POST 50

Sometimes A Rash Under Your Wedding Ring Is, Well, Just A Rash

Loss isn't contagious and those grieving loved ones shouldn't be pushed to the side.
Peter Grad, left, and Laurie Burrows Grad arrive at the 23rd annual "A Night at Sardi's" to benefit the Alzheimer's Associati
Peter Grad, left, and Laurie Burrows Grad arrive at the 23rd annual "A Night at Sardi's" to benefit the Alzheimer's Association at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 18, 2015.

I enjoy a special kind of crazy where, when unrelated events collide, I always assume it's the universe speaking to me. I believe there are no such things as coincidences, that things happen for a reason and that there is often a message behind seemingly disconnected occurrences. This cosmic theory might even explain why after a million years of marriage, I suddenly developed a skin rash under my wedding ring.

Let's start with a lunch I had a week or so ago with Laurie Burrows Grad. Grad began blogging for Huff/Post50 right after her husband of 47 years died unexpectedly of a heart attack last August. Her words, often painful to read, speak to the grief of losing your soulmate. What she writes resonates deeply with our readers -- both those who have buried a loved one and those who dread the day they will have to.

Grad, who still cries multiple times a day, is going through the motions of living while dealing with the rawness of doing so without her Peter. When her phone buzzes with an incoming text, she says she still expects it to be from him -- just checking in on her, asking how her day is going. They did that a lot.

My own still-very-much-alive husband and I do that too. If I don't call to say I'm stuck in traffic, he assumes I've been involved in a horrific accident and is ready to call hospitals to find where I've been admitted. Laurie and I aren't women who feel smothered by this level of contact. Quite the opposite: "I felt cherished," she told me. I understood.

A few days after my lunch with Grad, my husband's doctor recommended he have surgery. It's a small matter, no cause for alarm, but something that needs to be "dealt with." Dealing with it involves an overnight stay in the hospital. Hospitals have a way of making small matters larger, don't they? Yes, I'm nervous. Not cripplingly nervous the way I was when he had open heart surgery years ago, but certainly a heightened nervousness with the strong potential for escalation.

And that's about when the itching began. It was isolated to one spot: at the base of the fourth finger of my left hand, right under my wedding band. I slipped the ring off -- something I don't even do in the shower -- to investigate. There were little itchy bumps circling my finger. Not hives but they almost looked like a prickly heat rash -- the kind you get on a hot humid summer day in Florida, except it was 58 degrees in Los Angeles when I noticed it.

I debated what to do. I have never taken off my wedding ring since my husband put it on my finger; I felt naked and exposed. On the two-month anniversary of Peter's death, Laurie Grad moved hers from her finger to a chain around her neck. She also has some charms that Peter gave her on the same chain. It dangles just above her heart.

Armed with advice from my favorite primary care physician -- WebMD -- I applied some over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to my finger and quickly put my wedding ring right back on over it. But the ointment made my finger too slippery and the ring slid right off. I sat and pondered.

Why would I suddenly develop a contact rash where I had never before had one? Why, of all places, did it appear on the quarter-of-an-inch of my body covered by my wedding band? Why wasn't I itchy anywhere else? And why now?

Some of you may assume that being in the company of a grieving widow, totally feeling her pain, and learning that my own deeply beloved spouse has to be hospitalized for a surgical procedure simply caused a mind-over-matter reaction in a symbolic place. You would be wrong though.

Who would have believed that the California drought would bring out the poison oak/ivy/sumac plants in early February in the wilderness park where I let my dogs run off leash and then after snap their collars back on? A few applications of calamine lotion and my ring is back on my finger. Now if only we had such a simple resolution to grief.

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