When I was a teenager, each year for Christmas my grandfather would buy me some kind of jewelry - always expensive, but nothing really appropriate for a fourteen year old girl. Or at least not the type of jewelry that I was wearing at that age. Gold, dainty, always some sort of stone or pearl. I would thank him for taking the time to pick something out especially for me, but I would always end up putting the necklace/bracelet/earrings in a jewelry box at home and never actually wear them.
I think that I was fifteen the year he gave me a ring. This gift was slightly different from the others, because this one was my birthstone specifically, not just something pretty that had caught his eye. The extra effort alone gave this ring a fighting chance at being worn, at least once and awhile. It was far too dressy looking to wear to school, but maybe when we went to a family dinner or some sort of occasion.
I tried wearing the ring a couple of times, but it felt uncomfortable, like the points at the top and bottom dug into my finger constantly and the stone stood out far enough that I snagged it on anything and everything. So into the jewelry box it went with the others.
Two weeks before my 26th birthday, on a Sunday morning, the phone rang. I was still living at home with my parents. My grandmother was in a panic. My grandpa was acting weird - dropping things and not talking properly. She made him toast for breakfast and he tried to put one of the slices into the teapot on the counter. My parents rushed over to their house and called an ambulance. I knew before they had even left our house that he was having a stroke.
By the time they all arrived at the hospital, his speech was all but gone. I arrived about an hour later - my parents suggested I wait until the initial chaos had settled (if that's possible) and they had some idea of what was going on. The CT scan had been done and now it was a matter of waiting to see the damage the lack of oxygen had caused. When I walked up to the stretcher in the hallway, everyone looked scared and the one word that my grandpa kept saying repeatedly was "hanging". He was using it as a noun, verb, curse word, everything. Once and awhile a "he" or "they" would slip in, but mostly it was just "hanging" again and again and again.
Miraculously, my father had figured out some way to communicate with him - maybe it was due to the fact that his own father had had a stroke thirty years prior and the only word he was left with for a few days was "shit" - but the rest of us struggled for the next couple of days and weeks.
His speech slowly improved. He had a lot of speech therapy both at the hospital and then at the rehab center he moved into for the next two months. My grandfather was a stubborn man, and that tenacity carried him through every moment of rehab that he could get his hands on. Being a teacher, I was one of the few people he trusted to help him outside of his sessions, and he would wait for me to come visit so he could show me the new cards that he had been given to practice - cards that stretched his vocabulary closer to what it used to be and cards that listed words that the speech therapist noted he was having trouble pronouncing so that he would work on them in between sessions.
Eventually, he moved back home and life looked differently after that. He had some cognitive impairments from the stroke as well - tasks that involved multiple steps were a challenge, cooking food in particular could be a bit dangerous. But he never stopped trying. He never stopped working to figure out what he could and couldn't do - and then he would try to find ways around the things that were difficult.
And then eventually, more strokes would come, and each one would leave more damage than the last. When he passed away, his death followed an arduous six months in a hospital bed, where he still managed to communicate with us through lip reading and some animated facial expressions.
That first Sunday that changed everything - two weeks before I turned 26 - I slipped that ring with my birthstone on my finger as I left to go to the hospital. I'm not sure what exactly drove me to find it that day. My mom recognized it immediately when she held my hand and cried a few hours later. I continued to wear that ring every day after that - to work, to run errands, to see my friends, to the rehab center, to the intensive care units, to his funeral.
I am 33 now, and I still wear that ring each and every day. At times, wearing that ring has made me feel closer to him since he has been gone; at others, it has reminded me of all of the years I had packed it away into a jewelry box and didn't appreciate it. That ring has brought me comfort and made me feel guilt. That ring has also brought on panic attacks when I haven't been able to find it. I still have several of the pieces of jewelry that he bought me over the years, but this one holds more meaning to me at this point than all of the others combined.
In 2012, I signed up for an Ali Edwards class through Big Picture Scrapbooking, called 31 Things. The class consisted of 31 different writing prompts. Two years later and I'm finally making time to tackle them. The topic of "jewelry" was prompt #1.