Ink Therapy: How Tattoos Helped Me Grieve

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Tattoo parlors are filled with people addicted to ink. Some love the artistic expression, while others aim to brand themselves with a mantra or positive saying. Like me, many use tattoos as a form of therapy, a symbol of a trauma combined with the spirit of hope and continuation.

When my dad died in 2006, I brought up the idea of a tribute tattoo to my mom. She questioned why I would “mark up my body,” and she assertively objected. My Jamaican upbringing taught me that I’ll always be a child, regardless of age, in my parents’ eyes. My obedience was dutiful and unwavering, even as a grown woman. So, that was the end of that.

This past spring, my mother passed away, and I became an adult orphan, intensifying my desire for memorandum ink. I desperately wanted to pay homage to my parents through body art, so I took the leap and got addicted. Five tattoos later, I often joke, “Mom and Dad wouldn’t approve, but they left me, and I have to cope!”

As the saying goes, there is truth in jest. I’m open about my battle with depression, which started when my mom was in hospice. Using a proactive combination of therapy, journaling, meditation, anti-depressants, and adopting a dog as tools to combat grief,

This semi-colon heart is on my back as a symbol that love continues

I still felt like something was missing. I needed a daily physical representation of my love for my parents, symbols that they will always be a part of me.

My first two tattoos were repeating numbers because my parents believed good things came in 3’s. A series of 7s are on my left hand, a tribute to my father; 11 repeats on my right hand for my mother. Not only were these their favorite numbers, but I learned many other connections through research. Layla Moon’s book, The Magic of Angel Numbers, taught me about numerology, sequence arrangement, and divine synchronicity.

Repeating angel numbers representing enlightenment, strength, and positivity

Drawn from Hebrew mysticism, Kabbalah numerology focuses on the mind and soul, revealing inner purpose and destiny. 7 represents spiritual enlightenment and advice, which connects to my father, who was a pastor and mental health counselor. My dad called 7, his “power number,” and my parents’ anniversary was December 7th. There are a plethora of inside jokes and family stories that revolve around the number 7; it was the perfect choice to honor him.

The repetition of the number 11 has been described as a thumbs-up from the universe and encouragement to stay positive. My mom texted “I love you” daily at 11:11 to my siblings and me, a tradition we continued after she passed away. She died on April 11th, the same day her favorite brother died two years earlier. Inspired by Vedic numerology, Chaldean numerology is based on vibrations we send into the universe. 11 symbolizes an inherent leader, a perfect representation of my mother, who was a high school assistant principal and whose footsteps I continue to walk in.

The placement of these repeating numbers makes them visible when I pray. They remind me to thank God for the gift of my parents and their love. When I’m frustrated, I gently stroke 7-7-7 to help calm me as I channel my dad’s gentle, patient spirit. If I doubt myself or begin negative self-talk, I look at 11-11-11 and remember I am capable, worthy, and a natural leader like my mom.

tattoo
My kids love getting “Heaven Hugs” from their grandparents.

Those reminders felt so good that I returned a few weeks later for more ink. Transferred from birthday cards, I have my parents’ handwriting on my forearms. Dad’s beautiful calligraphy tells me, “I love you dear always,” and Mom’s graceful cursive manuscript reminds me,” I will love you forever.” My three-year-old, Aria, often asks for “Heaven Hugs” as she wraps herself in her grandparents’ words, transferring their love into her precious little heart.

I believe that the spirits of our ancestors and babies meet in Heaven before they are born. My heart is full thinking of my dad knowing and loving my children despite not meeting them on earth. My mom was very present in their lives and showed her love daily. They miss her, but she lives on through stories, videos, and photos.

Whether I attempt to embody their characteristics by tracing angel numbers or give a “Heaven Hug” to their grandkids, my parents are with me daily: mind, body, and soul. My ink has been a powerful source of comfort, a tribute to my amazing parents whose guidance and love continue to shape me. I’m dealing with grief the best way I can and am very grateful for the tattoo therapy that has helped ease my pain.

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