Monthly Archives: July 2014

Meaning Behind the Art – 3

tattoo by Laely ear          Grief introduces heart pain at an entirely new level. The finality of death carves out a huge hole in the heart that can physically ache. Just as loss of a close loved one tattoos grief on the heart, some teens choose to display it as body art. Both tattoos and grief are permanent. Yes, they both may hidden, but both become part of the teen’s identity and leave a lasting mark. Both have a story to tell.  Grief changes people, a tattoo can mark that change.

  “My emotional world changed forever last summer. Now, my body has changed forever, too. I wear my tattoos proudly, symbols of my mom’s pain, of the strength she had to muster, of the catharsis I sought in the first year I’ve spent without her.” Cara.

“Getting memorial tattoos is often a ritual. We know about the importance of rituals in grief work. Many folks go to the tattoo parlor with friends or family which builds the sense of community. Just as grief hurts, getting a tattoo is physically painful. In time grief softens but it is always a part of you. Tattoos itch and burn as they heal. The skin softens. The healing of the tattoo is a process just like grief. And when a tattoo is healed, it becomes a part of you.  The tattoo is a symbol of the continuing bond the bereaved has with the deceased.  The deceased not only lives on in the griever’s heart but also on their skin.

            Memorials tattoos can play an important part in the grief process. They open up the conversation to telling the story. Tattoos mark the change that has occurred, give voice to the loss and help maintain a continuing bond.”  Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center Blog. By Dscowan. June 10, 2013 Hospice of the Western Reserve

The tattoo of grief holds deep meaning, it becomes part of the identity, and it will soften over time and is permanent, though the intense feelings are temporary. Just as the grief itself holds deep meaning, and though permanent, its intensity fades into part of the art of who the teen is and will be for the rest of their lives.

Meaning Behind the Art – 2

Tattoo - Chris Kramer  I wanted to hear other teens’ stories and how they kept their       memories alive. These teens are my experts. They experienced grief firsthand, giving me an insider’s look at teen grief. After hearing a dozen stories, I started seeing a common thread. Many of the grieving teens had gotten tattoos in memory of the loved one who had died.
As I researched tattoos, I learned that 36% of 18-26 year olds have at least one tattoo ( 2013). That number astounded me; it means over 1/3 of the young adults we come in contact with each day have at least one tattoo, at least one. Tattoos seem to cross all cultural lines. This means rich kids and poor kids, boys and girls, city and rural kids.  Why? What is the pull? I believe some of the reason is  remembering an important event. Many of those tattoos are memorials. Memorials of loved ones who have died, periods of their lives which are now past, places or people they had to leave behind, memorials. The pain in getting a tattoo is miniscule compared to the pain of grief they were walking through.
“All my tattoos are memories.” John, age 24
Grief tattoos itself onto a teen’s heart, searing its mark into his or her very being. For a teen the mark is deep, partially due to a teenager’s typical unfamiliarity with traumatic events, their still developing brain, hormone flux, and partly due to a teen’s lack of coping mechanisms. The way a death brings life to a standstill is in sharp contrast to the normal busyness of their lives.
Tattoos are personal; they become a part of a teen’s identity. The story behind a tattoo is invisible to the person who passes by on the street. Even for the basketball stars who have body art covering their entire bodies, the meaning is “invisible” to the spectators because it is the player’s story, their memories in art. Tattoos become a part of someone’s identity like’ Birdman’ Chris Anderson who plays for the Miami Heat basketball team. His tattoos have become part of his identity.
Most people with tattoos enjoy telling the stories that inspired them. Some people get tattoos so that people will ask about them; they want to tell their stories, though sadly most people won’t take the time to listen.




Meaning behind the ART

tattoo - Chelsea           Amie stood quietly in my kitchen as I visited with her friend   Chelsea. Chelsea had stopped by to drop something off on their way to enjoy a weekend of camping. It was a warm day for the mountains of Colorado, so seeing girls in tank tops and shorts was not out of the ordinary. What was out of the ordinary was the beautiful body art Amie had that draped over the top of her left shoulder: the face of a fox, a colorful bird, and the face of a woman interwoven with many smaller designs.

I just had to comment: “Amie, your tattoo is beautiful,” I said.

“It is my life journey,” was her subdued reply.

Now I was really curious, but she brought the conversation to a quick end: “It is rather long and we don’t have time right now.” She glanced at Chelsea and smiled gently, trying to nudge her friend to wrap up the conversation. I got the hint, but it made me think, I bet most tattoos do have stories behind them.

After my children’s deaths, I have worked at keeping in touch with my kids’ friends, and some of them have put forth the effort to keep up with me. About a year ago I began hearing about tattoos these kids were getting, and I began to ask them about their tattoos. “It helps me remember that there is always hope,” Chelsea told me in explanation of her “HOPE” tattoo on the inside of her wrist… to be continued…

Express or Explode?

Teen Acquainted with Grief - girlWhen teens experience the death of a close friend this death may be felt as deeply and sometimes even deeper than the death of a family member. Teens often spend more time with their peers making those relationships close. Each relationship was unique so you cannot expect grief be the same. Grief doesn’t make sense; sometimes they may feel disconnected, like a third party watching from a distance or the mind can be in hyper-drive but unable to connect thoughts.

Everyone will walk through sorrow in different ways at varying speeds and depths of feeling. The important focus is to go through it, not around it, by avoiding or numbing the feelings through self-medication of drugs or alcohol.

“I felt that if I kept my feelings all bottled up, the feelings I was having would be 10 times worse. I tried to keep things held inside, but when I did break down after trying that, it was so much worse than when I was open about my loss. One thing I did to express my pain was to journal…and some of those words became songs. Music has been therapy to me.” Katie age 15

Feelings need to somehow get expressed. Expression of those feelings may take the form of written, drawn, or spoken words but for some the feelings need to be put into action. This can be done with dance, hiking, running, just to name a few. Grief that is not expressed cannot heal. Bottled up or buried grief may show its self in anger or bitterness which can be harmful to them and others. Teens need to be encouraged to be bold enough to share their feelings in a way most comfortable for them.

Do you express or explode?

Excerpt from TATTOOED by Grief copyright Cari Zorno 2014

“No One Understands!”

We who have spent any time with teens have heard the words “No one understands!”. Most of us have even said it but in the instance of grief those words have a reverberating ring of truth. No one does understand. Grieving the death of a grandparent, or a pet is done at a different level than grieving the death of a family member or close friend.

            “Friends my age didn’t know what to say. Some related the experience to losing a family pet, which just made me mad. Other people would tell me I needed to move on because it happened a long time ago. Of course my family and people who knew my brother John, like his girlfriend, would pray for me and could understand my feelings.” Ashley

The closest anyone can come to understanding is when they have experienced a loss at the same depth. Even then we do not truly understand because of the uniqueness of grief but it is then that you “get it”.   We “get” the crazy feelings, numbness, and feeling lost. We get the pain. There on commonalities in the experience but it is not the same. This is because we are all created as individuals.

When a loved one or close friend dies it is the end of a relationship. Since each relationship is unique each loss is unique. When a family member dies each member of that family will grieve uniquely to them as a person and to their relationship with the deceased.

Personality types respond differently under the stress of grief. Extroverts who are stressed tend to pull inward and become uncharacteristically quiet. A person who is sullen and detached, might be an extrovert under stress. Introverts who are stressed tend to “lash out” or “freak out”.

How do you deal with loss? What makes your loss unique?

Excerpt from TATTOOED by grief copyright Cari Zorno 2014