Tattoos are conversation starters. One will often find that there is some kind of story attached to these pieces of ink art. And these stories will then lead to conversations, which will inevitably lead to those memorable “skin showing” sessions we all have experienced. The truth is that people love and are truly intrigued by tattoos, and have been for millennia. Humanity has been tattooing since the Neolithic period, with evidence of tattooing found in preserved skin, ancient artwork, and archaeological records. In essence, it’s a form of ritual.
This brings us to grief, which has a tendency to bring people to act in a similarly ritualistic way; it’s the same concept of ritual that tattoos embody. In fact, the wedding of tattooing and grieving has been an interesting point to research, and we have come across very novel ways people tie the two together.
Preserving a loved one’s memory––in a tattoo
A fascinating way to remember your loved one is by mixing in some of the loved one’s ashes with the tattoo ink. A tattoo which includes someone’s ashes is sometimes called a “commemorative tattoo” or a “ritual tattoo”. These types of tattoos are very much applied in the traditional sense. It is what’s inside the ink that makes these tattoos extra special.
In a commemorative tattoo, a small amount of cremains are added into the original tattoo ink. The amount of cremains added is very small, usually less than a tablespoon of cremains is able to go inside a vial of ink. The ashes will need to be a very fine consistency to mix with the ink, it may be that you will need to give the tattoo artists more than one tablespoon of the ashes, just to ensure they have the finest to work with.
From Ashes to Ink, National Geographic
Ideas for commemorative tattoos
There is no shortage of ideas for commemorative tattoos. You may choose to go for a portrait tattoo, which is simply an image (or portrait) of your loved one. Others may want something small and subtle, like a date or a symbol of their loved one. Other creative tattoo ideas are:
– Occupational / hobby commemorative tattoos: did your loved one have a favourite hobby or pastime? Maybe they were a teacher, doctor, or lawyer. Whatever their occupation, getting a tattoo of that can be a poignant way of remembering your loved one.
-A more personalised commemorative tattoo: although most commemorative tattoos are personalised to a general degree, one may opt to go the extra mile and make it even more personal by incorporating dates, a favourite meme, inside jokes, or affectionate names.
-Religious or spiritual commemorative tattoo: perhaps religion or spirituality (or both) was a big part of your loved one’s life. In that case, it could be a good idea to think about their favourite verse and get that as a tattoo to remember your loved one.
Can I preserve a tattoo after death?
Preserving a tattoo can be a cathartic way of remembering a loved one. A tattoo typically outlives a person’s body only by as long as burial or cremation arrangements will allow, so for a tattoo to be preserved after someone’s death, special care has to be taken. A very unique way of preserving tattoos after death has been to actually take the skin, preserve it, and frame it as art.
Many people, if given the chance, would choose to save their or their loved one’s ink forever. This can be profoundly impactful to family, especially if they understand the nuanced meaning behind the tattoo. In fact, Charles Hamm, founder of the National Association for the Preservation of Skin Art, believes that displaying your relatives’ tattoos on your walls is no weirder than putting an urn of cremains on your mantle. It’s a process of dealing with grief, which can be a very unique and bewildering journey for many.
It may come as a surprise to hear that there is a service where people book to get their loved one’s skin preserved for life, but that is the beauty of it. If you have ever thought of your body as a work of art, then why would you want to throw it away after death?
What our families have done
There are many interesting and creative ways to remember a loved one. Tattoos are just one way of doing so, but they are rather popular given their permanent and personal nature. One may find that commemorative tattoos give a sense of power or ownership to an individual during a circumstance out of their control.
Commemorative tattoos are a beautiful way to story tell. Recently, we’ve heard an amazing story about one of our customer’s getting the last words her husband said to her tattooed on her arm. You may read more about that story in our “Stories” section, or by visiting Mick’s Story directly: here.