It is just a piece of orange and blue silicone rubber. It used to be about a 1/8 inch thick, but is now at least half that thickness. The word “Happy” can be made out if you look closely. While it used to create a closed circle, it is now just a flat piece that has two ends. The most important part of this object is the part that is not there. Near the middle of the blue section is a little half-moon section broken away and nothing about that broken bracelet is more important to me than that missing piece.
The bracelet adorned my right wrist without fail since September 2010 when my colleagues in the Events and Conferences Office had the bracelets created to show support for Oliver and our family. “Happy” was Oliver’s teaching that I shared with our office long before he was diagnosed with cancer. It was his ability to recognize and celebrate the happy times in life that made me realize that most of us focus on our unhappy moments. Oliver had a different worldview.
Oliver is also the culprit behind the missing piece on the bracelet. I remember he was sitting on my lap on the couch, probably watching a movie, when all of sudden he held up the little piece to me. Seems he had been playing with it absentmindedly as we sat there and the little section came off. “Oliver,” I said, “don’t break my bracelet!” He thought it was funny.
I was worried that the broken piece would eventually weaken the bracelet, but time did that instead. Well, that and one of our dogs. I’ve been wondering when it would break since it was so thin, and when I was out roughhousing with the dogs, one of them managed to snag it with his teeth and it popped off my arm. They’ve actually caught it before, but it was finally too thin to resist.
In the nearly two weeks since it happened, I realize how often my left hand reaches over to touch the bracelet. After being a constant presence for ten years, it is not surprising I notice its absence. But what my hand also does not find is that missing piece, that little part of Oliver I carried around for so many years.
It is tempting to find a lot of symbolism in this broken wrist band — if this was novel it would certainly point to something deeper. Time moves on, we lose connections with those who die, people need to live beyond the grief, material objects break while love never does, and so on.
But the wrist band was never important as the part it was missing — the part that Oliver broke off and left missing. Grief is about absence and absence, like the missing part of the bracelet, can be felt more strongly than that which envelopes us.
When we love someone and they die, they do not leave us. Instead, and this is what is amazing about love, we find a way for them to live within us. It is not a conscious effort. It just happens. Like my hand searching for that bracelet on my wrist. Love searches for the one we miss and when it cannot find their presence, it seeks their absence and makes it tangible.
In the future, when my left hand grabs my right wrist, it is not looking for the wristband. It is looking for the missing piece. Because in what is not there I find Oliver. Absence becomes presence. The bracelet is off my wrist, but Oliver is still right here with me.