Wearing a Black Ribbon Helped One Jewish Widow Mend Her Soul

Symbol Was More Gift Than Gimmick After Husband's Death

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By Nancy Kalikow Maxwell

Published August 14, 2013, issue of August 16, 2013.
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My college-age daughter continued wearing her ribbon when she returned to school. Dubbing it her “be-nice-to-me” button, she found that her fellow students treated her more respectfully upon seeing it. One of her professors excused her absences when he saw it, no further evidence required.

We both noted that cashiers and waitresses were especially solicitous. Though they may not have understood its significance, they sensed that the swatch had something to do with mourning. One waitress patted my hand gently when she placed the check on the table. Another presented me with a slice of chocolate cake I had not ordered. “It’s on the house, honey,” she said.

Though the sympathy — and the free dessert — was appreciated, by the third week, wearing the ribbon became tiresome. I began counting down the days until I could unfasten that button for good. Finally, at dusk on the 30th day, I unpinned the ribbon for the last time. Taking a deep breath, I flung it into the wastebasket, the sound reminding me of the thud of dirt hitting his coffin.

But in front of the television that evening, I couldn’t concentrate on anything but that ribbon buried amid wads of tissue. Maybe I should save it as a souvenir to remind me of my loving, caring, wonderful husband. Perhaps seeing it will fill me with satisfaction over how bravely I had confronted his loss.

Or would it bring to mind his horrific battle with cancer and his torturous, lingering death? Perhaps pain and loss will forever be associated with that piece of fabric. Yes, I decided, that seemed more likely. My keriah ribbon had served its purpose, and now it was time to discard it and move on. The ribbon remained in the wastebasket, carted out with the weekly trash.

“Sorry, I don’t have the ribbon anymore,” I told my friend. “I could make you one. Let me take you out to lunch and I’ll give it to you.”

I knew just the restaurant I would choose, and which waitress I would request.

Nancy Kalikow Maxwell is a retired librarian and freelance grant writer who lives in Plantation, Fla.


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