I got home from my trip to my niece’s wedding in early September and the wedding vows were still playing in my head – a lot. It was clear to me that the wedding “contract” with Bob was completed. We both held up our end of the contract; we were faithful helpmates for 47 years. That is quite an accomplishment. And it was now over. So, what comes next – because something must surely come next. I started reading the Baha’i Writings on marriage and prayers for marriage. Actually, they did refer to the fact that there were bonds between us in the next world. What were those bonds? I have had precious little guidance on what relationships between people in different worlds of God look like! I figured I was on my own here. I read some more and I thought a lot. And our anniversary was coming up (within a month of my return home). The more I thought, the more appealing and appropriate new vows seemed. What we had pledged to each other 48 years ago was no longer possible, so what was next? What did I have to guide my behavior now? What did I want from Bob now?
I decided that I wanted and needed to make new vows to Bob and I wanted to do it in front of God, just as we made our first vows in front of God. I spent a good bit of quiet time thinking about what those vows would be and how they should be made. I decided I also wanted a physical representation of the vows. One evening I wrote the vows to Bob and I started to write his vows to me. (Yes, I do like control!) Almost immediately I realized that I could not write vows for Bob. So, I just wrote my vows to him. A day or two later I bought a simple gold wedding band. (They sure have gone up in price in 48 years!) And then I put together the ceremony that I wanted.
I wanted it to be just me and Bob and God. I did not want my children there. I wanted prayers and I wanted music. And I decided I needed something to represent Bob. He loved bears and always signed his cards to me “Your Grumpy Bear.” Years ago he and my daughter bought a plush bear that sits probably 2 1/2 feet high. We dressed the bear up to match the seasons or our whims. We have had Santa bear, Asian bear (with and upside down wok for a hat), a beach bear, and a few others that I have forgotten. This bear seemed a good proxy for Bob. I dressed him in Tarheel pajamas – I have no idea why Bob had Tarheel pajamas, but he did. Bob and I met at UNC, hence the Tarheel motif. I then gathered other things that were meaningful to me – pictures, flowers, Hopi bear fetishes, two Tom Clark gnome figurines (one Bob bought for me and one my daughter gave to us and it arrived a couple of days after Bob died), and our prayer books.
On our anniversary I shooed the kids out of the house and set up my “altar” on the front porch, sat the bear in Bob’s rocker and I sat in my rocker, I offered some prayers and my vows to Bob in front of God. I took our wedding bands off (I had been wearing his band and my band on my right hand since he died) and tied them with a ribbon to put them up for a while. I then put the new ring on my ring finger, left hand. It immediately felt at home. I said a few more prayers and then just sat and rocked. I spent most of the afternoon on the porch, just thinking. I felt quite subdued and as if I had just done something important that needed quietness to honor it.
Over the next few days, the subdued quietness continued. I began to feel that something was not complete. I realized that vows needed to be made to me. And I knew that I was the only one who could do that. So, I wrote vows to myself – from me, to me. I am not sure I had ever made a vow to myself in front of God. It felt very serious. I again set up my Altar, pretty much the same as for the first ceremony. I was again alone at the house. I made my vows, said my prayers and put another ring on my finger, the one Bob gave me for our 25th wedding anniversary. That felt very right. After this second ceremony I felt completed. I had two rings on my left hand ring finger. “Things” felt right, still lots of sadness, still lots of tears, still a huge hole in my heart, but somehow a bit of peacefulness. Sort of like having a map to help negotiate this strange new territory of widowhood.
After a few days, the two rings did not feel right together on my finger. I can’t tell you why, but they just felt wrong. I moved my vow ring to my right hand and it was an immediate sense of “Yes!” So, it lived on my right hand for about 6 or 7 weeks, and then it seemed right to put it back on my left hand. I have wondered about those feelings of rightness and wrongness. The whole idea of vows was serious for me and putting the representations of the vows on the same hand lessened each vow. When they felt grounded, they needed to be together because they were vows to each other. They spent a good while together on my left-hand ring finger. Several months later they separated again. Right now, the vows are distinct – one set to me and one to Bob. And I have started to have the feeling that the vows may not need a physical representation much longer. Every so often I think my fingers need to be ringless. Wonder if or when that will happen.
I do not have a sense that these vows are forever vows. They are the road map, the contract for the next bit. I can foresee making new vows sometime in the future. For now, however, they offer some guidance and some accountability. It feels good.
Here are the vows that I made to Bob and then the vows that I made to myself. They were surrounded by prayers. (If you would like to see the prayers let me know and I will be happy to share them.)
My vows to Bob
The rings that we exchanged 48 years ago have stood the test of time. They have seen much joy and a fair share of frustration and anger. They have seen both of us serve as the rock for the other in times of great need and sadness. They have seen two children born and have watched them grow into amazing adults, full of love. They have been astonished with the love in our hearts for those two children. They have seen two people discover the Baha’i Faith and embrace it. They have seen two grandchildren come into this world and were awed at the magnificence of our children bringing children into the world.
For the past six months they have changed places on my hands and have seen a woman struggling with how to live without her partner, how to handle things alone that used to be shared, how to create a life that honors the past and is not a prisoner to the sadness of loss.
Now it is time for those two rings to retire for a while. They are tied together and cherished, but no longer on my hand. Now it is time for new vows.
Bob, in the presence of God I pledge to you to:
- Honor you and to support your spiritual growth in the ways that we are told that can happen – prayers for you, good works in your honor, and contributions in your honor
- Love you
- Work to continue that bond between us that our children (and grandchildren) can hang on to as they continue to develop
- Keep you alive in my heart and in the hearts of our children and grandchildren through stories
- Find ways to continue to share your passion and your love of history with others through my actions and through finding good homes and stewards for your life’s passion for history
- Find a life that creates joy for me and serves mankind in some way
- Honor the gift of your early departure that spared us all by doing the work that is waiting for me
- Maintain and improve my health so that I can do all of this
As we did 48 years ago, I symbolize this pledge with a ring – a new ring, simple and unadorned except with my love for you and my commitment to you in this strange new relationship.
My vows to myself
Bob, on Thursday, in the presence of God I pledged my vows to you. That whole day I felt subdued, efficient, nun-like. I can’t describe it better than that. But I have felt different. Thinking for a while last night I realized that I do not believe that I have made a vow before and it feels very somber and serious. And I feel like something is missing. I decided that I need to make vows to myself and also do that before God and you and ask for your help in keeping the vow.
In the presence of God and, I hope with your presence, I pledge to myself to:
- Find joyfulness in my life
- Continue my path of spiritual development
- Find and keep friends around me
- Keep ties with my family strong (with my children, their families, and my siblings)
- Learn to play and find people to play with
- Become more generous
- Live more simply
- Share what I have learned with others
- Improve and maintain my health through healthy eating, activity, sleep, and relaxation in order to fulfill this pledge
I symbolize this pledge with a ring – the ring you gave me on our 25th anniversary.