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Tattoos, Lap dogs and Grieving

Updated on February 15, 2012


Merriam-Webster defines grief as deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement or a cause of such suffering.

There is also the Five Stages of Grief originally defined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969 in the book, On Death and Dying . The stages of grief as defined by Kübler-Ross are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I can tell you it has not been that way for me.

Kübler-Ross’ researched 500 people who were dying . That is not the same as people dealing with a death, and all losses are different.

I have grieved friends, grandparents, beloved pets, and a favored aunt. I have grieved for the loss of relationships. I continually grieve for my son. This grief is recent, gripping, intolerable, uncontrollable, inconsolable, and unlike any other kind of grief.

The Awful Truth

Everyone of course tries to say the right thing –whatever that is – but always end up saying the absolute worst thing. My favorite is from people who have never lost a child who tell me “It will get better. The pain will become less.” Here’s the thing. They say that based on losing a parent, a friend, a grandparent…not a child. The people who have lost a child; they say something else. It’s not comforting, but it’s true. And if you are currently grieving a child, brace yourself, because here comes the awful truth. It. Never. Gets. Better. And it never goes away.

Here is the part that helps me: Just knowing that made me realize I could stop. I could stop trying to get to the “better.” I could stop waiting for it to stop hurting so much. I could stop trying to get back to normal. I have to live in a new normal.

The New Normal

The new normal means every day I wake up and my first thought is him. Some days, it’s a happy thought; more days than not it’s sad. “Here I am another day in a world where there is no longer you.” Another day that Son won’t call and want to go to lunch with me. Another day that Son won’t have a funny story to tell me. Another day that Son won’t need to borrow $40 “just until the end of the month,” that I never let him repay. The new normal means I think about him constantly throughout the day. The new normal means the last thought before I go to sleep is of him. The new normal means I am astounded the first time I go 20 minutes without thinking about him. Then feel weird about it.

The new normal means I have friends that tiptoe around the subject. I have friends who want to talk about it. His friends call me and ask if I am ok. The new normal means knowing they know the answer because theirs is the same. “No, I’m not ok,” is what you want to say, but you say, “I’m ok.” The new normal is having to answer the question, “Do you have kids” with “Yes, my daughter is 19. My son died at 21.” Some people say I could just say I have a daughter. It makes other people uncomfortable when you mention your dead son. I refuse to act as if he never existed.

The New Normal means I go to his Facebook page every day and stare at the little open circle that permanently informs me “Son is not available.” Often I write a little note. Others leave comments, too, expressing their grief, their loss, their love, and their treasured memories. I am reminded that I am not alone, even though I often feel so very alone. I am also aware that my grief is unique. I feel selfish. I feel ok about being selfish. I feel guilty about feeling ok about feeling selfish.

The Void

Losing Son left this awful void in my heart, heck, in my Soul. In every little tiny part of me. I have been trying to fill the hole. I bought new clothes. I bought his sister new clothes. I bought fabric and patterns. I’ve cried oceans. I write. I went back to class. I try to spend time with friends. I’ve painted rooms. I’ve yelled. I’ve laughed. I’ve held babies. I’ve worked overtime. I’ve cooked more. I’ve cooked less. I’ve had out of town guests. I’ve planned trips. Still Empty. Empty. Empty. Empty.

Sew or Die


Sea Horse Tattoo

"Uncle Ritchie"
"Uncle Ritchie" | Source

Memorial Tattoo

Everyone deals with grief in very personal ways. I prefer to get inked.
Everyone deals with grief in very personal ways. I prefer to get inked. | Source


I already had one tattoo. I love to sew. I live to sew. Sewing is my passion and my refuge. A year ago and some change, I got my first tattoo. My sewing scissors, my pincushion and a button on my right (dominant) forearm. There is also a banner that wraps around the scissors that reads, “Sew or Die.” I knew soon after that I wanted another tattoo, on my left arm, for my children. Two swallows and banner with their names. Dear Husband wasn’t too happy about the first one. I wasn’t having any luck convincing him to get the other one. When Son died, who was also among the tattooed public, I looked at DH and I said, “I’m getting my Son tattoo.” Of course I didn’t get it right away. My favorite cousin, my twousin as we say because we are so much alike we are twin cousins, or twousins, came to visit in August. We decided to get matching tattoos. Seahorses. The Void was still there but, whenever I look down at my right chest I think about my twousin, her dad who is my favorite uncle, and my dad, her favorite uncle. Uncle Ritchie had two seahorse tattoos on either side of his chest. My seahorse has blue eyes like her dad. Her seahorse has brown eyes, like my dad. I am lucky. I still have my dad…and my mom. My Twousin has already lost both of her parents. Her mother most recently in December. We lost our Son in June.

On Sunday, I got my Son memorial tattoo. My daughter’s boyfriend designed it and did it. It took six hours. It’s very detailed and full color. If you have tattoos, you know full color and detail means pain. Lots of pain. I felt like I shoved my forearm in a hornet’s nest and held it there…for six hours. The physical pain was almost a manifestation of the emotional pain. It was worth it. It looks amazing. Son’s bird has his facial expression. Daughter’s looks like Daughter. On Tuesday Boyfriend left her and broke her heart. The Void felt bigger. Her pain pushed on all sides of the Void, expanding it. Watching your only surviving child’s heartbreak is the second worst thing to happen to a parent. Son’s friends rallied. They have a Void, too.They wanted to try to fix it. Only time can heal a broken heart. The Void is still there, but the Cavalry is at the ready.

I look at the fresh and healing ink and I think about Son teasing me. “You should get a heart tattoo with a banner that says ‘Son’ on your left bicep.” I think he likes this one.

Furry Angel

Chewie on the day he adopted us.
Chewie on the day he adopted us. | Source

Lap Dogs

In addition to the loss of Son, this year started with one dog getting hit and killed by a car. Another got out, got lost and never came home. I really wanted another dog. Another little dog. A friend for Tego, the Chihuahua.

I was on the computer playing around with StumbleUpon and I stumbled upon a news story that the local pet rescue had 45 Chihuahuas from a breeder bust. Dear Husband said I could take Tego and go pick one out. I was considering a little young black and white girl. Then I met HIM. He was all alone in a little pen. A little mess of fur. I picked him up and looked into his gray muzzle and soft brown eyes. And it was over. He was mine. I was his. I looked at the paper tag hanging on the pen. “Champ, Male, 9 years old, good with other dogs and cats.” I showed him to DH, “He looks like an Ewok, you know? From Star Wars?” I suggested we call him Chewie; he looked like Chewbacca to me. So Dear Husband said we could take him. We took Champ, renamed Chewie, to the outside play area to meet Tego. They got along all right and we officially adopted him. To me, he looked like someone took my dog Rico, the one who died, and shrunk him in the dryer. The Void is still there but now there is a warm bundle of fur in there too. That was Saturday.

Life Goes On

Now it’s Thursday evening. I’ve almost made it through another week. There are lots of hard days ahead of me. Halloween. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Son’s Birthday. My Birthday. The Void will be there. But so will my Twousin, my parents, my sisters, Dear Husband, Daughter, The Cavalry, my friends, and the fur children. And Son. Son is watching over us all.


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