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Why I chose to get a Tattoo later in life

Updated on December 26, 2015
HealthbyMartha profile image

I'm a Certified Health Coach who wants to help you create the best balance of spiritual, physical and mental health that is possible.

Kissing Dolphins and other Memories

I am a Health Coach and thus, most of my Blogs so far have been in the vein of helping others to find and create their own best health and life balance. I want to continue to write blogs in this vein, but I also am wishing to expand my horizons a bit and write from a different angle.

I am writing this particular blog today as more of a vignette in recalling a time and place and how it has led to the decision to get a tattoo.

In 1996 I was dating the man who would become my husband 5 years later. He was a physician and was going to attend a medical conference for continuing education in Maui, Hawaii that July. He invited me to join him and of course I leapt at the opportunity! I had not as yet been to Hawaii and of course was delighted to be able to spend a week in Maui with my boyfriend.

Prior to leaving on the trip a coworker of ours shared a book of an artist named Wyland who is a muralist, sculptor and artist of aquatic themes. He has many art galleries throughout California, but also has one in Lahaina, Maui. I remember my boyfriend and I sitting together on the balcony of his apartment looking at the pictures in the book and falling in love with the artist's works. We both decided to make visiting his gallery in Lahaina a goal during our week in Maui.

We made good on that decision and visited Lahaina within the first few days after arriving. We loved the gallery and fell in love with the art work of this prolific artist! I remember even now that while we were in the gallery the album "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John was playing and we were humming along and enjoying ourselves immensely. We decided to not purchase anything on our first visit, but planned to return and buy something for ourselves before we came back to our homes.

We both were very fond of dolphins and one of the pieces we admired especially was called "Kissing Dolphins". We did purchase a square tile of Kissing Dolphins, as well as a print of "Mermaid Dreams" before returning home. And, on our last evening in Maui, we also bought a CD of Goodbye Yellowbrick Road. We had fallen in love not only with Wyland and his gallery but of Lahaina as well and the CD had become the soundtrack for our many visits to the island and it's wonders.

In 1996 it was still eight years away from when I finally decided to get a tattoo, but the seed had been planted.

Body Art as a Time Capsule

I had never considered myself a person who would ever get a tattoo. I had my ears pierced at age fourteen and again in my early twenties. I got the upper ear in the cartilage pierced in my mid thirties and that was a bit avant garde at the time and about as adventurous as I felt I would ever be.

But, life is what happens when we are busy making other plans, as John Lennon said. And I could not possibly have foreseen the ways in which my life was going to change.

My boyfriend of 1996 became my husband in 2001, but sadly at the same time he was also diagnosed as terminally ill with cancer. And, in 2002, just thirteen months after our marriage he lost his fight with cancer and he died.

To say that his death left me bereft is a gross understatement! I felt lost and like life had lost all meaning. Of course, I grieved and I got on with the business of living my life.

In the year 2004 I graduated from an LPN to RN program. My late husband had encouraged me to continue my education after his death as he felt strongly that I had the talent to work as an RN and beyond my previous duties.

I had several celebrations that summer to mark the completion of my nursing program and subsequent graduation. At the time I very much admired the music of the Barenaked Ladies and living in CO I decided to go see them at Red Rocks Ampitheater. If you've not had the opportunity to see a concert at this venue, you simply must! It's a Bucket List kind of venue and not to be missed. I was quite excited to have scored two fourth row tickets for this group that at the time was crazy popular.

But, as the time for the concert neared I was having a hard time finding somebody to accompany me to the concert. One after another would thank me for asking but decline because they had vacation plans that conflicted or simply could not go on that date. I finally decided to sell the tickets to a friend at work who could take her husband and they would celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. She paid me in cash. I suddenly felt like having over one hundred dollars in cash was a windfall and should go to something fun and not to pay bills or buy groceries.

I did after all have to forego seeing my beloved band at my favorite venue! So, I ruminated for a few days about what I might do with the money.

It dawned on me that I might get a tattoo. I was forty six years old at the time, and had never gotten a tattoo. So, it took a lot of thought for me to consider this and another week would go by before I would start searching out tattoo parlors.

I did finally decide on the Smoky Banana, a local tattoo and piercing parlor in my city. I made an appointment on a Saturday morning and went in.

My Permanent Memory

I did not know going in to the parlor what I was going to have tattooed. But I started thinking about dolphins and as I stood thumbing through pictures I decided that I wanted to get a picture like the Kissing Dolphins by Wyland as my tattoo. My reasoning was that by tattooing this kind of a graphic I was making a permanent memory of my husband. And, it was not like having his name in ink on my body which could be off putting for other people, but it was more symbolic of him. A secret way of permanently attaching him to me.

