[Mental Health Matters] Grief and Tattoos


Life, Mental Health, Mental Health Matters, Self Expression, Self Reflection / Wednesday, December 19th, 2018

Content Warning: Grief, Stages of Grief, Death of a Parent, Death. Please, please, please do not read this if you think it will be triggering for your own mental health in any way. It was a post that was hard to write, caused many tears and from my perspective feels very raw. No offence will be taken if you need to give this one a miss.

rainbowcircle1-150Also, I am linking this to the Wicked Wednesday link up because my inspiration to complete it was inspired by this weeks prompt and by the wonderful host of WW Marie Rebel and her posts on this subject matter. However is way over the usual WW word count, which I will send my puppy dog eyes to Marie over for forgiveness, but I think a fair warning is needed for all WW readers that it might be a long one.


Time is a healer, or so they say, I’m not sure I’ve ever been that good at finding my way through the healing process though and I have had a lot of time and chances to perfect that skill. A lot of my past upsets are sporting very well worn plasters or like poorly healed injuries they are aggravated by the smallest of knocks.

For many reasons this year I’ve been thinking a lot about whether it’s time for me to find new ways of letting go of some of the grief that I am still living with. I don’t mean finally ‘getting over things’ because I think some things are impossible to get over, you just have to learn a level of acceptance you can live with. I also don’t mean letting go of the people I’ve lost or the memories I have of them, but I do think perhaps I need to let go of the pain of their absence.

I should note that none of this is something I actively am aware of on a daily basis, but I have noticed this year and especially in the latter half of this year that I am still carrying a lot of anger, hurt and guilt over a lot of things in my life.

This post was started a month or so ago, prompted by Marie Rebels post ‘Permanent Mark‘ about her upcoming tattoo in memory to her Mum. A tattoo that will likely be done by the time I press publish on this post. I stopped writing it though because I got sad and it’s easier to walk away from that than it is to move through it.

I started writing it again because Marie tweeted that today is the day for her tattoo and I responded about how cathartic I find being tattooed, which is very relevant to this post. Then I spotted a tweet from Tabitha Rayne about her feelings since her Grandmother passed away. Those two tweets combined with this week’s Wicked Wednesday post of ‘time’ gave me the impetus to return this post.

Grief is for me one of the most awful feelings in this world, one that most of us will encounter yet one that many of us are not taught to deal with healthily. The reality is though that if we are in a position to grieve we are in some ways very lucky, not in terms of our loss but for the fact we loved someone so much that is is so painful to be without them. Imagine never knowing grief because no one mattered enough for their passing to make an impact on us. The poem ‘Death Is Nothing At All’, was read at my Mum’s funeral by my no Ex-Husband, I love it and the sentiment of it but oh my goodness death is definitely not nothing, in fact, I would say it is as everything to us that life is.

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Image from Nature-Poem.com

As inevitable as death may be though it is is always a massive blow to those left behind. I have seen enough of it in my life to know that circumstance is largely irrelevant, all that matters is that someone is gone from your life and when that hurts it hurts. Whether someone was 20 or 70, sudden or expected, while objectively there may be ‘worse’ scenarios than others, when it comes to personal loss it all hurts like hell and the tools for dealing with the ensuing grief are not always easy to find or use.

There are a few people I could talk about with regards to this subject, but there is one person in particular whose death has impacted my life in ways that are so far reaching that I suspect even I may never uncover them all. On November 16th of this year, it marked 9 years since the death of my Mum. In the time I have been blogging I have referenced her passing but never written about it. Likewise, I have rarely discussed it with friends I’ve made in the last few years.

I feel like to the outside world I portray an air of just ‘not having’ a Mum. Obviously, I do mention her in conversation, but I am very aware of the fact I try not to direct the conversation to the fact she died because death and grief make people very uncomfortable and I’ve always hated the awkward moments where people just don’t know what to say to me.

Which is why I have so much admiration for the posts Marie shares, not only about her Mum and her passing but also about her experiences of grief counselling. Not only do I think it is entirely courageous to attend counselling, but sharing those experiences even more so.

I wish more of us were directed to counselling as a way to move through the wilderness of grief without causing too much harm and disruption to the life we must continuing living. I also think it would be nice if death and grief weren’t such taboo subjects so that discussing our feelings not only in the immediate aftermath of a loss but in the oncoming years was more palatable to those around us. Especially when it concerns the loss of pregnancy and children. Again a subject close to my heart and potentially there will be more on this in the future.

Back to Mother’s though and more specifically my Mum. I’d like to give a brief summary of why she died because again it’s not something we are encouraged to do in polite company, but where there is a death there’s a reason and whatever that reason I don’t think we should be encouraged to placate the world by not mentioning it.

My Mum was diagnosed with Chronic Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis in early 2008, caused by exposure to black mould during her childhood and the reaction she, in turn, had to that and how it manifested in later life. Her illness progressed quickly and while she was waiting for an assessment for a lung transplant she became too ill to be eligible for one and as a result passed away from pneumonia (as many people with diseases affecting the immune system do) at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London on the morning of November 16th 2009, 8 days after my 25th birthday, she herself was 53.

Hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP; also called allergic alveolitis, bagpipe lung, or extrinsic allergic alveolitis, EAA) is an inflammation of the alveoli within the lung caused by hypersensitivity to inhaled organic dust. Sufferers are commonly exposed to the dust by their occupation or hobbies.

The above paragraph as short and as brief as it hurt like hell to write because I have to accept all over again that I am a little girl without a Mum. Which seems like a ridiculous statement coming from a 34-year-old woman, but I can’t help but think that in the face of losing a parent we are simultaneously forced to face very grown-up aspects of life while always feeling like a little kid without anyone to look after them. That may just be my experience, but it is those contrasting emotions that have I think been the source of my inability or unwillingness to truly complete the grief cycle in relation to my Mum’s death.

One of the things I did do though, and I think without it I would be in even more of a grief pickle than I am, is I got a tattoo. Not my first, it was my fourth and not even my first memorial piece, it was my second, it was, however, the most labour intensive and the most meaningful of them all.

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I’m not a big art buff, I know what pleases my eye, but I don’t know about types of art or where in the world you can find them, what I do know though and have always known is that I love the art of Alphonse Mucha. Also despite not being a huge believer in astrology, I enjoy the symbology of star signs. Some star signs in and of themselves make great tattoos. I’m a Scorpio for example, and my Dad is a Leo, both of which would make freakin’ amazing tattoos. I’m a sure a lion for my Daddy will happen one day (maybe before he dies just to break from tradition), my Mum, however, was an Aquarius.

Aquarius is often just signified by water, but it was its presentation as the water-bearer1545226964827 that I decided to use for my tattoo. My idea of combining that with the Mucha style was presented to my tattoo artist at the time and she made it into the piece I have today. Initially I was going to get it on my upper arm, however, my arms are spindle thin and we would have lost so much detail. The decision was made to just go big or go home. We turned it into a backpiece, which I went under the needle for in January 2010 and 30 hours later, spread over a few months she was done.

The catharsis I felt during my tattoo sessions was immense, and I suspect invaluable. My tattoo artist had lost her Dad a couple of years previous and talking through our experiences during my sessions felt like the kind of energy exchange I really needed at the time. For people who haven’t been tattooed it might be a strange concept to get your head around, but being tattooed is, for me at least, and I know for many others an oddly intimate experience considering it is often done by a stranger (at least they are a relative stranger the first time they tattoo you).

The physical contact is impossible to avoid, and the process of someone breaking your skin, pushing ink into it and leaving their art upon your body is an intense exchange. I am convinced and it might be to hippy-dippy for some and that’s okay, that there was an element of spiritual exchange between my tattoo artist and myself during the sessions I sat with her and while I obviously paid her well for the work she did, I am always really thankful for her taking the time to discuss emotional subjects with me, and being more than just the girl doing my tattoo.

When I shared my tattoo on Facebook after it was complete I got so many comments saying how proud and flattered my Mum would be of my tribute to her. Let me tell you though, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that she would be furious! How dare I use her as an excuse to get a tattoo, and not even a small, a HUGE one (because for her it would have been freakin’ gigantic) especially as she was always telling me she made me perfect why did I feel the need to change that. God Bless my Mum, she had very strong opinions of this particular topic.

I am willing to take her wrath though should we meet again someday, somewhere, because I have loved every minute of having my representation of her on my skin. I look like my Mum, I sound like my Mum, I am morphing into her more and more as the days go by, I am never not with her, but going through that process and choosing a way to remember her rather than just having the reminders biology gave me means so much to me.

One of the only regrets I have about it is that I can’t see it unless I look at a picture or spin my head like an owl to look in a mirror. It is a minor thing though and not a regret enough to wish I’d made another decision. Being a big fan of tattoos, I have plans for many, many more. Yeah, haters gonna hate on that idea, but I cannot wait for the day my coverage is where I want it to be. I often think I might do something smaller and more visible one day, my Mum had a really pretty name and it would look so lovely tattooed in cursive, so one day I might sneak that in somewhere where I can see it on the daily.

I’m not entirely sure if there is an overall point to this post, or if I just needed to share. I know it started out as one thing and has maybe turned into another and due to the topic at hand that makes it is to think I shouldn’t post it. I am going to though because grief is hard and it can be really lonely to sit in silence with the weight of your loss, the sensation of which is often physically as well as emotionally draining.

I also want people to know that we battle through in the best ways we can, and we don’t all get it right and I don’t think we should beat ourselves up for still hurting years, and certainly not months after we’ve said goodbye. I won’t lie, I am so angry sometimes at my Mum. Which I am starting to realise is the part I need to let go of to make peace with what happened. I would imagine that is the anger phase of grief that will be the toughest for many people to understand, especially if they haven’t been there themselves. My Mum had zero control over her situation, zero, nothing she did or didn’t do would have made any difference to the outcome. So what is there to be angry about.

I am just angry that she left me.

