where life's not empty, it's restless.

Archive for the tag “Claddagh rings”

Love in the time of Chaos

img_2891What is so fascinating, in this new and disorienting era in which we’re now living, are the connections that form amidst the chaos.

Last week, I was in Olympia for Alzheimer’s Advocacy Day. What a day of connections: of hearing and sharing stories; of witnessing the love that motivates families living with Alzheimer’s to go to the state capitol and talk to their representatives, even in this chaotic season when so many other causes cry out for their attention.

If you—or your husband, wife, mother, father, friend—are living with Alzheimer’s, you are accustomed to a baseline level of chaos. But when there’s a sense that chaos has been unleashed in the world on a larger scale, too, life can feel very—untethered. EndAlz

My mother’s Alzheimer’s disease began to rapidly accelerate in the summer and fall of 2001. She was quite unaware of the events of September 11. This may have been a blessing for her, but to us it was alarming. The country was in chaos. Our mother’s brain was in chaos. How to care for her, whether and where to move her, were the urgent questions that crowded our minds, even as we worried about war and terrorist threats. And then there was the daunting and dismaying challenge of explaining it all to our children—explaining not only what was happening in our country, but what was happening to their grandmother’s brain. Our hearts were breaking for her, and for the world, all at the same chaotic time.

img_2886“Let love reign,” is the symbolic message of the Irish Claddagh rings my husband Rustin and I wear as our wedding bands. On this fraught Valentine’s Day, let love indeed reign. It is our best chance at finding pathways through this time of chaos. Romantic love. Familial love. Friend-love. But most of all, the compassionate love we are suddenly seeing everywhere. While I was in Olympia, Rus was filming for the International Rescue Committee: emotional stories of refugee families reunited at SeaTac after the presidential immigration ban was stayed.

Let love reign and rain: in airports, town halls, capitols, courtrooms; let it reign wherever people are saying, “We are better than this. We are more loving than this. We can find ways to help families overwhelmed by dementia; we can welcome refugees overwhelmed by long, long journeys away from war and danger.”

Last week, I was lucky. I got to witness love reigning and raining everywhere: in the stories my husband told each evening about the refugees; in the stories I heard in Olympia. So now, in that spirit, I’m offering a Valentine’s Day gift. HBBfinalcoverEmail me your address (annhedreen at and I will mail you a free copy of my book, Her Beautiful Brain. Those many kinds of love are all there in my story, along with more than a few kinds of chaos. I’m also happy to send it to someone you know—just give me their address. I promise not to save or share anyone’s info.

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Restless Nest. Let love reign in this time of chaos.





DSC00865I’m wearing two wedding rings right now: mine and my husband’s. He takes his off before he plays basketball, and he left it in the car. Our son spotted it in the cup holder and I put it on. His ring is bigger than mine. It feels heavy around my forefinger. I’m aware of it as I type. He’s not home yet, so I’m still wearing it.

These two rings I’m wearing started life as four: two cheap gold bands and two silver Claddagh rings, the traditional Irish ring in which two hands hold a crowned heart. The gold bands we bought one warm summer day on our lunch hour at a discount jeweler. We were saving money for an extended honeymoon, a round-the-world backpacking trip, so we didn’t want anything expensive.

A month later, our trip was underway, but we were spending one week apart before our Scotland wedding. Rustin was with his dad in Germany and I was in Ireland with my friend Kathy, who convinced me to buy the Claddagh rings as my wedding gift to Rus.

“The crown over the heart means ‘Let love reign,’” the Irish jeweler explained.

What could be a more perfect message?

But life can be hard on rings. About a decade or so into our married life, Rus’ gold band snapped in half. And then his silver Claddagh ring broke too. Not the most welcome developments, symbolically speaking, especially since we’d been through some class-four rapids on the old marital river and were trying to just quietly row for a while in calmer waters.

One day, I was driving past the Pratt Art Institute on Jackson Street, which is known for its jewelry and metallurgy studio, and I thought, “Of course! We’ll get a jewelry maker to fuse our rings!”

And so we did. Seattle jewelry designer Shava Lawson fused the gold bands with the silver hands, hearts and crowns, adding a dab of gold to the hearts. We’ve been wearing them ever since.

That would be 26 years and four months of wearing these symbols on our fingers with their simple message: Let Love Reign. If we were single, Irish tradition would have us turn them upside to show our availability to the next prince or princess of love that might come along. But we’re not, and sometimes it stuns me with gratitude to think for how very long we have been loyal subjects of not just love in general but this one love, our love, in particular.

It stuns me and it scares me, too. My friend Kathy’s own love story ended when she died in 2012 of cancer.

I thought of Kathy a few weeks ago when I was watching Downton Abbey. Stay with me here, even if you’re not a fan. There was a scene featuring the three bereaved characters—Tom, whose young wife Sybil died in childbirth; Mary, whose husband survived the trenches of World War One only to die in a car crash; and Mary’s mother-in-law, Isobel, who reminisced for a few uncharacteristically indulgent minutes about how she fell in love with her long-dead husband. Then Isobel said to the others, “We’re the lucky ones, aren’t we?” The lucky ones: lucky to have known love, even though all three of them were parted from love by death.

As I twist these two rings of ours, both of them strong now, thanks to Shava’s careful welding—I really can’t add to that wisdom, that grace. To know love, to let love reign for a time, long or short, over your life, is indeed to be lucky.

Love often gets a pretty bad rap this time of year. It’s easy to go dark and cynical and to grumble about the commercial bonanza that is Valentine’s Day. But for those of us who feel that humble, stunned gratitude, I say: Let love reign.

Calendar notes: I’ll be speaking and screening Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story at SUNY Oswego on February 18; I’ll be reading from Her Beautiful Brain as part of a program calledWitnessing Dementia at Seattle’s Frye Art Museum at 6:30 pm on February 27 and, in celebration of the publication of an anthology called Into the Storm: Journeys with Alzheimer’s (edited by Collin Tong), I’ll be reading along with some of the other authors at Elliott Bay Bookstore at 3pm on March 16.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

Post Navigation