Bereaved individuals express their grief in a variety of ways, such as creating a memory stone, planting a tree in remembrance of the deceased loved one, having a quilt made with remnants of their loved one’s clothing, donating to a favorite organization or hobby of the deceased, jogathons, lighting a candle, visiting their gravesite, having ashes placed into a piece of jewelry, or writing a song or poem.
In the past twenty (20) years another creative expression of grief has grown: the memorial tattoo. In the United States there are over 45 million people with tattoos – 40% are persons 26-40 years old. Tattoo artists are seeing a strong increase in clients who wish to honor a deceased loved one, a fallen soldier, or even a pet. Others are commemorating a tragedy, such as the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Bereaved persons are encouraged to seek support and to find a way to live with their loss and, when they are ready, to go on with their lives in a new way – creating a new normal. Another grief theory is to look at grief as a “change” rather than as an end to a relationship. Grief is a reaction to loss and the ink of a tattoo puts a stamp on those reactions. The boom in memorial tattoos is an outward expression of an inner process – a language of grief – that gives voice to loss, allows for a continuing bond with the deceased, and offers solace to those still living.
Some of those who have chosen to get a memorial tattoo have shared that they have experienced continued connection with their deceased loved one in a personal and novel way; that resiliency and hope are as much a part of their narratives as grief; how great strength is required to ink their bodies and put their loss “out there” to the world; and that as healing begins, giving back to the bereaved community often adds new purpose and direction.
A memorial tattoo may not be a consideration for every bereaved individual, but it is clear that they invite conversation. And when we open others to ask about our losses, we make our loved ones present, even beyond death; we don’t just talk about their deaths, we talk about their lives.
Excerpts from Memorializing Loss Through Tattoo
By Susan Salluce, MA, CT
Susan Salluce, MA, CT is a Certified Thanatologist and former facilitator for Friends for Survival. She is the best-selling author of the psychological fiction book Out of Breath, a contributing author to Pathways to Purpose and Hope: A Guide for Creating a Sustainable Grief Support Organization for Families and Friends after a Suicide Death, and author of GriefINK: Tattoo as the Language of Grief.