Living in muddy water

Karen Peloquin

~For Chris and David

I lost my fiance’, Chris Raynor, in a car accident on our wedding day on September 12, 2009.
I lost my brother, David Taylor, to suicide on December 28, 2016.

I chose the lotus flower and semicolon because I’m trying to live and grow in the muddy water. Some days are better than others, and just as the lotus flower closes at night…it opens the next day with a fresh start. I chose to get the semicolon because I respect, empathize, and honor those who suffer from mental illness…including myself…and each day I will try to continue my sentence. I chose to put my tattoo on my left wrist to be visible for others who are struggling and because the left is closest to my heart.

Like love, there is no end to grief.

Sherri Loeb

~For my husband, Jerod

I chose this tattoo in memory of my husband Jerod who passed away 4 years ago. We were married for almost 27 years and he truly was my best friend and everything to me. He was also the best dad in the world to two amazing daughters. I first saw this saying when Sheryl Sandberg the CEO of facebook lost her husband and wrote a story after he passed away. She used this quote in her story describing how she felt. It hit home then and I waited about two years before I finally got up the courage to go for it. As the tattoo states, like love, my grief will never end.These lyrics are from a song of Bono’s that I felt summed up how I felt perfectly. It is on the left side of my rib cage close to my heart. I had the tattoo done at Insight Studios in Chicago by James Eastwood.

A tattoo for both of my parents

Sarah Buino

~For my parents

Both of my parents died in 2014.IMG_7553

My dad died of a heart attack March 2014 and my mom died of breast cancer the following December. It’s difficult enough to grieve the loss of the people who gave you life, but I also had a really complicated relationship with each of them.

My dad wasn’t someone you could talk to or reason with. He was unfortunately quite misogynistic and sadistic. He mellowed out once he had a stroke in 2007, but then he became more paranoid and often repeated the same stories over and over. Still this great chasm between how I experienced the world and how he thought I should move through it.

His house was like a museum that hadn’t been touched for 30 years. When he died, my brother and I spent countless hours digging through the treasures, trash, and dirt. One of his most prized possessions was a real human skull he called Sydney. Sydney had been a school show and tell item for as long as I can remember. My dad would show Sydney off to his friends and visitors and over the years, he’d accumulated a large collection of skulls. (Sydney is now proudly displayed in my dining room and I’ve begun to cultivate my own skull collection.)

I think the image of the skull represents my father in many ways. Skulls can scare people as they invoke a fear of death due to its representation of mortality. There were elements of my dad that were very scary to me – especially as a child. But the symbolism of the skull is laced with our own judgments. It is very fragile without the protection of muscle and skin. I can choose to still see my father as a scary person who did a lot more to hurt me than to love me over the years, but in his death I have chosen see the fragility of his nature.

My mother was nearly the exact opposite of my father. Loving to a fault, she wanted so much to care for me and did so to the detriment of herself. She had extremely self-sacrificing views of what constituted love and because she and I did not hold the same values, neither of us felt like we loved each other the “right” way.

She was a gardener. I doubt there was more that brought her pleasure than tending to her garden and sharing it with others. Lavender was her favorite scent and the lavender in her garden was prolific and hearty. She would make lavender sachets as gifts. She also loved roses and I can still smell the roses she’d cut fresh from her garden and bring into the house throughout my childhood.

My mother wrote a lot and in one of her writings she completed in the months before she died she said, “If by chance you would ever miss me after I’m gone: I’ll be in the scent of roses and lavender; the taste of peppermint; the butterflies flitting from flower to flower…”

My mother was a lot like the flowers she tended: beautiful, but ephemeral. She was beautiful – there were many qualities inside and out that made her so. But she was so sensitive and couldn’t withstand the harsh winters of her life. She died at only 62 years old after suffering myriad ailments throughout her life.

When people ask about this tattoo, I, taking after my father’s sadism, like to shock them by saying “this is my dead parents tattoo.” It’s much easier to shock someone out of pitying you than tolerating that awful “I’m sooooooo sorry for you” look that pisses me off every time. The truth is that grief is so complicated it can’t be summed up and empathized easily. The tattoo is a way I remind myself that I am connected to people who were flawed, but made me who I am today. It’s taken a lot of good psychotherapy and time, but I believe I’m finally able to say with gratitude that I appreciate all they did (and didn’t do) for me.

My mom and her love of elephants is always with me.

April Robinson

~For my momimage.

