About ten years ago I bought my late husband Alec a sterling silver bracelet. I can’t remember if this gift was for his birthday or Christmas or some other special day, but I do know that I loved buying it for him. One of Alec’s strongest love languages was gift giving, which meant that he received and expressed love through the giving of quality, high value gifts. Alec loved fine things. To buy him a cheap item of jewellery or cologne or other gift would be appreciated, but not treasured. Buying him a bracelet that he wore with pride showed me that he truly loved it. I had spent as much money as I could on the bracelet. He realised that as soon as he opened it, and he savoured the gesture.
He wore the bracelet literally every single day. It didn’t matter what we were doing, or how messy it was, he never took the bracelet off. This meant that the bracelet hung from his wrist when we went to fancy restaurants, attended social events, when we did the groceries, or when we sat down to watch television at home in the evenings. It also meant that it stayed on even when he was repairing vacuum cleaners, or doing odd jobs around our house. It even meant that the bracelet was worn throughout the duration of our home renovation, where it dangled into paint pots, scraped through sanding machines, and slopped through tiling grout.
After a few years the bracelet was a mess. At first I had been so thrilled that Alec loved the gift so much that he never took it off, but as the bracelet became damaged I became annoyed that Alec wasn’t taking better care of it. I remember suggesting that he should remove it when he was doing rough work, but he insisted on wearing it. What could I do? I watched the bracelet being progressively ruined, and I tried to let it go. I reminded myself that I had given the gift to Alec so it did not belong to me. How he treated the bracelet, and the results of this treatment had nothing to do with me.
This was all well and good until the clasp on the bracelet became so stiff and warped that it no longer closed, meaning that Alec couldn’t wear it any more. He asked me to take the bracelet for repair. This made me really annoyed, because I had been working so hard to release the ownership of the bracelet to Alec, and to not be offended that he was slowly wrecking the gift that I had given him. I resisted taking the bracelet for months and months because of this offence, but finally I yielded. It was embarrassing to show up at the jewellery shop with a bracelet that looked more like a string of aluminium can ring tabs than the piece of fine jewellery that I had purchased only a few years ago. It was even more humiliating to have the perfectly presented woman behind the counter raise her eyebrows at me as she described the state of the bracelet to me. I blushed and didn’t know where to look or what to say. I knew better than anyone else that the scratches and chips and build up of grout in the joints of the bracelet were horrible.
As she mustered up her most patronising version of customer service, this glamorous woman told me that the bracelet was no longer worth the cost of the repairs it would take to restore it to a modest version of how it used to be. I nodded my understanding, thanked her for helping me, and bundled up the bracelet into the small yellow envelope that she gave me. I went home and to my great shame and regret now, I gave Alec a good old fashioned “I-told-you-so” speech. I did not hold back. I let him have all of my hurts and offences as I berated him about the lack of care he had taken with my gift.
Yes … that’s right. I was hurt because over all of these years, that bracelet felt like something that was mine. I had a sense of ownership that I should never have had, and created an offence that I should never have experienced.
This offence went on literally for years. I knew Alec wanted me to replace the bracelet with another one, because he mentioned it before every Father’s Day, birthday, and Christmas. And every year the offence smouldered inside me, like an evil cauldron of boiling hot poison bubbling away the love of our marriage. Every year I saw that Alec wanted a new bracelet, and every year my heart responded with “Why should I? You wrecked the last one I gave you.”
This is a shameful blog to write, because you can see how truly horrible I was. The bad news is that if we let offence build up like this, each one of us run the risk of corrupting the love we have for those closest to us. My self-righteous hurt prevented my from loving Alec with openness and liberty. It stifled my love and implanted a spur of withholding into our most intimate connection.
But the good news is that there is another way. I held onto that hurt until I couldn’t bear it any longer. And then, one day, I tripped over that little yellow envelope as I was cleaning out my sock draw. By that time we had moved to Melbourne and we were both working together full-time to build our vacuum parts website. We had both grown so much over those years. Our life had changed dramatically, and our investment into our shared journey had never been deeper. That broken old bracelet inside that envelope didn’t fit the picture of our life or our love any more. I decided to make things right.
That Christmas I bought Alec a 9 carat gold version of that same bracelet. His face beamed as he opened the green velvet box and then he looked at me with eyes of love. With great relief I was able to say sorry that I hadn’t bought it sooner. He put it on straight away, and I was thrilled, but this time, my heart was filled with happiness for him only. That night, we had a massive discussion about the bracelet which redeemed me from the years that had been marred by my selfish resentment.
Alec wore the bracelet most of the time, but I noticed that it came off when he was doing messy jobs. I was grateful, but in my heart I had changed. I wasn’t holding on to this bracelet like I did the last one. This bracelet was truly Alec’s. I had given it freely, which released me to loving him freely. There were no bumpy, glitchy bits of selfishness that had previously corrupted my ability to give and receive love.
That Christmas was in 2014, and only five short months later, I came home to find Alec dead in our kitchen. I cannot emphasise strongly enough how grateful I am at the fortuitous timing of repairing this part of our relationship. Of course, the reality is that if I hadn’t changed my attitude and worked through this offence I would have carried it around unresolved for the rest of my life. Now, I wear this bracelet every day, to remind me to never withhold love. This bracelet is a tribute to the infinite capacity that we all have for love, when we step outside of our pride and freely open the doors of our heart.