Can a tattoo help with the grieving process?
After my stepson Nick died, my son and I got matching tattoos in his memory. It's a great way to remember a loved one. This article, written by Meghan Collie for 'Global News', explains how tattoos can help with the grieving process.
The passing of a loved one can be utterly devastating. Grief is all-encompassing, and for some, it never really goes away.
Tattoos present a unique way to cope with the grief.
“Memorial tattoos help continue bonds with the deceased,” said Deborah Davidson.
She works as a professor of sociology at York University, and she’s the creator of The Tattoo Project.
“Tattoos can be understood as a form of public storytelling,” said Davidson. “Stories help us make sense and meaning out of things that happened to us.”
When placed in a spot where other people can see it — as most are — a memorial tattoo is often an intentional conversation-starter.
“People fear their loved one will be forgotten… not by themselves, but by others,” Davidson said.
“[Tattoos] open that dialogue so you can talk about what your tattoo means and remember the person you lost that way.”
Some memorial tattoos have a beginning and an end date, making it obvious that it represents a life that has come to an end. However, in Davidson’s experience, most memorial tattoos are more inconspicuous.
“The stories associated with lots of these tattoos are not sad stories. People want to remember their loved ones and have happy memories of them,” she said.
The permanence of body tattoos can also have a comforting quality for someone dealing with tragic loss.
“They’re permanent, so their loved one and their story and their memory will be with you forever,” said Davidson. “[Tattoos] help incorporate loss into the lives of the bereaved in meaningful ways.”
In a lot of cases, grief is also a permanent fixture in the life of the bereaved.
“There are no five stages of grief,” Davidson said. “A main complaint of people that are grieving is that they’re expected to get over it [after] a certain amount of time, but it doesn’t work that way.”
Eunice Gorman, a professor at King’s University College, agrees. She’s an expert in grief and bereavement.
“[Grief] affects everybody differently. Most people will manage to kind of bungle their way through grief… but we know that some people really struggle.”
That’s why some people turn to tattoos as a coping mechanism, of which there are many.
“Coping mechanisms are as unique as the people who are grieving,” said Gorman.
Some people will go to support groups, some will read, some will exercise. Whatever a person chooses, coping mechanisms are crucial to surviving after loss.
“People often get tattoos because it’s a remembrance for other people… It’s a way to link them to the person that they loved,” she said. “For other people, it’s kind of a touchstone. They can look at it or they can touch it and they can be brought back to remembering them.”