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“My dad just kept pulling at my hand and tapping the ring,” explained Margie while wiping the tears away from her eyes. “He knew the ring was special, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like he knew who I was.”
Jewelry is a powerful symbol for many of the memories we carry with us through life. From the one-carat flawless family diamond to the gold-plated costume necklace, the value we place on each piece is not solely based on what it’s worth financially. It’s the memories tied to the item that determine our connection to it. A wedding set from a previous relationship is offloaded quickly so the reminder of the pain doesn’t follow us into a new chapter. Conversely, we cling to a ruby ring from Grandma after she passes so her memory is always with us. Pieces of jewelry are personal, and they all have stories. Some we want to live on and others we want to keep in the past.
Margie wanted to make sure her ring was around for a long time. It came to us very thin and worn-down, with all four of the center stone prongs needing to be re-tipped. We had also adjusted the size. “Looks like we put a little life back into this,” I said as I revealed the finished product.
“My goodness, yes,” she replied with a content yet heavy sigh.
I saw her mixed emotions flood onto the counter as she put on the shiny gold ring. Tears pooled in her eyes and she smiled. It was a smile of relief, sorrow and hope. “Is everything okay?” I asked as I leaned in. And then, out it came.
This wedding ring belonged to Margie’s mother, who had passed within the last year. Her mom never took it off—not even to be cleaned. When she died, she left it to Margie’s older sister, but it sat in a box for a number of months while she grieved and settled affairs. After a while, Margie’s sister told her she could have it because it would never be anything but a painful memory. It took Margie a while to decide if she wanted to wear it or not. Memories are complicated. Do we want to remember the good at the risk of reliving the bad?
Margie’s father didn’t have much in the way of memories anymore. At the age of 95 he was battling the beastly thief of memories: Alzheimer’s disease. She explained how hard this had been for her and her sister when their mom passed. Their dad couldn’t share in remembering her and laugh about the fun times as we all do in moments of loss. Instead, he would simply and repeatedly ask if their mom was still at the grocery store. Margie had lost her mother physically and lost her father emotionally.
The progression of Alzheimer’s continued and her father’s health deteriorated in general. He was no longer speaking and the moments of recognition and connection were fewer and far between. This led to Margie’s decision to finally wear the ring. She needed to look down at the physical reminder of her mom, and the symbol of the love between her parents. And, on one very special visit, that symbol sparked a memory for her father.
All of a sudden, in a quiet and solemn room, Margie’s dad pulled her right hand over to the top of his chair. He didn’t make eye contact, but he tugged at her hand and tapped on her mother’s ring. That symbol somehow opened an area deep in the locked vault of his memory, and the urgency of showing this cognitive achievement flowed forth. He just kept tapping the ring, over and over, like Morse code. He recognized it, and needed Margie to know.
For Margie, this definitive moment meant she would revive her mother’s ring so she could wear it every day. It was now a symbol of her mother, her parents’ love and hope. She came to us to perform the work because she was a longtime customer and didn’t want to go anywhere else. She would now be able to wear this ring and create new memories that it would represent. I thanked her for telling her story and allowing us to be a part of it. She wiped away a few more tears, looked down at it again, and smiled up at me before leaving the counter. I think I smiled back with the same emotions: gratitude, admiration and resilience.
I felt truly humbled by Margie’s experience and think of her every time I assist a customer who is picking up his or her piece of jewelry. Whenever we take an item into our shop, we are entrusted with their financial and emotional value. We are custodians of the most precious possessions.
We are guardians of memories.