My mother wore her wedding ring, a simple silver band with tiny, twinkling diamonds, for more than 60 years. As a child, I was mesmerized by it; I found it beautiful and glamorous, much nicer than the plain gold bands that sat squarely on the fingers of the other mothers I knew. My father purchased the ring in 1952, shortly before my parents wed. And with it, my mother was transformed from Eleni Moutra, the brave young woman who left her native Greece after World War II, into Helen Broadwell — or Mrs. Michael Broadwell — a certified American.
On the night my mother died, I stood by her bedside with my 14-year-old daughter Eleni, her sole grandchild, whom I’d adopted from China as a baby. My mother, 88, small and white, had been brought into the emergency room that evening, and the doctor told me it was likely “a matter of time.” As she lay there, an oxygen mask to her face, her skin was pale and cold. Her forehead was covered with sweat; her breathing, labored. Yet when she saw Eleni, her namesake, my mother lit up. Eleni addressed her, saying γιαγιά, the Greek word for “grandma.” We spoke to her in the few Greek phrases we knew, holding her hands through the bed rails and touching the small, sparkly diamonds on her ring.
In the years since my father died, my mother’s health had declined steadily. Eventually, she no longer walked, spoke, or consciously remembered a life with him. During this time, the ring had become a symbol to me — a reminder of an era when my father was alive; my mother was vibrant (albeit a drama queen); and my family, with all its foibles, was whole. The ring remained a constant, after so much else had been lost.
My mother drew her last breath around 11 p.m., on what would have been my father’s 88th birthday. As we left the hospital together, Eleni was crying inconsolably. For nearly eight years, her grandmother had lived in an assisted living center near our home, but as my daughter grew older and busier, she found less time to visit. Friends, social media, school, and sports filled her days. Now Eleni was consumed with regret. How could she possibly make up for the time she hadn’t spent with her?
When we got home, I slipped my mother’s wedding ring on, but it didn’t look right. My fingers were too wide and wrinkled for such a delicate ring. Several days later, when Eleni went back to school, I suggested that she wear it, so that she and her grandma could be together. My daughter’s fingers, smooth, long, and slender, suited the ring beautifully. I teased that the ring chose its wearer, like Harry Potter’s wand chose him.
It’s been several months now since my mother died, and Eleni has worn my mom’s ring every day. Like a protective talisman, a steady friend, the band has accompanied her on the subway to school, around New York City, on social outings, through exams. It’s as if the ring has a new life now, ready for fresh experiences, love, and adventures. Its present incarnation bridges the past with the future, connecting Eleni to our family in profound, unexpected ways.
As a child, I was enchanted by my mother’s wedding ring. Today its power continues to enthrall me as it brings together three continents — Europe, Asia, North America — two Elenis, and one family. It heals, comforts, protects. The diamonds sparkle like my daughter’s future.