I got this tattoo for my mom. She loved elephants and collected them in knickknacks. My mom and I were like best friends and when she past away on my 34th birthday, I just broke down and cried. I knew that one day I would get a elephant tattooed on me for her. Every time I look down and see my elephant I think of my mom and I know she would have loved this tattoo if she had gotten to see it. I have it on my leg on the outside of my left calf. It makes me feel like I have something on me that was my mom’s; her love of elephants.

All forty of my tattoos tell a story. I am like a walking book of my life!

He’s Always Got My Back

Michael MariellaTattoo

~For my friend, Ryan

In August of 2015, my friend Ryan was killed in a tragic house fire. He was one of my best friends and one of the most unique people I have come across in my lifetime. His sarcastic, goofy self was always putting smiles on peoples’ faces. Ever since I heard his mom call him “RyGuy”, he was that to me ever since.  The infinity-type figure represents that he will always have my back no matter what and the shape of his volleyball number as a constant reminder of the person he was and the memories we shared. Something I hold close to my heart very dearly.

“It was then that I carried you”

Sarah Hickman10580165_830333340324758_3616140624643654071_n

~For my sister, Mary Kathleen

My tattoo is a symbol of my sister, Mary Kathleen Hickman. My sister was 12 years old when God unexpectedly called her home to be with Him on September 11, 2010. My tattoo reads, “It was then that I carried you” from God Loves You – John: 3:16. During the toughest time in my life (when I lost my sister) God carried me. During this time I was only able to see one set of footprints in the sand rather than another set walking beside me. God not only carried me then but he continues to stand by my side everyday throughout this journey

Words to Remember My Mom

Irena Weimer
Irena Weimer

~for my mom, Florence

My parents, George and Florence, were married for twelve years before they had me. No one thought my mom could have kids after a childhood accident falling out of a tree. But they had me in 1993. Five years later, my mom got pregnant again. My sister was born on my sixth birthday. The day after my sister’s birth, my mom passed away. She got a blood infection and was airflighted to Pittsburgh, but by then— there was nothing they could do.

It’s been almost 17 years since she passed away. I’m almost 23 now, but I still think about my mother a lot. It’s hard growing up without a parent, especially after growing attached and then losing them. It was hard going through normal teenage stuff and not having her around to experience them with me. It was even harder growing up as a young woman with only a father because he didn’t know the first thing about feminine things or experiences. I was pretty much alone during critical times in my youth, from my first period to my first boyfriend. It was tough.

Since I’d first starting seeing people with tattoos in my youth and seeing how people made their bodies pieces of art, I’ve been wanting tattoos, and I wanted at least one to honor my mom. I wanted to show how much she still means to me. The quote I chose is something Abraham Lincoln said once. When I first read it, it resonated with me quite a bit. She might have died a long time ago, but everything I am, I owe to her. Her genes gave me my appearance, some personality traits, and my anemia. She gave me my love for books and animals. I also seemed to inherit some of her thought processes. She was a vegetarian because her love for animals; I became a vegetarian, as well. She was extremely kind and open-minded to people different than her; I am, too. I also feel I am stronger for having grown up without her. Losing someone is hard and it takes guts to continue on after that. So with all of this, I feel like this tattoo is a great memorial for my mother. She will always be a part of me.

Stories painted on skin, “I am enough”

Melissa Dodsonmel_tattoo

~For My Mother, Irene

I’ve always wanted a tattoo. For as long as I can remember. I love the creative and emotional expression of them. I love the permanency of them. Especially when so many things in life are constantly changing, spinning out of control.

All those years of wanting a tattoo, but never getting one. I’m Jewish. And according to Jewish law, you don’t get tattooed. You know, the whole ashes ashes, dust to dust thing. My mom liked to remind me of this. Often. Her biggest argument being that I wouldn’t be able to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Well, I kind of gave up on that whole idea when I went and married a Catholic. But still, Mom let me know she was not in favor.

Mom was against a lot of the things I did. Or didn’t do. The high school (not so) sweetheart that she hated. The dropping out of school, and not finishing, and not getting a degree. My track record shows more things that I rebelled against, then it does those that I conformed to. And in most of those cases, turns out she was right.

Once, I got really daring and got my belly button pierced (hey, it’s all relative). It wasn’t a hit, but it wasn’t a cardinal sin either. It wasn’t permanent. It wasn’t ink under flesh, stained for eternity. It was a little whole in my belly. And it didn’t last too long, anyway. When I got pregnant and started showing I took it out for fear of the holes stretching too much. Much to the appreciation of Mom, as well as my conservative husband.

