So I got a couple tattoos, in my friend's basement, from a guy named "Sweet Ass Lew"- that's how most really drunken stories begin. But I promise you, I was completely sober.
I never understood why someone would get a tattoo in honor of a loved one that passed away. The cynical side of me thought "If you wouldn't get a tattoo for them while they were alive why would you get one just because they are dead?" - and then my Dad died, and I was reminded for about the 30th time in my life not to judge other people's decisions when you haven't been in their shoes, especially when it involves grief. Specifically when it involves grief.
My Dad died 15 months ago. I miss him every damn day. Sometimes I find myself streaked with jealousy and anger. Envy of other people who still have their Dad, or kids who still have their Grandpa. Grief can be very ugly sometimes.
The line between happiness and sadness is a thin one during the Holidays. We just sort of put our heads down and barrel through it the best we can. And I'm not just throwing a pity party for myself, my husband is hurting too. He has lost both of his parents very close together and he was just as close to his parents as I am mine.
Just losing one parent can be a huge blast to a little family. If you're counting, we lost 3 of our 4 parents in 4 years. My kids lost 3 of their 4 grandparents in 4 years. Somehow by the grace of God, we're still standing.
When you miss someone so horribly you will do anything to feel close to them. At times when the grief is too strangling, I'll go sit on the wooden swing he built in my backyard. If that doesn't help I'll listen to this song, sleep in one of his old Duck Dynasty shirts, smell one of his old jackets. Last month I found myself pacing the Christmas aisle at Target. My eyes staring and searching. My heart begging for an ornament to jump out and remind me of Dad.
Because your head knows they are gone, but your heart- your broken shattered heart- is desperate to feel like they are still close to you.
I've known for a long time that I wanted to get a tattoo to honor both of my incredible parents, and I knew I wanted it to be something personal, like their handwriting. Finding Mom's would be easy. After all, Moms do all the writing right? They fill out the birthday cards, send the college care packages, etc. The most handwriting I have from my Dad is a diagram of how to find the oil filter under my old Saturn.
I searched every box and album I had at my house and my mom's house and came up with nothing. I looked all summer long and came up empty handed, so I thought my idea would just live forever in my head.
Then, last month I had to dig up my original birth certificate to get a passport made and my mom pulled out a box I hadn't seen before. It was in the bottom of her closet and was somehow overlooked. I opened the lid and the first thing I pulled out was an old, yellowed Christmas Card that my Dad had written to me when I was a little girl. He signed it:
"Be good for Santa! I love you, Daddy" -
I tucked it in my purse and did the ugly cry the whole way home. Not only did I find exactly what I'd been looking for, but I found something he would always, always tell me. "Be Good," he would mumble as me and my teenage girlfriends we're flying out the front door for a night on the town. "Have Fun," my mom would call out, much louder than him, as we peeled out of the driveway.
And so this is what remains. two phrases, from two very different parents, with equal gigantic amounts of love etched in my heart forever. Now they are etched into my skin too, and when the grief is too much to handle I can look down and remember the words they wrote for me.
I know 30 years down the road, when I'm an old lady, nearly 70 years old. No matter how long it's been since I've seen my parents, hugged them, or talked to them, I can look down at my wrinkly old wrists and feel like they are right there with me and know that in my heart I will see them again and one day we will all be together as a family again.
Oh, and "Sweet Ass Lew" is actually an incredibly talented tattoo artist in New York, he happens to be married to one of my oldest, dearest friends and they were in town for New Years :) So we hung out in her mom's basement Friday and he hooked me up. I will be forever thankful Lewie, you're pretty awesome.