I didn’t think I would ever have a tattoo. The very thought scared me. Once I planned to get one and pulled my sisters along for support only to leave the tattoo parlor without a tattoo while my support system each left with one. I just wasn’t ready.
But then….my mom died and the thought of a tattoo in her honor started to make sense.
I am not sure what my hesitation was, maybe the fact that I was told my whole life that they were “wrong”, or maybe that I was worried I would be judged as a rebel or bad person, or maybe it was the permanency. Probably all of that together. Slowly though, my hesitation started to pass and I thought of a tattoo more and more and the fear of judgment less and less.
In my typical approach to most things in life I started to do my research. Where did the idea of a tattoo really come from? Why is it considered such a rebellious culture? Here is what I found.
Tattoos have been found on mummies over 8000 years old. The tattoos helped historians as they worked to identify where the mummy actually came from. They were able to identify consistencies in the tattoos to place a specific mummy with a group of his own. Even older there have been statues and even possible tattoo tools that point to an even earlier beginning.
The word Tattoo comes from 1776 Tahiti where islanders “painted” their bodies and returning English travelers brought the word and the permanent ink back with them. The Art of Tattooing found itself in the Victorian High Society.
Tattooing continued through history, sometimes revered and at other times considered “risky” or “rebellious” behavior. It continued strongly within travelers, researchers, and military as representations of where they had been, what they had done, and who they were. Sailors often were tattooed with an anchor to represent their time at sea. Crusaders were tattooed with a cross in order to ensure they were returned home and given a proper burial. This was consistent with other warriors, fighters and travelers throughout time.
The negative history is also there too. Although the Biblical reference is not originally for the tattoos as they are today-there are many dark stories. Throughout history many groups have had tattoos forced upon them, most memorably Nazi Concentration camps. The numbers were used as the identification for the wearer. As negative as this history is, many survivors now wear their tattoos as a badge of honor and strength. Family member descendents have even been noted to copy the number upon their own body as a show of support, strength , and honor.
The common thread through time is that tattoos show where a person belongs.
I know where I belong. I feel it in my heart. I know my family and my history. I am now the mother of my own family that will continue to grow and move down the line.
I can hug my father, can hold his hand and feel that connection. The world can see where I come from as my father and I stand side by side. But, as I reach to the other side for my mother-I find myself flailing. I needed that connection. It was for me.
My sisters and I made a plan. We found the best tattoo artist, and sent a few things over. The necklace she had given us prior to her passing-angel wings. The colors from a card she has sent that told us we mattered. Most importantly, a copy of her writing saying “I love you, Mom.” He placed them, perfectly on our shoulders and we now have this common mark. A description of where we come from. Of who we are.
If you ever consider a tattoo, I wouldn’t advise you to take the approach I did. It really is just a tattoo. If you want one, do it. If not, don’t.
As my Tattoo Artist said, “Every Tattoo is a story-a memory. Even the bad ones.”
I wish I had more memories with my mom-years more. I miss her everyday.
That is my tattoo story. Every one has one. I am reminded of this more and more as I look at others and their stories upon their skin.
For you mom. I love you too!