-- I can't even begin to relate... My "loss" is so much more consolable-- finite-- with the knowledge that Leslie died loving me with all she had...
All I can say, to this man (woman, people, whatever) who makes such a choice... "You're choosing to make a bed. How long are you really going to want to lie in it?"
So yeah... Basically, not a day goes by that I don't give thanks to God for the blessing of the marriage that Leslie and I shared. We "won". We did it. As I told her on her death bed... "Thank you for loving me. Thank you for our marriage. It was as God intends marriage to be."
So that's the story of "when I decided to take off my wedding band". To summarize... I took off my ring when my wife did... when she had completely fulfilled her marital duties. God, I loved her with all I had! Thank you!