When you lose someone you will never forget, ink them into your skin as a permanent memorial. A remembrance tattoo is testament to an unbreakable bond, to a love and reverence outsized enough to merit a big gesture.
Many people choose traditional tattoo designs to convey their love and remembrance. Ideas include the following:
A heart with a banner that says MOM, flanked by a profusion of red roses in full bloom - this is a classic tribute to your mother.
A "Daddy's Girl" legend under the silhouette of a man and child walking away also shows a parental tribute to a loving father, or a simple "In Loving Memory" with "Dad" in the center, surrounded by angel wings and clouds.
Portraits, copied from photographs, are usually inked in shaded black tones and captioned with a name along with birth and death dates.
R.I.P. with your loved one's name, a heart pierced by a sword, an angel with open wings over the birth and death dates of the deceased, or a religious figure, such as a Sacred Heart - all of these are solemn, respectful and evocative.
Your selected memorial tattoo is as singular as your relationship with the deceased. Think carefully about the image or words to evoke the joy of knowing that person, and your sorrow at their departure. Something as intimate as a tiny ladybug on the inside of your wrist, or as unmistakable as Juliet's speech about Romeo ("When he shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, And he will make the face of heaven so fine…") occupying center stage on your back, should reflect the nature of your bond and the essence of the one you miss.
Broken in Pieces
When your world is fragmented, capture the disappearing fragments. When your heart is broken, wear a broken heart.
A heart-shaped jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing for every absent person sits over the legend: You will always hold a piece of my heart. The missing pieces are scattered around, each with a name written on it.
A feather quill, inscribing the name in script - with or without the birth and death dates - dissolves into a flight of birds winging heavenward.
A simple black dandelion puff flies apart in a breeze, its delicate seeds like tiny stars, the birth and death dates incorporated in the lines of the curving stem.
Don't confine your memorial tattoo to one body part, or one body. Tattoos that unfold like a story take up more space. Hands joined in prayer is a common memorial tattoo, often with a rosary wrapped around them and a swirly name and date, flowers or religious icons to complete the image. A different approach, however, is to use the outside edges of your own hands for the tattoo. Consider the following special remembrance tattoo idea:
On the right hand, the legend reads, "No regrets," on the left hand, "Only memories." When your hands are in Namaste or prayer position, the entire quote is visible.
An idea for remembering two parents is to have signatures tattooed on each hand, a beautiful permanent reminder of a mother's and father's love.
The protected inside of one arm displays an illustration of a child in the wind with an upraised hand reaching for an escaped balloon. On the other inner arm, the balloon is flying away, over a banner with the word "Dad" and the death date.
One shoulder bears the photographic portrait of the deceased. The other shoulder is the same face painted in elaborate Day of the Dead makeup.
Siblings organize a memorial to a missing family member by arranging for segments of the same elaborate tattoo to be inked across their upper arms. Each gets part of the panorama, on the same side of the body - all left or all right. When they stand together, the entire picture is revealed.
That special person was unique in all the world - dedicated to a profession, happiest on his Harley, passionate about saving a species, or the best cupcake baker on the planet. Ink that into your memorial tat.
A symbol or shield of the job, such as the NYFD official shield, evokes the excellence and identity of one of New York's bravest firefighters. Work the person's name and dates into the design of the shield.
The portrait of a horse trainer or a first responder in action is what their life was about. Show the deputy saving a child from a disaster, or the horse whisperer at the track with her prize mount.
Sketch the beloved's pampered bike roaring off riderless with wings for handlebars, the name of the deceased and the dates swirling in the exhaust.
Tuck a chocolate-dipped madeleine into the memorial of hearts and flowers for the brilliant pastry chef who's left your life.
The symbology of death differs from age to age and culture to culture. Link the deceased with her heritage or choose a recognizable icon of graves and graveyards.
Dedicate an entire shoulder and upper arm to an intricate copy of a Mayan, Aztec or Egyptian death carving or tomb ornament. Work the deceased's name and dates into the design. This approach complements dramatic tribal tats when limited to all-black.
Instruct your tattoo artist to draw a gravestone with the name and dates - and the marble figure of the winged angel that belongs on the monument, crumpled over it, weeping in grief.
Transpose the lineage recorded in the family Bible into another powerful symbol to memorialize lost family members. A graceful but leafless branching tree becomes your family tree when each bare branch holds the delicate lettering of a name and birth and death dates. The shape works on a leg or arm, or across the whole back.
Record a favorite saying you miss hearing, a meaningful quote that always reminds you of your departed friend, love or dear one. Just ink the words, or make them part of a theme - flowers, religious icons, or a place you shared beautiful times in. A band of script around your wrist or ankle, a line of quote scrolled up your inner arm, a poetic fragment on your shoulder blade - these are powerful tributes to someone you won't forget. Borrow from these short sayings or mine your memory for words of meaning.
To hold, you must first open your hand. Let go. - Lao Tzu
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Your affection was deep and quiet, your mourning is the same. A tattoo of remembrance doesn't have to be showy, large, or multicolored. Try a dainty, small reminder on the inside of your wrist, under your ear, just at the nape of your neck, or on your ankle. Here are some simple subjects that may be rendered in soft color or black and gray to capture the mix of joy and sorrow.
A scattering of small stars
The person's signature, tattooed on your skin
A miniature blackbird on the wing
Inky infant footprints for a baby who didn't live long enough
A delicate stylized butterfly with the person's name incorporated into the wings
Ideas for a Remembrance
Images to inspire you:
Tat Ring: Tat Ring has a collection of symbolic tats and portraits.
Slo Dive: Slo Dive features R.I.P. designs with a twist.
Kool Tattoo Ideas: Kool Tattoo Ideas displays photographs of memorial quotes, some with related art.
Tattoo Magazine: Tattoo Magazine showcases a wide spectrum of memorial ink approaches.
Designzzz: Designzzz collects 50 tats with good placement ideas, including several dramatic full backs.
Modern Loss: Modern Loss has really unusual remembrance tats, great for sparking ideas.
Remembrance tattoos that are there for you go where you can see them - on the front of your torso, your arms, legs, feet, hands, over your heart.
An elaborate memorial may require the major real estate of a full back, lower back, whole chest, full leg or sleeve.
Black and gray portraits are commonly placed on the upper arm but may be part of a back, shoulder or chest tat.
Tiny tats that just trigger your memory belong on your finger, hand, wrist, inner arm, neck, behind the ear or at the ankle.
A tribute tat is probably the most significant ink you will get. Take the time to find the right artists for such an important job. A fine illustrator, an expert at lettering, a highly recommended portraitist - each has a specialty and there is one who will give your remembrance tat the love and artistry it needs. Check and double check names and numbers before the ink goes in. Have a literate friend look at the spelling. Find a photograph that is clear and captures a look that is dear to you for the artist to copy. You keep a little bit of your beloved alive in your own skin with memorial ink. Honor them with the care you take in getting it right.