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In Loving Memory: Memorial R.I.P. Tattoos

Two years after my grandmother passed, I got a quote from her journal tattooed on my forearm, in her handwriting.

A quote from my grandmother's journal, written while she was fighting a losing battle with breast cancer. The tattoo is in her handwriting.

A quote from my grandmother's journal, written while she was fighting a losing battle with breast cancer. The tattoo is in her handwriting.

Remembrance Tattoos

When I lost a very dear friend at the shockingly young age of 26, I started thinking about getting a tattoo to honor her memory. Just after her funeral, I came across a sheet of loose-leaf paper stuffed absentmindedly in a random notebook. It must have been from the summer when we were 15, vacationing with her family in North Carolina. It was a page she had copied down from the 1970s bestseller Jonathan Livingston Seagull and it said, in her handwriting, "You have the freedom to be yourself—your true self—here and now, and nothing can stand in your way."

I thought how great it would be to replicate that in tattoo form, though I never ended up doing it. Then, after my grandmother died from breast cancer, I found a journal she began when she was first diagnosed. There are only a handful of entries; the last one, dated about a month before her liver started failing and she lost her ability to write, says: "Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal."

Two years after she passed, I got that quote tattooed on my forearm, in her handwriting. Having a tattoo in her handwriting may not make sense or have meaning to anyone except me, but I hold it extremely close to my heart.

There are a lot of ways to design a memorial tattoo. Below, you will find many ideas, designs, and styles that I came across in my research.

Scroll down to find memorial tattoos...

  • that include names and dates
  • that incorporate hearts
  • with a portrait
  • that are religious
  • that say "R.I.P"
  • to remember a beloved pet
  • and other unique design ideas

Memorial Tattoos That Include Names & Dates

The simplest and most direct way of honoring a loved one who has passed is by listing his or her name and/or the dates of birth and death. Whether it's a small grandma scrawled in soft script on your shoulder blade or a full back piece with a first name, middle name, last name, date of birth, date of death, and an accompanying quote and meaningful image, this type of memorial tattoo will always be popular.

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal.

"In Loving Memory" Tattoo With Hearts

When you lose someone you love, you feel like your heart is breaking. Even after time has passed and the wound begins to heal, you still feel like a chunk of your heart is missing, like there's a hole that can never be filled. Perhaps that is why so many people opt for a simple or elaborate heart tattoo as a memorial—to ink on the skin what they can't feel in the flesh.

To live in the hearts of those we love is not to die.

Winged Heart Tattoos

One variation of the standard heart tattoo is the winged heart. It combines, I suppose, the elements of love and angels (or heaven). Depending on your personal religious beliefs, a tattoo of this type can represent the idea that your loved one has now earned her wings and is with the other angels, watching over you from the other side. It could also mean that love is the only thing that gives you wings, or that love lifts you up where you belong.

When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

— Khalil Gibran

Memorial Tattoo Portraits

As I mentioned in my article on portrait tattoo ideas, getting a portrait tattoo is often a very moving and emotional experience, one that is amplified even more when the portrait is intended to honor a loved one who has passed away. These tattoos are quite complex and require the patience and dedication of a seasoned tattoo artist who pays attention to detail and hopefully has a good deal of experience with this specialized type of artwork.

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When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.

Religious Memorial Tattoos

These designs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. One of the most common images is that of a cross or crucifix, either with or without the loved one's name or birth/death dates printed in a banner wrapped around the cross. Praying hands, particularly praying hands clutching a rosary (if you're of the Catholic faith), are also seen frequently. Angels are sometimes depicted looking down from heaven, smiling, or even hugging a tombstone.

Those we love and lose are always connected by heartstrings into infinity.

— Terri Guillemets

R.I.P. Tattoos

Finally, the last type is the simply stated, oldest sentiment in the book: R.I.P., which stands for requiescat in pace (in Latin) or rest in peace. This is, after all, our greatest hope. We pray that our loved ones who suffered through sickness, heartache, or depression are now in a place where they can hurt no longer. We hope that they have found peace as they watch over those they left behind on earth. We hope that they are not dead, only resting before they find another womb to grow in, and come back to us so that we may meet again—if not in this life, then certainly in the next.

