Friday, May 15, 2009

Memorial Tattoos

Mention the word 'tattoo' and the first image that comes to mind may be the iconic 'Mother' tattoo.   This is one of the original memorial tattoos.  You might ask  'would your mother want you to have that tattoo?', but what would you think about a tattoo that a mother gets in memory of a baby who died at birth?  Is that a trashy and reckless mutilation of skin, a touching gesture of remembrance, a careless gesture that will be regretted later, a meaningful reminder? Tattoos are no longer the taboo they once were. In the small town where I live, there are two tattoo parlors right next to one another, right across from our historic town hall; and they both seem to be busy all the time.  More and more of all kinds of people are getting tattoos today, from grandmothers to politicians, and the tattoos are as varied as the people who get them. 

A new twist on an old favorite by artist Phil Young of New Haven, CT

Memorial tattoos are, quite simply, tattoos that are made in memory of a loved one who has died.  There are whole sections devoted to them on tattoo websites, and they show up on discussion boards and blogs by grieving mothers too.  Whether they are a good idea or not, all kinds of people choose to memorialize a loved one permanently in this way.  Here are some creative ways people have found to memorialize their loved ones with tattoos: 

I was very touched by this design made on a mother's feet.  I can imagine her thinking of her child with every step she takes through life.

This tattoo was made using the client's own handwriting in memory of a brother.  The tattoo was done on the day of his tragic death.  There are very few words here, but their choice and presentation convey a unique and very personal message.
This tattoo was made in memory of a miscarried child for blogger Heidi Reed.  Can a permanent reminder of a fleeting life help a mother move forward?  For the story behind it, visit

This tattoo is a memorial to a father.  The piece is based on a photo of his racing helmet.  I hope that the funeral services held for this man were as personal and meaningful as the tattoo. -by artist Jeff Johnson of Newbury Park, CA

This tattoo was made in memory of the client's grandparents, from a tiny picture taken of them at Coney Island.  It makes me think of a memory that has moved from the inside, out to the surface of this grandchild's body -another piece by tattoo artist Phil Young of New Haven, CT


Anonymous said...

Pat, you never cease to amaze me with your posts. Keep up the good work partner!!

Unknown said...

I am continually astounded by your stories, images and writing. What many gifts you have...


Lindsie P. said...

I helped a family two weeks ago who is going to have a portion of their loved one's cremated remains mixed into the ink the artist will use for their memorial tattoos. The shop that does this is in Portland, Oregon but I am sure there are others around the country. I am glad people continue to seek ways to memorialize those they have lost,

paul said...

the tattoo studios called bubblegum ink

Kat Marie Moya said...

I am a professional tattoo artist working in Columbus, Ohio ( I have done many memorial tattoos and I think the one that stands out the most is a portrait of a young boy (3yrs) on the fathers chest. The reason for the memorial is that years ago, this man backed over his own son with his car, who was playing in the driveway at the time. He had no idea the boy was there.
At the time I tattooed this man, it had been 30 years since the incident. He wore the tragedy of this experience on his face and in his eyes, imagine ever forgiving yourself and the various directions one may go in order to overcome a tragedy like that.

I could tell quite a few stories like this one in relation to tattoo experiences. There's just something about the finality of a permanent reminder, the experience one tends to earn, that seems to aide in the healing process of loss.

I also organize an event and curate an exhibit themed for the Day of the Dead here in Columbus as well. It's called Por Vida. This event is quite a different atmosphere of remembrance, but unique and fills a void for a larger community.

I swere I'm not trying to self advertise here, I wanted to share my professional experience as it relates to your story. Thank you for your post.

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Funeral service faces a crisis of relevance, and I am passionate about keeping the best traditions of service alive while adapting to the changing needs of families. Feel free to contact me with questions, or to share your thoughts on funeral service, ritual, and memorialization.