My parents have been divorced for as long as I can remember; their marriage ended when I was a baby. As a child, I was ferried between their houses at the weekends, constantly living out of a rucksack. At school plays, I’d anxiously peep out of the stage curtain to see if they were sat together in the audience. Sometimes they were, and that would make my heart race. Often they weren’t.
When I was about 10, I found my mum’s old wedding ring hidden in a compartment inside her makeup bag. I’d never seen it before but I knew instantly what it was from the inscription. My dad had addressed it to my mum with "all his love", bearing the date of their wedding day. Without it, I’d have no idea when — what year — they even married.
That day, I felt like I’d stumbled upon a rare jewel. I didn’t tell my mum that I’d found it and I would sneak peeks at it whenever she was busy. It was my special little secret, a method of escapism that I’d indulge in whenever I wanted to play pretend. To my knowledge, it was the last surviving relic of my parents’ marriage; physical proof that they’d been married at all. It was everything.
The ring was proof that, at some point at least, they loved each other. And I was born out of that love.
One day, the ring disappeared from my mum’s makeup bag. I was silently devastated, unable to convey my feelings for she’d never known that I’d found it. I assumed she’d thrown it away; they’d been divorced for over 10 years by then so what was the point in keeping it? I was mourning a loss all over again. To me, that ring wasn’t just a piece of metal. It was a lifeline, something I felt was rightfully mine as the only child of that marriage.
For much of my childhood, the three of us were separate entities. I was joined at the hip with both my parents — I always have been — but I was the continuing link between them. I share so many happy, loving memories with both of them, but none of them involves us as a family unit. That ring was the only thing that, in some way, connected us. It was proof that at some point at least, they loved each other. And I was born out of that love.
Then, over 10 years later, the unexpected happened. A few weeks ago, my mum reunited me with the ring. "I still have the wedding ring your dad gave me," she told me one evening when I was visiting home. "Can I have it?" I asked boldly, somehow expecting her to decline. It felt too valuable. "Yes, of course you can. I’ll dig it out for you," she replied. She seemed happy I’d asked.
It had been in her jewellery box this whole time. Placing it on my index finger, I was surprised at how tiny it was. "I used to have teeny fingers," my mum explained. "That wouldn’t fit me now — not that I’d want to wear it, anyway." It fits much more comfortably on my pinky finger. I’ve developed a habit of wearing it on my left hand, so it’s just next to the ring finger it was intended for.
For years I’ve struggled to process my parents’ divorce. I’ve never known any different, but in some ways that saddens me. I’m grateful that I never had to experience it in real time; I never had to 'choose' a parent or pick up the pieces of what was left. I have no knowledge of what it’s like to be part of a family unit comprising both parents. For a long time I resented my schoolfriends who did have that gift, without understanding that not all marriages are happy ones, even if they’re technically — legally — still intact. All I have of their relationship is a couple of pictures and a few recounted stories.
Couples who part amicably or have children may still see in that ring an important or joyful part of their story. Equally, a wearer with less happy memories can reclaim its significance, reframing their piece as a symbol of growth or freedom.
SIObhan Maher, founder of authology
The biggest question I had after my mum gave me her ring was why she’d held onto it for so long. That marriage ended almost 25 years ago and in that time I’ve grown from a child into an adult. Both of my parents have moved on, and they haven’t looked back. I haven’t asked my mum why she chose to keep the ring. I’m just happy that she did.
Why might people, like my mum, hold onto their wedding ring after a marriage ends? Siobhan Maher is the founder of Authology, a storytelling studio for jewellery brands. She explains that while traditionally a wedding ring is a symbol of everlasting love, it can also represent a new chapter after that relationship ends. "Couples who part amicably or have children may still see in that ring an important or joyful part of their story," Maher explains. "Equally, a wearer with less happy memories can reclaim its significance, reframing their piece as a symbol of growth or freedom."
Maher believes that the modern jewellery wearer is increasingly able to reflect their own values and intentions onto their pieces. "The old symbolism is of less importance than the significance given to that piece by the wearer. The narratives we weave around our jewellery can shift just as naturally as life does. No wonder, then, that some people hold onto these objects — they are, after all, part of their story."
Elsewhere, relationship expert Pippa Murphy believes that some people hold onto their wedding rings to honour the positive memories of their marriage. "A wedding ring is more than just a symbol of love, it’s also a physical reminder of the vows that you made to your spouse. There are times when it feels good to hold onto something tangible from your past — especially when you have a lot of memories attached to it," says Murphy. In her view, keeping hold of the wedding ring is "not about trying to recapture the past; it’s about keeping those memories alive in their mind while moving forward with their life."
Sentimental value can also prevent people from parting with their rings after divorce; it can sometimes feel too much to sell or donate a ring, particularly if the piece was expensive. "Even if you don’t have any sentimental attachment to it, you may not want to let go of such a valuable item," Murphy states. "This is especially true if your partner spent a significant amount of time and money searching for just the right thing for you, or if they bought one that is made from rare materials."
Wearing my mum’s wedding ring, I feel giddy, like a child who's been given a new toy. It’s a puzzle piece that’s been absent, for me. It doesn’t detract from the hurt but it gives me a feeling I’ve been missing, one that I haven’t quite been able to place my finger on for 24 years.
For the past year and a half, I’ve been in therapy and I’ve heavily addressed my parents' divorce as part of this. It has helped me very much on my journey towards acceptance and healing, and receiving the ring felt like the perfect way to mark how far I've come.
Oddly, wearing it brings feelings of happiness rather than a regret for what could have been. Now that it’s mine, I feel nothing but peace. Above all else, it’s helping me to heal.