Grief affects people in different ways and everyone has their own unique way of dealing with it. For some people, they choose to get a tattoo as a way to remember their loved one forever, etching a piece of them onto their skin. Memorial tattoos can act as a coping mechanism and help to take people back to a happier time, as well as being a conversation starter that helps to keep the person’s memory alive.

The history of memorial tattoos

The design behind memorial tattoos are usually inspired by the loved one who has passed, but the concept of a memorial tattoo has been around for centuries. Margo DeMello from The Tattoo Project suggests that memorial tattoos have been around for as long as tattooing itself, believing to have originated from Hawaiian tribes. The tribes would tattoo their tongues to remember community members as the painful procedure would represent the emotional pain of grief while being a permanent reminder of the person. This is the same reason people get memorial tattoos today as it gives a permanent physical representation of the loved one who has passed.

Keeping the person’s memory alive

Many people choose to get memorial tattoos in a visible and obvious place so that they can not only see it themselves as a permanent reminder but also so that other people are likely to ask about the tattoo, allowing the person to share stories about the deceased. People are often worried that other people will forget the deceased, so this helps to keep their memory alive. Others will choose to have a memorial tattoo in a more private space to keep the relationship and intimacy they shared with that person private.

A coping mechanism

Eunice Gorman is a professor at King’s University College who is an expert in grief and bereavement. She explains that while some people manage to get through their grief in more traditional ways, others really struggle and a tattoo can act as a coping mechanism that is unique to the individual. Gorman believes that tattoos act as a coping mechanism as it links people to their loved one and offers something physical that they can see and touch, helping to remember them.

Remembering a better time through art

The image of a loved one passing can be traumatic, such as when it’s due to a decline in health or an accident. Memorial tattoo designs can be chosen to represent a happy memory or representation of that person, helping to distract from bad memories. The artwork can transport people back to a happier time.

Designs like animals that were associated with the loved one, a portrait of them when they were younger and healthy, or a favorite quote of theirs can help people to focus on those happier times. Alternatively, simply having their name, initials or a small symbol can be all someone needs to remember that person.

Memorial tattoos can be small, delicate, and highly private or they can be large and in an obvious place that will trigger conversation. They help people to connect to their deceased loved one and often act as a coping mechanism for dealing with grief in a personal and unique way.