So I said to mum, "That's not your wedding ring, I took your wedding ring off your finger and took it home when you went into hospital." "Oh well I don't know what that is, then," she said, indicating the offending item of jewellery that everyone at the table was by now regarding closely and with rapt attention. "I think this is mine though."
Things have been fluid in the jewellery area for some time. This morning when I arrived I noticed on the floor under her wheeled table a small sateen bag about the size of a 50-cent piece that has a tiny cord you can pull to close the bag's mouth. A week or so earlier I had seen the same bag inside a diminutive, heart-shaped box that was covered in colourful paper with a printed pattern on it. Inside the bag, at that time, were two silver clasps with letters attached to them - an 'R' and a 'Z' - with the letters attached to the clasps so cleverly and with such efficient craftsmanship that you could not see the seam where they were joined to them. In the box were other items of jewellery although I assessed them to be of no particular value, except perhaps sentimental value for the owner.
In my mother's room, furthermore, is a jewellery case that stands on four feet and two curved legs. It has a lockable cabinet standing upright and inside there are hooks for hanging necklaces, and for rings and bangles and other items of jewellery that you might need to put away safely and in good order. There are a number of necklaces inside the cabinet but nothing worth any money. I am not sure why she has this in her room, but before moving to Sydney she had asked for it to be sent to her, so I had sent it down with the other furniture she needed or wanted. Occasionally she will wear a necklace. But the jewellery cabinet does not explain the wandering rings.
The rings I think get distributed during the normal social rounds that the residents of the nursing home make on their daily progress through life. There seems to be a circulating quota of personal property in the nursing home that just gets shunted from room to room as people mix and socialise. There are people they visit, or routes that they take in the mornings or afternoons. My mother might stop and knock on someone's door and say hello. It's also important to note that when you live in a nursing home there is not a lot you are asked to decide on. For example, I told the lunch gathering today that I would be stopping off at the petrol station on the way home to get petrol for the car and mum asked me, "Do you need some petrol money?" as if it were a germane question. The thing is that I have access to her bank accounts anyway and have no need of her occasional verbalised largesse. But that doesn't stop the need to make decisions, to have agency. I think it's the same with the rings. They are just shared because they can be.
I don't think there's a lot I can do about the rings. I have a collection of family wedding rings in the apartment - as you can see in the photo accompanying this post - but it's not even certain that the one I took from my mother when she was in hospital was actually her wedding ring. She had been in the nursing home for some time by then. And inscribed inside the band are letters, though I cannot clearly decipher them. I don't think they are my parents' initials, however. Which makes me think that this wedding ring is actually the property of someone else.