Guest blogger Michelle is back this week with a sentimental post about the way in which she and her son Alec have honored Marcus with memorial tattoos.
“My life now is broken up into before and after I lost my 17-year-old son, Marcus, to suicide. (Read my initial post about my family’s loss here.) Before, I would never have dreamt I would get a tattoo. In my view then, people who had tattoos rode Harleys, smoked cigarettes (and other stuff), wore jackets with the sleeves ripped off, were young 20-something’s with multiple body piercings or were in the military. I could not fathom putting something permanent on my body–what if I didn’t like it a few years down the road?
My husband and I were so anti-tattoo that we told our kids that if they wanted help with college expenses they could not get one until after they graduated from college. Part of that reasoning included that a tattoo an 18-year-old would get might not be the same one they would get when they were older. I also knew that some businesses frowned on visible tattoos and I didn’t want my kids to lose out on a job opportunity because of a tattoo. All of these reasons made perfect sense to me at the time.
On the periphery of my thinking on tattoos was the memorial tattoo. In my mind, it was usually a large cross with the person’s birth and death dates or a feeble attempt by the tattoo artist to make a close resemblance of the person who passed away. Let’s just say I had lots of stereotypical, preconceived notions.
After I lost my son and the fog had cleared a little bit, I felt this intense need to have a permanent, visible
connection to him and my two surviving children. I let the idea percolate for a while and then made an appointment with a tattoo artist for an initial visit. It turns out he had a two-to-three month waiting list to get the actual tattoo, so I had even more time to figure out if this was something I really wanted. I put down the deposit to hold my appointment. I had also brought my then 19-year-old son along, as he wanted to get one on his chest next to his heart in memory of his brother. I had almost three months to convince my husband that this would be okay. I ended up enlisting the help of my grief therapist because she was much better at articulating why I felt it was important to allow our son to get the tattoo. Surprisingly, it didn’t take much convincing and my husband was on board.
Originally I was going to get a small tattoo on my foot, but the more I thought about it, the more detail I wanted
and ended up getting one that covers most of my foot. I told my tattoo artist I wanted the word “always” with three hearts (one for each of my kids) and I wanted Marcus’ heart to have wings around it. After it was finished I realized why there is a two-to-three month wait, I think my tattoo is truly a work of art. I texted a picture to my daughter and she said, “It is so
beautiful.” My son told the artist he wanted a guitar with a music clef and Marcus’ initials, he ended up with a tattoo that almost looks 3D. It is hard to describe and the picture just doesn’t do it justice. He is very happy with it.
I moderate a private Facebook group for parents who have lost children to suicide. Many of us have memorial tattoos. Jesse and his son Jackson also got memorial tattoos in honor of their son and brother, Jacob. This is what Jesse wrote to me after I got my tattoo and he beautifully describes why I wanted to get one (I couldn’t really articulate why and Jesse accurately explained my feelings).
“The tattoos are beautiful Michelle. They are cathartic in a way that nothing else can be. Mine took almost my full first year to complete, Jackson added his shortly after his 18th birthday. I would love to tell you the pain will go away, but it doesn’t, well at least it hasn’t for me. I can however say that the pain mixes with the rest of your life in a way that nothing else could, and changes you into something you could not otherwise be. The tattoo marks, reminds, bonds, and honors your child in a way
that nothing else can, not dissimilar in way to what your child’s suicide does the moment it happened. At least that’s how it is for me.”
I will always have the pain of losing my son. However, my beautiful tattoo is not only a permanent, visible connection to all three of my children; it is a reminder of the happy memories, too.
Have you explored memorial tattoos following the loss of a loved one?”
Header image courtesy of kaleidoscopetattoo.com.au.