The topic of tattoos recently came up over dinner the other night at my house.
My oldest daughter, Loughlin, who just turned 18, was telling me that she wanted to get one. I immediately told her absolutely not and that I would not allow it as long as she lives under my roof.
Continuing on my mom rant, I told her and all of the kids at the table that getting a tattoo was a lifetime decision and one that needed to be thought about and made carefully.
Here is the list of reasons I gave:
1. Having a tattoo can impact your changes of getting a job because some work places forbid it and will make you cover it up.
2. Some tattoos are done in a time of emotion and years later you end up regretting it and have to spend money and go through a painful process to have it removed.
3. You have to really think careful about what design you are getting and where you are getting it placed on your body. As you get older and your body changes, that beautiful tiny butterfly might stretch out and look like some monstrous creature from outer space.
4. What if you get hepatitis from the tattoo needle? (Yes, I know I was going a little too far, because the shops have regulations they follow to clean their equipment, but I was grasping for anything.)
Loughlin went on to say that it wasn’t fair to say no without hearing her out.
“Okay, go ahead and tell me- but I can assure you the answer will still be ‘NO,’” I said.
Loughlin said, “I want to get a small tattoo on my ankle. I just want Papa’s initials, EBW, and his birthdate. It’s a way for me to always feel like he is with me.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. If there was one thing my father was adamant about when we were growing up, it was NO TATTOOS. I explained that to Loughlin. She looked at me and said, “But Mom, I need to do this for me to remember him in a way that means something to me.”
I told her I would think about it, knowing good and well that my answer was always going to be no.
Later that evening, I went to see my grandmother who lives in a nursing home just a few miles from my house. She is one of the greatest blessings in my life and wise beyond her years. I am so blessed to have her so close by so that the kids and I can see her each and every day and have that time to spend with her.
As I walked into the nursing home, I passed some of the residents, many of whom I have gotten to know over the years. I try when I am there to take a minute to stop and talk to them when I can. On this particular night, one of my favorite residents, Ms. Anna, was in the hall.
I stopped to say hello and while we were talking I looked down at her hand and noticed that on her wedding ring finger, there was no wedding band but instead there was a tattoo that looked like a flowery band around finger where a ring would have gone. I stared for a moment and asked her what the tattoo represented.
“Oh my dear, how I have seen and lived through so much in my 94 years,” said Ms. Anna. “I have seen the Great Depression and lived through a time where we went from having everything to barely having enough food to put on the table. I was sitting in my dorm room as the news came in over the radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed and spent many sleepless nights waiting for word about whether my dad was dead or alive.”
With a wistful look in her eye and a smile on her face she continued, “I met the love of my life and married him when I was 18 and together we had three beautiful children. I remember to this day the first time I held each of my children and that feeling as my heart swelled with a love and joy that I never thought possible. I have seen my grandchildren and held them tightly and I have held one of my own children as he took his last breath.. This world is cruel and harsh, but beautiful and breathtaking all at the same time.”
“When I was 86 years old, after 68 years of marriage to the most wonderful man, I had to say goodbye to him as he passed away and went to join our son in heaven.” Ms. Anna said with tears in her eyes. “I had outlived my husband and my child, something I never imagined I would ever do in my life.”
“I remember I felt as if I wanted to clean out every closet in my house, go through every box of mementos that my husband and I had stored in the garage over the years, I think I was hoping it would free me from some of the pain.” she said. “What I learned is that you can’t just get rid of material things to make it easier to heal, because what you have been through in life stays in your heart and marks your soul forever, sort of like a tattoo. It is just a tattoo on your heart is one that no one else can see.”
“So why did you get this one?” I asked.
“My hands are old and the arthritis makes them swell at times,” she explained. “When I was 87 the ring began to cut off the circulation in my tired old hands, so the doctor cut it off. That band had been on my finger for 68 years and it represented the story of my life.”
“One day I drove to the tattoo parlor that I had passed many times over the past two decades and I walked in and asked them if they could replicate the design of my band onto my wedding finger,” she said. “Each and every day I look at it and still feel like all of those past memories of the life I have led, the love and loss I have felt, are always with me. The most beautiful part is that on most days, someone stops and asks me about it and I get to share the story of my life with someone so that I will never forget the life that I have had.”
“This tattoo is the most treasured gift that I have right now because it is a sign and symbol of the beautiful and plentiful life that I have had and this tattoo is forever and will be with me even when I die.”
I gave her a kiss on the check and headed out the door with my mind whirling. Life gives us moments, both joyful and sorrowful, that forever stay with us like a tattoo on our heart. Perhaps getting a tattoo that represents the love that we have had with someone and for someone is not a bad thing.
I wondered, would having a small tattoo on my daughter’s ankle of something that reminds her of her grandfather be an expression of the permanent mark that his death has left on her heart? When people ask about it, would it give her the chance to share her stories of this wonderful man who she misses so much, but who gave her so many gifts which made her into the beautiful young woman she is today?
I went home that night and shared the story and gave her my blessing to get a small tattoo on her ankle with something that reminded her of Papa. She still has not gotten it, but I am grateful for that night in the nursing home when Ms. Anna, an amazing 94 year old woman, shared with me how her tattoo represents her story.
To share your thoughts on tattoos and the things that they represent in your life, email Blythe at firstname.lastname@example.org.