‘I saw him picking up playdough. He stopped, smiled and gave me the most beautiful engagement ring I have ever seen. I couldn’t catch my breath.’

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Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho, chronicles her grief journey each week for Love What Matters after her husband died of pancreatic cancer. This week, she recalls the simple, yet incredibly moving way her late husband proposed marriage.

“My husband wasn’t about the ‘big things.’ Don’t get me wrong, he had impeccable taste. He liked nice stuff. But, at the end of the day, he was not about anything grandiose. He was about barbeques with friends, fall nights around a firepit, games of pool, jamming on his guitar, school assemblies, Star Trek marathons, afternoon naps, telling jokes, hanging out with his kids, petting the dogs, going to Costco, coming up with recipes, and making me smile.

I knew we were going to get married even before we officially got engaged. He was my ‘person’ and always had been. I just knew deep down he was the one I was supposed to spend a lifetime with. We had talked about it a lot. We knew what our future was. We had looked at rings, but I didn’t want to be the one that chose it. I wanted him to decide when it was the right timing, and what kind of ring he wanted to give me. He could have given me a Cracker Jack ring from a box and I would have loved it just as much. Because for me, it wasn’t about the ring, it was about the man.

It was November. He had come to visit me at my house and we were sitting on the floor picking up a mess the kids had made. Toys all over; crayons, coloring books, army men – you name it, they had it. I didn’t think much about it when I saw Chad picking up playdough, putting each color back in its rightful container. I continued to do what I was doing until he stopped me, smiled and presented me with the most beautiful, outstanding, memorable engagement ring I have ever seen, and asked me to marry him. I almost couldn’t catch my breath because the token he was giving me was so spectacular, so beautiful, that I was speechless. It was in that moment, that very moment, when I saw him holding up this ring, sitting on the floor, surrounded in toys and the chaos of life, that I was the luckiest woman in the entire world.

Opened ring box with engagement ring made out of playdough
Diana Register

I didn’t want a big proposal. I didn’t care what the ring looked like. I didn’t even want the perfect man. I wanted a man who understood reality. Who could propose in the middle of a toy room picking up the toys of his future stepchildren. I wanted a man who knew my life was messy and wanted to live it anyway. I wanted a man who knew choosing me might be complicated and intense and wanted to dive in anyway. I wanted a man who knew my faults, yet decided to see them as a benefit to my personality. I wanted a man who knew the future was uncertain but who wanted to hold my hand and lead me through it. I wanted a man who was not afraid to take me and my kids on and be an instant family, without looking back. I wanted a man who understood that every day would not be perfect, but together, it would be perfect for us.

He eventually replaced that playdough ring and when he gave me the ‘real’ set. I never took it off. Not once. I didn’t care if shampoo got in it, or soap or dirt or anything else. Because life got dirty and so did my rings.

Close up of ring box with engagement ring and wedding band
Diana Register

I never wanted to take that ring off. Not ever. I had a hard time moving on. I didn’t want to be a widow. I wanted to be his wife. I wanted to be his wife forever, and 15 years wasn’t long enough. We were supposed to have more time. We were supposed to grow old together and tell our grandkids stories. We were supposed to travel. I was supposed to die first. I told him that once. That I would not be able to bear losing him so to please let me die first. He didn’t listen. Yet, on a Sunday afternoon, a year after he died, he told me to move on.

My ring was tight on my finger. So tight I often thought if I ever did take it off, I would have to get it cut off. Yet, that particular afternoon, as I was washing dishes, like I did every day, I heard it hit the sink as it slipped off my hand. I panicked. I grabbed it. I tried to shove it back on. It would not go. It would not fit. It would not slip back on. I don’t think he wanted it to. There was no explanation why it would come off. I wish I could explain to you how odd that was because it never budged, ever. And when I couldn’t get it back on, I just knew. I knew what he was trying to tell me. I knew he was telling me it was ok to keep living without him. Another message in the middle of a soapy mess, very simply, that it’s ok to move on.

Somedays, I don’t know how to. Most days, I don’t want to. But, I do know I have to. I have to live the life we wanted together, even if all he can do now is watch from afar. I have to show myself and my kids that we can, and we will survive his death. We will do the right things, and we will honor him, no matter how much our hearts ache for him to be here. We will flourish in spite of the crappy hand we were dealt, and we will open our hearts to what may come. But, when life gets messy and dirty and complicated and chaotic, I will remember that day, sitting on the floor in awe of the sight of him, and I will wish he was here. I will embrace my grief and cry when I miss him, and then like the rings in the box, I will put it away until I need to take it out again. Because it’s ok to remember. It’s ok to feel it. It’s ok to miss them. It’s ok to love them. But, in the end, it’s ok to move on.”

Woman stands smiling beside husband who has since passed from cancer and young daughter
Diana Register


This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her bestselling book, “Grief Life,” is now available in print and kindle. Experience love, laughter, loss and hope in this raw, emotional, honest look at grief. You can follow her work on her Facebook page. She has been chronicling her journey with grief in a series of stories for Love What Matters:

‘With his body full of tumors, he kept working’: Wife’s tremendous grief after husband’s cancer diagnosis

‘We pulled into the cemetery. It struck me we didn’t have anything to leave behind. As she opened the door, there it was. Two vials of glitter.’

‘I let my 15-year-old daughter get a tattoo, and no, I don’t care what anybody has to say about it.’

‘We do not think of dispatchers as heroes, but that night, Jeff was mine.’

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