A few days ago, I was finally able to end a one year and seven-month process of getting a large tattoo on my left shoulder blade. Of course, that isn’t the interesting part- the process is. Before I dive into that, I need to tell the story behind the ink.
Growing up, my older brother was my best friend in the world. We did everything together, and as we grew older, we remained close friends. I hung out with him more than anyone else, and I always took comfort in knowing that he’d always have my back. But I was wrong. When I was 13, I lost him. My best friend in the whole world died at 17 from suicide. To this day, that remains one of the two hardest things I have ever had to go through. But after that fateful night, I thought that I would never have to go through something that again. I never thought that I would feel that monumental pain a second time, because who goes through something like that twice?
But then seven years later, it did happen again. I was always really close to my uncle in a way most people aren’t. We were very close in age, which helped make us really close in life. Growing up, my older brother, my uncle, and I would have sleepovers, go joy riding, and a million other things together. My uncle had a personality like no other; he could make me laugh in a way no one else could, but he also was the most compassionate person I’ve ever known. One night, he was a one car accident that was bad enough to make the news. His car caught fire with him trapped inside, leaving him with third and fourth degree burns on several different parts of his body and a list of injuries a mile long. After a month of hospital visits, and him going through surgery after surgery, his heart gave out before he was ever woken out of his coma. At 20, I never thought this would be a place I’d be again- this time with my 27-year-old uncle.
Not only did I feel this new grief from losing my uncle, but I also found feelings that I had long buried forcing themselves to the forefront of my mind from losing my brother. It was a grief like none other, and I didn’t think I would ever get through it. In nearly nine years, not has a day has gone by that I haven’t thought of my brother. The same has been true for the past year and half for my uncle. I miss them every single day, and some days the pain is so bad I can barely stand it. I have an emptiness inside me that I know will never be filled, but I did find a way to make the pain a little more bearable.
About a month after I lost my uncle, I started getting ideas for an art piece. Art had always been a way from me to release my emotions, and this was no different. I decided to make this piece into a tattoo as a way to carry the two of them with me. One night in early July, I drew my first sketch for my tattoo idea.
Every Rose Has Its Thorn by Poison was my brother’s funeral song. He had told us a few months before that it was his favorite, and while the song is about a broken relationship, parts of the lyrics seemed to fit the situation. If I Could Turn Back Time by Cher was my uncle’s funeral song. He was a huge Cher fan, and this song just felt right. It was one of her most iconic songs, and again, some of the lyrics seemed to fit the situation we were all in. While I liked the sketch, it still didn’t feel right. After many conversations with my best friend, who was so unbelievably amazing while I went through everything with my uncle and played a HUGE role in this process, she suggested I put the rose inside the hourglass. After many attempts, I came up with my final sketch for my tattoo in August.
I contacted a place not too far from where I lived to set up a time to get my tattoo. It was my 21st birthday present to myself. I sent them my sketch, and a few days later my best friend and I (plus one more) made the trip in late January. After two hours of him sketching and tattooing, I had an outline done. He told me it would need three weeks to heal, and then I could get the rest done.
I stared at that outline in the mirror a lot, especially when I really missed them. As much as I wanted to finish it, it took me a long time to actually do it. But over a year later, in late March, I finally did. I went to a different person for the shading, and it was the best tattoo experience I ever had. She did a beautiful job, and it turned out so much better than I could have ever imagined.
When I finally got home after work that night, I started at it in the mirror for what seemed like hours. And for the first time in a long time, I let myself cry. I cried for how much I missed them. I cried for everything I had lost. I cried for the emptiness I feel inside me every moment of every day. I cried for all the moments I will never get; memories I will never get to make. I cried for the unfairness of it all. I cried for the person I used to be before; the person I had left behind. I cried for my family, and all the pain we’ve had to endure. I cried for all the people who lose the ones they love. I cried for everything they had missed. I cried for all the good times we had had. I cried for all the memories we had made. I cried for the people they had been and the people they’d never get to be. I cried for them and I cried for me.
When you lose someone you love, that love doesn’t die with them. It lives on inside you in a very different way. It stays with you wrapped in pain and loss. There are days where the pain is manageable and days where it takes your breath away. But days when I miss them more than usual, I can look at this tattoo. It is a way to carry them with me wherever I go, but also serves as a reminder of all the happy memories. I wouldn’t trade the short time I had with them for anything in the world. Even if I knew how it would all end, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again.