When you’ve lost someone close to you, tattooing is often a tool you can use in your grieving process. I do many memorial tattoos and I know from my own personal experience of getting them, that it can be really emotional.
The best thing to do, first of all, is to contact the artist and set up a consultation. Every artist is different, and what I do may not be what all artists do. So check in first, before assuming anything. That said, I deal with memorial tattoos by taking my cues from you. some people are light hearted, remembering good things. others are in mourning and need to cope with that. I’m not a therapist, just a person, so here is my take on memorials and how I set things up for you if you want one.
You might want your own soundtrack. This is fine- the shop doesn’t need to change their music for this to happen. The shop music is for the people working in the shop and we don’t change it- however I’m more than happy to work on you while you listen to your own calming music or meditation tracks on good headphones. If you don’t have good noise reduction headphones, let me know- I have over-the-ear ones that are amazing, and will keep out the hustle and bustle of the shop for you, so you feel safer. I’ll let you borrow them.
I’ll put up a screen if you’d like to have more privacy. Crying and feeling emotional are common things when we get memorial tattoos so please don’t feel worried if you need a moment to let it out, or if you get overwhelmed during the tattoo.
We can take breaks as needed. I usually charge for a break, if it’s one you need and not one I need- but in this case I stop the clock. i don’t charge for that time. It can take some minutes to calm down, to refocus. I respect that need and I want the tattoo to come out perfectly, so a little break for you to cry or breathe it out is OK. It’s not unusual and I’m not thinking poorly of you. There’s no need to get embarrassed about it. Everyone on earth loses things and people they love, and I have been through it too.
Bringing along comforting objects like books, photos or a pillow can help, especially if you have sensory issues. A familiar (clean) blanket and pillow are always ok. A photo for you to look at, a book, or videos through headphones. this can also help you remember the good times, and make your tattoo a celebration of the person’s life instead of just a sad moment thinking about the loss.
You’re welcome to bring a friend or loved one who is sharing in your grief, so that you can have someone to talk to, who really understands. I highly recommend this. Bringing someone along who also knew the person, or who is very supportive of you in your life, can really help. it’s difficult for me to both commiserate with you AND do the tattoo perfectly, so having that friend along to hold hands, tell stories, or just vent to, will help you get through things and still walk away with a good tattoo.
I do a lot of lettering, dates of birth and death, names, as memorials. This is very classic and totally ok. It’s just fine to do a memorial that’s simple and understated. I also do a lot of meaningful images related to the person who died. If there was an in joke between you, a pet name, or something you both loved, using an image of that as your memorial is a great idea and a really good way to remember the person going forward- as someone who had a positive impact on your life in an active way.
think of your loved one as a star. what were their greatest hits? what was their joy in life? did they create something wonderful, do something valuable? these are all good ways to think of images to memorialize them, rather than just letters.
I’ve also done tattoos that include cremains. This involves several steps- you’ll have to sift the ashes to get the lightest, finest ash. I’ll only need a tiny bit (the ink cup I use to pour out your ink into is very tiny, think a few drops) so a little sprinkling on top of that tiny cup is what we will use. You’ll need to bring them in the day before your appointment, so I can sterilize them for use and let them dry out. Then we will dust a small bit of them on top of the black ink we will be using. Cremains in tattoos is a debatable issue and a lot of tattoo artists will refuse to do this, and the do have good reasons. you may lose spots of ink during healing, since the ash has larger particles than the ink. However by sterilizing them ahead of time, we avoid any possible bacterial contamination of them and any other risks.
If your tattoo is a memorial don’t be shy about telling me or asking about these things. I’ve got memorial tattoos. I cried during a few of them. I wore headphones, hugged someone’s t shirt that smelled like them, I took breaks and I felt miserable. The process itself, though, seemed to help me work through my more awful feelings- and having someone there to discuss the good times with, seemed to help me the most.
we all grieve differently. if you’re getting a memorial tattoo, we should have a consult before your appointment, just to be sure we get everything settled for you, so you can use the process instead of feeling worse. Again, my concern is to do a good tattoo on you, that will give you positive feelings as you wear it over the years.
I’m not a therapist and I can’t help with the grieving process on that level. all I can do is give you a hug, and schedule you at the end of my day so I’m not bringing the weight of that loss in to my next appointment.