Fast forward 20 years. I’m 40. Mom’s 70. She’s just died. I’m shell-shocked. It doesn’t sink in, that she’s dead. Instead, all that keeps running through my mind is that now I can get a tattoo. It’s easier to think about getting tattooed then it is to think about my mom being dead. I’m hovering in this weightless plane. Numb. Unable to process her death. I want to feel something. I think about tiny needles pricking my skin. I can feel those. I’m free to get inked without the fear of letting her down. Of disappointing her. Free to do what ever the fuck I want for myself. Without her judgement. Without her guilt trip. Free to rebel and live with the consequences. Because, fuck her. She’s fucking dead. I can’t touch her anymore. But a tattoo, I can see it and touch it. It won’t disappear into thin air. It will stay with me. On me. In me. Part of me.

She’s dead, and I’m 42 and I still want a tattoo. I’ve never not wanted one. It wasn’t a passing phase in my carefree rebellious youth. I’m past that. The truth is that I really do like them. A well placed, well executed tattoo can be pretty damn badass, and sometimes even hot as hell. They have meaning. Symbolism. History. Reminders. Stories painted on skin.

She died. I live. I don’t need her permission anymore. I don’t need to be afraid, or rebel or give a shit what she’ll think or say. She’s dead. And so I got inked. A story painted on my skin. A story for her. A story for me. A symbol. A history. A reminder. A reminder of my Jewishness. A reminder of her. A reminder of who I was and who I am now. Permanency in a constantly changing world. A world where mothers die of cancer, way too early. A world where little girls are afraid to be themselves, living under a shadow. A world where now the shadow is lifted and I’m finding the me I’ve always wanted to be. This me who has only always wanted to wear ink. A painted story on my skin. Permanently.

A stack of books. Three books. Two closed. One open. Her story ended. My story ended, the part of me that died with her. A new story begun, the motherless daughter who remains. The word ‘Dayenu’, in Hebrew. The song Dayenu, her favorite song during the Passover seder. Translated, it means ‘I am enough’. I am enough. I. Am. Enough.

It’s been almost 6 months since I got the tattoo. Everyday, I miss my mom more and more. Everyday, I love my tattoo more and more. It’s not going anywhere. And every time I look at it, I have to lay my hand on it. On my forearm. Where I feel her and I hear her. Our story painted on my skin.


“If heaven wasn’t so far away”

Trina PalmerTrina Palmer
~for my dad

I got my tattoo in memory of my dad. My favorite song is “If heaven wasn’t so far away”  and since all the words in the song describe my feelings to a tee, I chose the title for my tattoo. The fishing hook represents something my dad loved to do; fish. So I wanted to combine the two and my tattoo artist came up with this design which is on my inner arm above my wrist.

I can say that today I am proud to be alive.

Jenna Friedman

~I am a warriorimage

I got my tattoo May 8, 2015 for my 18th birthday. I never thought I would ever make it to be 18 years old. This tattoo is so incredibly meaningful to me. I have struggled with chronic depression, anorexia, and social anxiety since I was 11 years old.

I am now 18 and have been in recovery for my eating disorder for two years. Struggling with an eating disorder and chronic depression, and social anxiety; the past eight years have been a huge struggle. I have had many unsuccessful suicide attempts. My junior year of high school is when my eating disorder hit me really hard. I got to my lowest weight of 102 pounds. I could barely get out bed because I had no energy and had lost all motivation. I just didn’t want to be here anymore. My eating disorder had taken the best of me. I was taunted by my distorted body image, and my suicidal thoughts. I just didn’t see it getting any better.

I can say that today I am proud to be alive. Although I’m still in recovery for my eating disorder and still constantly struggle with my depression, I have learned better coping skills to help me get through the hardest of times. November 26, 2015 will be one year since I last self harmed. The tattoo is placed on my left arm where I would always take the blade to punish myself for never being good enough. As of today, I know that I am good enough. I know that a number does not define who I am nor my self worth. I am me and on the road to learning to love myself. I am now a warrior.

“Sometimes life throws you challenges that are difficult to over come but you have to keep going because trust me, it feels great to win.” ~Christie Hanovinikian


Copyright © behind-the-ink, Nancy Perlson