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On deathbed, a ring renews lifelong love

When she died last week, a 96-year-old woman in a bed in a nursing home, she wore a wedding ring.

To her, it was a symbol of a love story that had been going on for more than 70 years.

To everyone else who knew about the ring, it was a sign that love rarely travels in a straight line and that life can be even more beautiful and complicated than we think it is.

In 1940, the woman's husband placed a simple gold band on the third finger of her left hand and swore that he would love her forever. He kept his promise, and she never took the ring off.

Her husband died in 1992, and her heart was broken. She entered a nursing home in 2004. Slowly, her memory began slipping away, but the ring remained on her finger.

A few months ago, her daughter went to visit her and saw that the ring was gone. Her mother's fingers had withered, and the ring apparently fell off and was swept up when the room was cleaned.

By now, the woman was drifting in and out of reality, but she knew that the ring -- the connection to the most important person in her life -- was gone. She brought it up again and again. There were days she didn't know she had once been married, but somehow she knew that the ring meant everything to her and was missing. She was heartbroken. Again.

So was her daughter. She missed her father more than she could put into words, and that ring meant something to her, too. It was an unbroken connection to him. She and her mother always talked about him, about how much they both loved and missed him, but now she found herself trying to remind her mother that her father once existed.

"Do you know what today is, Mom? It's your anniversary." But she didn't remember. Her mother's conversation now was a jumble of dreams and wishes and fantasy, but she never seemed to talk about her late husband.

That bothered her daughter almost as much as her mother's failing health.

The daughter came home from the nursing home one day, agonizing about that missing ring. She couldn't bear the thought of her mother spending her few remaining days without the only tangible reminder that she once was married to the love of her life.

And then the daughter remembered something that she hadn't thought about in years. She had a gold wedding band that she no longer wore. It was the one her ex-husband had given to her almost 50 years ago. She took it off after they were divorced and put it in a box. It stayed there for decades, unworn and all but forgotten.

She took it out. It didn't look exactly like the one her mother had worn, but it was gold, and it was a ring. So she brought it with her to the nursing home on her next visit and, with as much pretend relief as she could muster, announced to her mother that she had found her missing ring.

Her mother was overjoyed. She had "her" ring back. A gold band that was a remnant of a marriage that didn't work out became a symbol of one that was a great love story.

In her final days, friends and relatives visited the woman constantly. It seemed as if she could no longer see their faces, but she could recognize their voices. When she heard a familiar voice, she would reach up her hands to touch the person's face.

I fought back tears as I bent down close to her cheek and said, "I love you, Nana, and I always will." She reached up to stroke my face, and on the third finger of her left hand was the ring my father once gave to my mother. My grandmother died believing that love had put it there. She was right.