How A Memorial Tattoo Helped Me Mourn My Son

August 29, 2017

Shortly after coming home from the hospital, I had decided that I wanted a memorial tattoo in honor of Emmett. The new ink would be a constant reminder of the love I carry for him. So, I needed to find something that was symbolic of him and this journey.

My husband’s family bought a hydrangea tree and we planted it in our front yard a few weeks after the loss. Once it blossomed, there was a tiny monarch butterfly that would perch on it during the summer afternoons. It would catch my eye as I looked up from my work, making me smile. Since then, butterflies have become an important symbol reminding us of our son, and one that has helped in our healing.

My Memorial Tattoo Process

I have to give a huge shout-out to Boston-area tattoo artist Alicia Thomas for the phenomenal job she did. Alicia works out of The Boston Tattoo Company in Somerville, MA, and Precision Body Arts in Nashua, NH. She was absolutely amazing during this process and I can’t thank her enough. We first met back in March for a consultation to go through my Pinterest board of ideas and to come up with a sense of what she was going to create for me.

The end result was a sketched butterfly that looks like it was zooming around to create a heart and Emmett’s name. She filled the wings in with different shades of blue for my sweet baby boy. I do love how realistic butterfly tattoos can look but instead opted for the sketchy feel of it since Emmett’s story was left unfinished, almost like a doodle in an artist’s notebook.

Memorial Tattoo for Emmett

For me, the pain from a tattoo artist’s needles is nothing in comparison to the physical and emotional pain I experienced giving birth and not being able to bring my son home, and the subsequent onslaught of unrelenting grief. Once I had that mindset and knew why I was doing this, it was a relatively quick appointment. The actual process of having Alicia complete the tattoo happened on my lunch break one day, in about 30 minutes. Now, depending on the complexity of the artwork, it can take much longer than that as well as your pain threshhold and need to take “rest” breaks.

Are you thinking about getting a memorial tattoo? Here’s some advice to ponder:

Do Your Homework

I did tons of research into local artists. I first started following the tattoo studio where I had my first piece done on Facebook and Instagram. From there, I started to see a whole new world of artists and their personalities come to life in front of my eyes. It’s also a good idea to ask your friends and family for recommendations for local artists.

There are so many different styles as well. Some artists are excellent at watercolor or realism. Whereas others do great retro-looking pieces.

I recommend keeping a folder of images, font styles, quotations, and other tattoos that you come across. (Pinterest makes this super easy to collect everything in one “vision board.” When you finally select your artist, you can bring that folder along with you or just forward your Pinterest board link to start your discussion.

The 3 P’s: Placement, Pain and Permanence

Placement

This was one of the hardest decisions I had to make. I wanted something I could see but I also needed to be able to cover it up for certain work functions. Some businesses have policies about tattoos being covered up at all times. For me, I chose to have it placed on my back shoulder because I could easily cover it with most blouses or a cardigan. But, on summer days when I’m at the beach or pool, I can show it off.

Pain

Everyone’s pain tolerance is different. For me, I live with fibromyalgia and chronic migraines on a daily basis. My relatively good, low-pain days could be considered very painful to some people. But, a lot of “pain” is in how you think about it and your expectations. A good way to get through something painful is by breathing slowly and methodically. Breathe in through your nose while counting to 5, then slowly exhale through your mouth, counting to 5.

Permanence

Remember, a tattoo is forever. Once you get it done, it’s with you, unless you go through laser removal treatments. So, if you have any doubt in your mind, give it some time and revisit your decision later.

Timing

Deciding on when to get your memorial tattoo also can be a tough decision. Do you want it to coincide with a special milestone or an angelversary? If so, check with your artist to be sure they can accommodate your needs. Many tattoo artists travel to tradeshows so their calendars fill up fast. I wanted to have Emmett’s tattoo done by his first angelversary in April but between my own schedule and Alicia’s calendar, we just couldn’t make that work. So, we looked at other important dates and, ultimately, we decided on getting it done just before a fundraising walk our family was doing in honor of E.

You also want to keep in mind that it’s going to take time for your tattoo to heal. It can vary but for at least two weeks (check with your individual artist for their recommendations) you want to keep it out of the sun. You also need to avoid swimming (ocean or pools). Most importantly, you need to constantly slather it with lotion to keep it moisturized.

Do you have a memorial tattoo to honor your baby? I’d love to see it! Share it with us in the comments or on our social media pages!

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  • Christina Relacion-Finnell is a city girl who bought a house in rural Massachusetts with her husband. She's an angel mommy to Emmett and a dog mama to Dakota. You can usually find her nerding out over something Harry Potter, Marvel or Doctor Who. If she's not geeking out, she's planning her next escape to Walt Disney World or perfecting her baked dessert creations. Christina blogs about her journey of pregnancy loss and grief here.

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