Tattooing Love: Honoring a loved one and adopting a mantra

There are three things you need to know before you read this story.

  1. Butterflies give me peace and remind me to have faith.
  2. I have six other tattoos. I consider each of them meaningful expressions of my life, and most of them were done on special dates.
  3. Both of my grandmothers were the model of Love, and though they lived thirteen-hundred miles away, they impacted my life regularly.

Eight months ago, Grandma Kelley, my dad's mom, passed away at the age of 95. At the funeral service, her pastor shared a phrase of advice that she had given him during a challenging personal time.

"It takes a lot of Love to get along in this world."

The words landed on my heart and stayed in my soul. I immediately typed them into my phone and thought, This is my next tattoo.

I had been thinking about a butterfly tattoo for several months, but I didn't want anything generic. With Grandma's words in mind, I envisioned putting the two items together in one design.

Suddenly, I remembered the jewelry holder that came from Grandma's dresser. I had placed it in my curio cabinet with some of my favorite rings on its fingers.

This would be the perfect butterfly.

Next, I knew I wanted to put Grandma's phrase in her own handwriting. I reached out to an aunt who had stored many of Grandma's belongings, hoping she had some writing samples. Then I waited. And waited. And waited some more.

Permanent decisions take time and patience. 

I visualized the layout and placement options, mentally imagining what each might look like. Meanwhile, my request was slowly making its way to other family members. 

I finally received a message in October from one of my cousins. She sent me pictures of three cards that Grandma had sent to my cousin's daughters. I scanned the samples for each of the letters I would need to complete the phrase. Everything was there except the word love.


I told my mom what I was looking for, and she said she had just run across an old card that might help. Sure enough, the next day she sent me a picture of exactly what I needed. 

The loops on the L transported me back to my childhood memories of Grandma. It was the perfect sample.

I bought tracing paper and used my computer to adjust and print the writing samples, making sure the letters were the right size. As I traced all thirty-eight letters, I reflected on their meaning.

There will be trials of hurt and suffering. You'll want to get angry or blame others or hide in shame. But if you give Love instead, if you choose forgiveness, kindness, and humility, you can persevere.

Once I had the phrase written out, I taped it to my inner arm along with a sketch of the butterfly. But I still wasn't sure of the placement, so I tucked it away in a notebook. 

I didn't know what I was waiting for, but it didn't feel like the right time yet.

About a month later, I had just finished another project and wanted to reward myself with something fun. I retrieved the tracing, grabbed the ring holder from the curio case, and headed to the tattoo shop. It was December 6th.

Dale, the artist, completely understood what I wanted. He snapped pictures of everything and then looked at his schedule. I was expecting a bit of a wait, but he asked, "What are you doing tomorrow?"

My jaw dropped and my eyes opened wide. "Tomorrow? You can do this on the 7th?"

Grandma married Grandpa in 1942 on December 7th. A couple of weeks later, he shipped off to war, and she joined the crew at the Naval shipyards in Washington state as a crane operator. They spent nearly the first three years of their marriage apart. Thus her mantra began: it takes a lot of Love to get along in this world.

I left the shop with tears in my eyes, knowing that Grandma's spirit was with me.

Dale greeted me the next day, and I gave final approval on his drawing. As he selected shades of pink for the butterfly and ribbon, I was reminded of Grandma yet again as he lined up her favorite colors on the counter.

The tattoo took just over an hour, and Dale was patient with me as I took photos. I shared Grandma's story with him and went on to describe my medical journey. I learned about some of his life's joys and challenges, too, including his service in Iraq as an Army nurse.

Sometimes Love looks like a genuine conversation with a new person in your life.

I looked at the finished tattoo, and my first thought was, It's perfect.

As I was leaving, I asked Dale for a picture. The expression on my face says it all - pure joy and Love.

What mantras do you have for your life?

Whose memories can you honor through visual expressions?


Two Doorways from this week:
  • I went to a holiday party at a friend's house earlier this week. I parked in the driveway, but needed help walking in and getting up the steps. Another guest arrived just as I did, and I felt comfortable and confident enough to ask him to walk me to the door. I am grateful for his kindness and for my ability to ask for help.

  • Our dog, Riley, got sick right as I was putting on my shoes to walk out the door. I didn't want to leave her alone, so I called Shawn. He was able to drive home from work and stay with her so I could go to my physical therapy appointment. I was thankful that Shawn's employer allowed him the flexibility to work from home.


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