The needles burned more than stabbed.
And I enjoyed every minute of the pain.
It made sense that these marks would hurt. I wanted them to hurt.
In our first support group meeting with other grieving parents, the more experienced informed us that the third year was actually the worst.
In the first year, you have support.
In the second year, the holidays sneak up on everyone and stab with surprise.
But the third year is when everyone starts to forget.
“There is absolutely no way that our family who prayed for our adoption journey, who flew miles to see us land at an airport, who surrounded our boy with such love, who came to the hospital that night to witness our hearts breaking, who came to his funeral in the hundreds, who donated money in his memory would forget our son’s precious life.”
They not only forgot, but they also danced on his grave. As if his life had been completely erased from their memory.
In their defense, babies had been born. Matriarchs had died.
It was on the third anniversary of his death, as my family partied, that I knew it was time to make a permanent mark on my skin. He would never be invisible again.
If he was on my skin, they couldn’t pretend he didn’t exist.
So his memory manifested itself on my wrist through ink and needle, and I wrote this poem:
Victorians had armbands.
Scarlett had a black dress.
No Parties. No Dancing.
Instead, we have footprints on shoulders,
dates on forearms,
and faces on biceps.
Some choose stickers on windshields.
Otherwise, how would anyone know?
People should know to tiptoe around you,
handle you with gentle grace.
Strangers should be able to recognize,
to treat you as one in mourning.
Instead, we clock in for work the next week,
our grief as invisible as the ghost at our kitchen table.
Stuff down food. Drown in screens.
You won’t find a safe public place to scream.
No professional mourning jobs at the city gate.
No wailing behind your neighbor’s funeral processional.
Normal. Go back to normal.
Everyone just wants you to be normal.
And so we dip needles in our skin to remember,
to recall, to give thanks, to make our pain visible.
“They have to acknowledge my loss if it’s on my arm.”
Because when we lose a public period of mourning,
some of us grieve forever.
I’m thankful for this modern mourning ritual. Grieving parents have led the way in communicating our pain in a public way, in an age when we seem to have lost all vocabulary for loss.
We proudly wear these signs of loss, gratitude, and hope. Yes, we want those who are forgetting their short lives to remember them and our loss.
Our child’s memory is physically bound to us. This is our cross to bear, no one else’s. We also want to give thanks for every moment we had with them.
We’re proud to be their parents. We also need physical reminders that we will see them again.
This is not the end of the story.
So the next time you see a name, a handprint, a footprint, or a date forever emblazoned on someone’s skin, say a prayer for them, and honor their loss.