Memorial tattoos: Wearing your heart on your sleeve

A collection of memorial tattoos showing how people remember loved ones through body art is being taken on a provincial tour.

Grenfell exhibit 'a permanent reminder' of loved ones

One of the tattoos on display as part of the "It just brings me closer" exhibit. (Jennifer Buckle)

An exhibit by two Corner Brook psychology professors shows how people are wearing their heart on their sleeves — and that's not all — when it comes to using body art to remember lost loved ones.

"It Just Brings Me Closer": Reflections on Memorial Tattoos, a collection of photographs of 26 memorial tattoos that began as a research project, is now on a tour across Newfoundland and Labrador. 

"A memorial tattoo is a tattoo that somebody gets in remembrance of a lost loved one, to remember that loved one, or to mark their passing or to remember the relationship that the person had with that loved one,"  said Jennifer Buckle, who works at the Grenfell campus of Memorial University.

Buckle and her research partner Sonya Corbin Dwyer have an expertise in death, dying and grief counselling.

Psychology professor Jennifer Buckle says the memorial tattoos are a permanent reminder of our relationships with lost loved ones. (Grenfell College)

When they asked for volunteers to share their tattoos and personal stories, they were overwhelmed by people.

"Quotes, song lyrics, symbols, portraits, numbers. I would say, that for the most part, you would probably see one of those tattoos and not know that it was a memorial tattoo until probably you asked the person," said Corbin Dwyer.

The tattoos are a comfort, she said.

"This represents taking the person, or the loved one, sometimes its a pet, with them as well wherever they go. It's a permanent reminder they can look at each and every day." 

Buckle said some of the tattoos are unusual.

Sonya Corbin Dwyer says the researchers were overwhelmed by people who wanted to share their tattoos and their stories. (Grenfell College)

One person had a portrait of a much loved grandfather: "a very detailed drawing of the man."

And there's a tattoo of a dog's paw print. Buckle said, "where the companion animal used to step on the body."

The tattoos have been on display in Stephenville and Grand Falls-Windsor. The exhibit will then move to the Arts and Culture Centre in Gander from Nov. 22 to Dec. 16 before going to Labrador, and then to St. John's in 2016.    

"We always have an ongoing connection with our loved ones, even after our loved ones have passed," said Buckle.

"So the memorial tattoo becomes a reminder of that ongoing connection — not that it's an open wound, that there's grieving and pain all the time — but that it brings comfort … a remembrance of that special relationship."

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