We’ve accepted tattoos as a fact of life. The stigma, for the most part, has subsided, and tattoos are being used to express one’s interests, desires, and inner thoughts. They are used to display worship to deities, or even love for one’s pets. Tattoos are a graphic representation of the individual wearing them. It’s only natural, in that respect, that we should start to use them to pay homage to those we’ve loved and lost.
As humans, throughout history, we have found many different and unique ways of remembering the dead. Some cultures held elaborate festivals, others believed their ancestors became spirit animals, guiding the family and protecting the clan’s honor from beyond the grave. As time has marched on, we’ve transitioned to decorated grave plots that are visited on birthdays and holidays.
But some people have found another way to honor those who have left this Earth: through tattoos.
Memorial tattoos have always held a steady stream of popularity throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Any tattoo artist you speak to will be able to recount a tattoo done in someone’s memory. But, there are different types of memorial tattoos. Some are simple, unrecognizable as a memorial except to the wearer, while others are more self-explanatory—perhaps containing a name and dates, or the words Rest in Peace.
These tattoos are often heartfelt, with exceptionally deep meaning. Even the simplest of designs, a flower loved by the deceased or a birthstone, can give the wearer a permanent emotional connection with the person who passed. Some can be more complex, such as a beloved quote copied in the person’s exact handwriting, or a piece of artwork they created during their life. Other people opt to just write the person’s name across them, perhaps with a small cross, heart, or angel wings below it. A popular design is to encompass the deceased’s name in a heart affixed with angel wings—generally including the phrase, “In Loving Memory”. Portraits are another popular way to ink a person’s memory into your skin forever. And some people decide to go even more personal; choosing instead to utilize something the person adored…a favorite food, color, or animal, perhaps.
As you can see, the health and safety departments have not endorsed this practice, claiming that adding a portion of someone’s ashes to your body can bear health risks. But, companies such as Engrave Ink claim that the process is entirely safe. As Engrave Ink’s website states, “Our laboratory in Nevada, USA is one of the most innovative in the world. Our full-cycle sanitization and mixing process is secure and environmentally friendly, allowing for our personal attention to every step.” In an interview with the DailyMail, an Internet-based newspaper, tattoo artist Bob Johnson of Finest Lines Tattoo Parlor was quoted as saying, “We sterilize them first in an autoclave as we would the rest of the equipment, and them make sure it’s fine powder and mix it with the ink.” He went on, detailing that he has never seen a complication in his thirty years of doing these forms of tattoos.
There is another fad in memorial tattoos that has seen a rise over the last few decades. This tattoo is extremely personal, truly connecting the wearer to the deceased. These are called Commemorative tattoos and are a source of controversy in the health and safety field, although tattoo artists and the surrounding industry have cited no complications from the process in over thirty years of utilizing this method. There are companies that offer to combine the ashes of the deceased with legitimate tattoo ink; which can then be used to apply a tattoo of the person’s choice.
Regardless of how you decide to memorialize your loved one, using the art of tattoo to do so will always ensure they stay close to your heart and leave you with so many options. You can keep the memorial tattoo secret, a simple object or symbol that has meaning to only you, or emblazon a name and dates across your body for all to see. And, of course, you can even place a little bit of your loved one below your skin, so they are with you—wherever you are—forever and always.
Memorial tattoos are a part of our culture now, and I don’t see the trend fading anytime soon.