It’s just a tattoo

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)

That’s how the light gets in

                                              Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”                      



I don’t remember exactly when I decided to get one. After Kate died, I didn’t want to decide anything – not dinner, not whether the other girls needed a bath that night…certainly not anything big like moving out of that sacredly painful house like my husband was hell-bent on doing, as soon as physically and financially possible. The preschool moms provided dinners for weeks – food would just magically appear in the blue igloo cooler on my porch – no awkward thank yous or conversations necessary – it was a godsend. Some even included trinkets and gifts for the girls – another gift for me, as I did not have to help them decide what to play next.

But early on I did make one decision: if I couldn’t hold her in my arms, I would have a tattoo to memorialize the spot on my inner wrist where I cradled her head, where I physically held her body. It was also a place that felt exposed and vulnerable; a place where I can witness my life’s blood seemingly at the surface of my body, yet perceive the strength with which my own body wraps around itself, protecting and shielding.

Tattoos were not a “thing” then, a fad that have now become commonplace. I cannot remember what it was that inspired that decision; only that once I had decided, it would someday be. As a teenager, I always said I’d never get a tattoo unless it was something I loved so fervently, so passionately that I’d want it on my body for the rest of my life. Even with my decision made, this mantra, I found, was unchanged. And so 10 years passed with the decision made, yet no action. Around the 10-year anniversary of Kate’s death, I asked a beloved and talented friend if she would help me create this art for my body.

I knew I wanted to incorporate Kate’s name or initials, and I thought I wanted to incorporate a butterfly since that was such an important part of my recovery process (as if it’s a process that will ever end…). I did not, however, want a typical tattoo – an overt butterfly or obvious text. I’m still unwrapping my feelings on this, but from what I can observe so far, I wanted a symbol – a subtle story told with delicate lines and curves, an invitation to remember and retell, an opportunity to reconnect and feel. I wanted softness because she was soft and I am vulnerable. I wanted angles because I do not choose hard turns in my life, but they often choose me and what I do with those, often alter the trajectory of a life, of my story.

just a tattoo

just a tattoo

My sister told me I was brave. It occurred to me as I read her text that I was not only brave to willingly choose to encounter the physical pain, but that I am brave everyday I wear this tattoo – I offer my story to whomever may ask. I am brave because there will be days and times that I don’t want to walk down that specific road, but may have to anyway. I already experience this with family and friends who share this story, but now it’s an open invitation. And so I accept my sister’s wise acknowledgement – I am brave.

I am brave because I don’t tuck my girl in a box of photos and memories. I am brave because in tasting the sweet, I will forever taste the bitter, yet I still choose to partake in the meal. I am brave because I want to be open, be vulnerable, be real – and not be safe. I don’t believe I was put here on this Earth to just play it safe – although that would usually be my first choice, to be honest. But when I was at my emptiest, I was filled – just like the blue igloo cooler. I didn’t ask; I didn’t decide; I just simply received.

For Christmas this year, I gifted my family members jewelry made using a Japanese technique called “Kintsugi.” In this process, broken pottery is made whole again with gold – making the item stronger, more beautiful, and more valuable than when it was in its original form. This metaphor speaks loudly to my heart and my experience. Whether it’s pain, grief, failure, loss, or whatever makes us broken, it is in the long practice of healing and honoring that brokenness that we become better and stronger than before. But we are not mended to sit on a shelf and look pretty. My calling is to be a vessel of humble love and honesty – through my words here and my physical self out in the world – and share my self and Kate’s light from my broken, yet resilient vessel.

My decision – my tattoo – is my rebel cry of hope. Against my safe tendencies, against what this world often offers, against lies and avoidance…I say “no.” And I open my hands and offer my brave, vulnerable, humble kintsugi self.

just a tattoo

just a tattoo

2 Responses to “It’s just a tattoo”

  1. Mike Baker says on :

    HI Becky,

    I don’t know if I ever told you this, but I thought of you while remembering something I read in a book written by a guy who had lost his only daughter, and then his wife about a year later. At the end of the book which was gut-wrenching in parts as expected, he said something that I found to be a wonderful perspective. He said if that all of his grief and all of his pain at losing his family was the price he had to pay to have had the privilege of knowing them and loving them, then he would gladly pay it tenfold. I just found that to be a startling perspective to be able to reach through all of the grief.

    Your sister is right, you are brave.


  2. LilBS says on :

    Thanks, Mike! I definitely share this perspective. There was a shocking (to say the least) moment the night Kate died where I felt such joy at having gotten to be her mom – it was this rush of gratefulness in the middle of such pain and crap… It’s definitely a balance and often a choice to decide through which lens I view the loss. Thanks for reaching out – love you! 🙂

Leave a Reply