I found a picture and then explained to the tattoo artist what I wanted. He let me describe the picture that I wanted and then we agreed on it's size and style.

I loved what we came up with and was excited to have this tattoo! I also wanted my tattoo to be where it would be visible but only if I chose to make it seen. So, I decided to have it placed on my lower back.

I proceeded to get into the chair and lean forward. It would prove to be about 90 minutes of sitting in this position while the artist first drew the outline and then filled in the tattoo. Prior to starting I was able to phone my daughter and she was able to come to the parlor and sit with me for the last 2/3 of the tattoo process. I remember that the outline was extremely uncomfortable! OK, it hurt like hell! I was bent forward and the man had given me a ball to squeeze with my hands. The next day every muscle in my body was aching from being clenched up during the tattoo process! It was tolerable, but reminded me of being sore the day after giving birth! Only, instead of a baby I had two sweet dolphins kissing on my back!

The tattoo was to be kept covered for a day and to have Vaseline applied liberally to keep it moist and the color dark and strong. This was not a big deal and only required for the first 48 hours or so.

I remember reaching back to touch the tattoo many times a day that first few months. In the first few weeks the skin felt rather raised as though the tattoo was three dimensional, but over time the swelling abated and the skin felt smooth to the touch and one wouldn't have known there were anything there just by feel.

What I liked best about the tattoo was the feeling that my husband was now a part of my physical body and would be with me until my body was no longer living. This brought me tremendous joy and a sense of having jumped another hurdle in my grief.

To Tattoo or not to Tattoo....that is the question

To get a tattoo is a very personal decision. We now life in a time that tattooing is becoming much more common place. I suspect that most tattoos have a personal meaning for the person who chooses to have them. Perhaps some are more meaningful than others, but to make a choice to have permanent art is hopefully to take time and make a thoughtful decision about what is being placed.

For me I still have only the one tattoo of the kissing dolphins. I have several friends in my age group and even older that have a lot of ink on their bodies and continue to have more placed even now. I recently began thinking that one day I might like to have a tattoo of a dragon fly placed as I like the look and symbolic meaning attached to dragon flies. To date I have not committed to one though.

I do still love my kissing dolphin tattoo. And because it remains covered by clothing much of the time, the colors are almost as vibrant as that sunny July over eleven years ago when I first had it placed.

I wouldn't suggest that getting tattooed or pierced is something we all should be doing. I waited until quite late in life before having my tattoo. And, though permanent, we now have technology that though expensive, can help erase a tattoo that is no longer desired or has in fact become something the owner hates!

But for me, it has been a good experience having my tattoo. I will forget I even have it and somebody who has not known it's there might see it because of a way I have bent over and comment on it and it will bring me back instantly to why it's there! Not in a sad way, but in a way that feels honoring of the memory of the man who was the love of my life! Such a relatively simple way to have created a way to etch this person into my very skin along with the memories that not only live in my brain and heart but course through the very vessels of my body along with my life blood.

I would say that if you should be inspired to get a tattoo do take some time to consider where it will be and what it will say because it will be with you forever. Better to prolong the process and take extra time being thoughtful about it, than to be rash and have regrets later.

Whether you want something that reminds you of a person, or something that is a bit more ephemeral it can be an experience you can treasure and something that can provide you with memories forever.

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    • HealthbyMartha profile image
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      Martha Montour 19 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you Dr Rangan.

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile image

      Dr Pran Rangan 19 months ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Your have really thought of a great way to keep alive the memories of your late husband by getting etched a permanent tattoo of Kissing Dolphins on your body. Such wonderful memories are a treasure to keep.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • HealthbyMartha profile image
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      Martha Montour 19 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you Jody for reading and commenting. I know that Tattoos are not for everybody, but striving to understand a person's reasons for getting one is key, which you've demonstrated.

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      Jody 20 months ago

      Thank you for sharing your story. When my daughters got their tattoos,I couldn't understand why. Until they also shared their story.

    • HealthbyMartha profile image
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      Martha Montour 20 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Bill, thank you for reading. I'm glad you enjoyed my little trip down memory lane. Thank you Mikuru for reading and sharing your thoughts. I think you will know when you are ready and make a good choice of what to commit to your body.

    • Mikuru Hirai profile image

      Mikuru Hirai 20 months ago from Asia

      I agree with you when you said that getting a tattoo is a very personal decision. I was about to get mine (my first ever) a few days ago but I decided I am not yet "ready" not because I haven't decided on which design to ink on my body but perhaps I haven't collected enough experience or inspiration yet for e to do it. It'll come to me eventually. Thank you for sharing your story! :)

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      Bill 20 months ago

      I have discovered that for most people who have tattoos, just as for you, their is a personal memory or a statement. Your vignette conveyed yours beautifully and poignantly. You have shared a beautiful memory.