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I Lost My Late Mother's Ring

Here's why that might be a good thing.

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A GIF of a ring falling into water and then sinking
Shana Novak (Prop Stylist: Liz Serwin)
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I arrived at Barnes Landing, my favorite swimming beach, on the first hot day of summer, my fingers swollen from heat. Entering the bay’s rocky bottom and observing the large beautiful expanse, the cool — but not too cold — water coated more and more of my body with each step.

After several strokes, I felt the gold ring slip off my left middle finger. I ducked under the water but it was too dark to see anything, so I continued swimming and contemplated the ring, and the possibilities of retrieving it.

It had been my late mother’s wedding ring. I found it in her drawer while emptying my parents’ house, and put it on my middle finger that day. Because it felt like it belonged there and was a little tight, I never took it off.

The etched surface was barely visible, rubbed to near extinction by time. The inscription circling inside read “PY I love you always HY 9/15/1946.” I was the first result of their union.

Stroking through the water I became dizzy thinking of the ring’s loss. It represented 62 years of a devoted marriage, a reassurance that these things do happen — and in my family. Although divorced and approaching later middle age, it gave me hope of having a new partnership where love and respect for each other grow stronger over the years. Unlike her lipsticks I used after she was gone, the ring had a feeling of permanence. It was a tangible connection to my mother.

The only daughter in a Jewish American family, my mother’s jewelry was my birthright. Her diamond ring, which she had made from both grandmothers’ jewels, remained in my drawer. It wasn’t my style. But the gold band was our immediate link.

The current in the bay changed, making it harder to swim forward. I became disoriented and panicked and swam back to where I thought the ring had fallen off. Walking out of the water, I combed the rocks and shells on the sand to see if it had washed ashore. No sign of the glistening gold. Too soon, I thought. In the future, someone will find it and perhaps it will bring her love. I tried this notion on for consolation, but just felt loss and unmoored returning to my beach chair.

Closing my eyes and listening to the water lap the sand calmed me down. Suddenly my naked finger made me feel a little freer. Although my mother was my best friend, I was not my mother.

When I was a teenager, I had decided not to live the life of security and predictability she had chosen. I wanted to be an artist, not a wife and mother. Only later in life did I want it all. I have made art for decades, was married and had a child. After my divorce, I had called my mother.

“Ma, you don’t know how hard it is to be on your own at 50, working and raising a son alone. You never had to do that.”

“I know, sweetheart, but it was your choice. You’re stronger than you think. You married him at the right time and divorced him at the right time.”

“I’m so lonely.”

“I understand.”

Years later, I realized that we shared a similar core loneliness. It took different forms. Mine was trying to be visible in both the business world and art world without a man to cover my back.

Hers was of a woman married at 19 who gained her identity from her businessman husband. She felt invisible in every world, known only as Herb’s wife and the mother of Brahna and Jimmy.

Determined to find love, I looked forward to the excitement of a new adventure, something mom could never understand. However, any connection I would have with a man now would be very different than one that had lasted and permutated over six decades. Perhaps I could live without the ring, I thought.

The next day I went back to the bay and searched the shoreline. Returning to my chair empty- handed, tears streamed down my cheeks. After all my years asserting my identity as an independent woman and fulfilling my creativity, part of me envied mom’s life where she was cherished and protected. She never experienced being out on a limb by herself. My thumb rubbed the inside of my finger accustomed to the gold band that had no beginning and no end, now gone.

The simple shining ornament on the middle finger had given an elegant symmetry to my hand; defined me to myself. I missed the solidity of the ring, the concrete bond with my mom. Without it I felt more vulnerable, but also more open to change.