In one of Marie’s posts, she referred to how the months leading up the passing are often a harder thing to talk about than the actual death or the more following it and I get that. The day I arranged for my Mum to be admitted to the hospital fuels my grief to this day, she did not want to go and absolutely refused to go to our local hospital and only gave in because her specialist in London made arrangements for her to be admitted there. In the conversation we had that morning she said she didn’t want to go because if she went in she knew she would never come home, I remember vividly her tears as she told me she didn’t want to leave me.

She was right, she didn’t come home and she did leave me and I am so, so mad that she did. I wasn’t ready and I’ve had to do so much without her that I needed her for and I’m angry because I don’t see why I didn’t get to keep my Mum for longer.

I realis the parts I’ve italicised might seem awful to some people and I get that, but I wanted to share them because those are the kinds of thoughts people will make you feel horrible for having and I don’t think keeping them secret from the world because they are unpleasant does anyone any favours. It also doesn’t help when people point out it could have been worse. I am well aware of that. My Dad lost his Mum in the most horrific manner when he was 10, there is really no ‘could have been worse’ for him, that is how bad his Mother’s death was. None of that knowledge though makes me hurt any less for my own situation and that is okay.

Grief is messy, painful and I suspect in many ways it is eternal, much like a tattoo, maybe that is why for many of us they are such companionable bedfellows.

A lot of other sex bloggers write far more coherently about mental health and topics relating to it than I do and I would urge you to give the links a visit that Sassy Cat has provided on her site, you can also follow #sb4mh on Twitter.

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Support These Sex Bloggers Writing about Mental Health

Lastly, as the old saying goes ‘in for a penny in for a pound’ (none U.K dwellers google is your friend for this one), seeing as I’ve drowned my keyboard in tears I thought I’d go all the way and listen to one of the songs I chose for my Mum’s funeral, ‘There You’ll Be’ by Faith Hill. The other one we used was I’ve Had the Time of My Life, from Dirty Dancing, but that one makes me smile, it is the harder of the two to hear that I’d like to share with you all.


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16 Replies to “[Mental Health Matters] Grief and Tattoos”

  1. This is such a poignant post, and one that I can see was difficult to write, but perhaps important? Grief is such as challenging thing to cope with and it affects people in different ways. The death of a parent though is like nothing else, other than perhaps the death of a child. Not better or worse, just different. My dad died 4 years ago and no day goes by that I don’t think of him and remember him. The grief I feel today is not the same as it was then, but it is still there. Perhaps it is important that it remains, but perhaps too, letting some of the hurt and anger goes is important for our wellbeing. xx

  2. You were right to warn me (and others) Floss, as this post indeed had triggers for me. But I am also glad that I read it, because it showed me how much therapy has indeed helped me. I am SO grateful to have the GP I do, as he has totally pinpointed correctly what I need and didn’t shy away from getting me the help. Like you, I too had anger towards my mom, but also anger towards what my mom had to go through, because she didn’t deserve it, like I know no one’s mom does. Also, even though I was 50 when my mom passed away, I still feel like I am a little girl without a mother. Thank you for sharing this post, your feelings, your grief, and please keep on writing about it because it helps. It really does!
    Rebel xox

    1. Thank you so much for reading Marie ❤️ I absolutely will keep writing about it. I think it is time to let it all out and what better place to share than my blog ☺️

  3. Hugs to you Floss. I am lucky that both my parents are still alive but I also know that won’t be the case forever and that is a really scary thought
    Mollyx

  4. Courage can be hard to define sometimes. And yet this post is full of it. Your pain and vulnerability shine through. I’m so sorry you lost your mother so early. I think your tattoo is a fabulous tribute to her though I understand how she would have been upset that you marked your body in that way. My mother would have said the same to me for sure.
    I hope the writing of this has been a little cathartic. I wish you well!

  5. Floss your tattoo is beautiful! My mom would say the same as yours if I did that for her. 🙂
    I’m so very sorry that you lost your mum so early. I dread the day I have to go through it. You and Rebel are both very brave and strong for sharing your grief and dealings with that grief. BIG ((HUGS))! xx <3

  6. Thank you for allowing us to read such personal thoughts, I can’t imagine how painful it must have been to write. I love your tattoo and it’s a wonderful tribute.

  7. I wonder if you cried while writing this – I cried while reading it – for so many reasons. One was I wanted to hug that 25-year-old girl and felt very maternal towards you. Another reason is cause the loss of my Mum still haunts me too – I wrote a little about her a few months ago and did feel a bit kinda liberated after sharing it on my blog – hope this helps you in that way xx

  8. I cried at this for many reasons, my mum is still here but not as I’d wish her to be. A loss of sorts, but it the same. It gives me a lot to think about, and more tears, thank you for sharing xxx

  9. A very moving piece of writing Floss. It touched me very much indeed. I have never really thought about grief as it doesn’t seem to have affected me but sometimes I wonder why I have not felt it. I do wonder about tattoos though and the way you described the process of the one on your back was very enlghtening to me. My daughter has quite a few tattoos and I often wonder why but we have never talked about them. She always keeps them hidden. Thank you for writing this Floss. x

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