If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.

Remembering a Pet With a Tattoo

Sometimes, the loved one who dies is not a human at all, and the death of a beloved pet can be excruciatingly painful. A tattoo is a wonderful way to keep your friend by your side forever.

Cat tattoos on the arm.

Cat tattoos on the arm.

Other Ways to Design a Unique Memorial Tattoo

  • If you can find something they wrote—even their signature—you can incorporate their handwriting.
  • If there was something that person loved especially—like baking cupcakes or surfing, or perhaps they had a favorite flower—using that in the design can add meaning.
  • If there was a personal joke between you or a word or a song that was particularly meaningful in your relationship, consider it as part of the design.
  • Use their name as a design. Think of interesting ways you can bend, stretch, or shape the name into a meaningful symbol.

Remember, the design doesn't have to make sense or have meaning for anyone but you.


Sabrina Delaune on May 16, 2020:

I have had 4 miscarages and my grand mother my uncle and my cousin passed away 10 years ago 3 consecutive months and now my mom passed away april 20th is there a memorial tattoo to honor everyone

precioud on January 09, 2020:

I lost my 7months old son a month ago I need a memorial tattoo ideas plesse

sarah on December 21, 2019:

My best mate of 13 year has died.we was very close we told each other everything without any judgement.i want ideas for a tattoo.i cart think of anything right now as its only just happened and I cart think straight.thank you

Arica on July 02, 2019:

I lost my 18 year old son 7 months ago. Need some good ideas for a memorial tattoo for him.

Trace McG from Canada on May 21, 2019:

i lost my beloved husband just over a year ago. we were married almost 43 years. i got my first tattoo of "our" song on my left inner forearm. Shania Twain's You're Still the One. it very much described our beginnings. very simple, in my own handwriting. if just felt right and it always will.

Anna on May 17, 2019:

My mom passed away feb.20 2019. I miss and think of her everyday. I got a rose tat on my right hand . The stem is her actual ekg and ttf along side of it today,tomorrow forever.was something we always said. Its bn so hard my heart died with her. My granddaughter points to my tat tells me gigis heart.

Nefertiri on May 06, 2019:

I lost my mother 11 months ago on the 16th out of nowhere.. I have 2 tatts with her name one I had for awhile & the other after she passed. Just serching for something new

Michael on April 22, 2019:

I lost my friend Paul herzog and was trying to find some good tattoos designs

lisa cook rudd on March 23, 2019:

joe brannon,

that's the best news ever that she was saved!

Tracey jewell on July 13, 2018:

I lost my 17 yr old son in a fire no idea why or how the fire was started i miss him so much he was my world. I need a good awesome tat in memory of him he was a great son. His tagging name was crisis. I need ideas plz

Donna Tome on May 19, 2018:

I'm looking for a tattoo for me, my dad passed away May 6th and I wanna get one done for him any suggestions

Deanna Griggs on December 19, 2017:

My son was murdered 10/28/2017 I miss him so much. I'm trying to find a way to. Express my loss with a tattoo can't find anything I like yet any ideas

David Barrett on July 28, 2017:

Lost my Mommy 2 weeks ago. Want an angel over looking a little devil. With the words. Mommy is always watching over her little devil.

Elizabeth on May 25, 2017:

My son just passed after a 6 month battle with luekemia. I want to incorporate name, date with something like "he fought Strong to the death and with wings of course he flew" maybe with wings and a sword.. maybe it too much and I need help with it

I live on L.I., NY. Thank you

Sharon Beauchmei from Seattle, WA on April 29, 2017:

My roommate recently got a RIP tattoo with ink made from her daughters ashes. The company was She had it done just a couple weeks ago, I dont know how to include a picture or else I would. Very cool design and very meaningful.

Amos Evans (Butch) on April 27, 2017:

My mom passed away 2 years ago on 4th of July in a fire any suggestions like something different than the ones everyone has

Joe Brannon Jr on April 07, 2017:

My daughter was killed in a terrible accident 1-21-2017 and I will never forget daddy's little girl even though she was only 29. I miss her terribly but I ask her 2 years ago to please join us at church and watch me be baptized and she went down to the alter and ask to be saved and we both were baptized on the same day so I know she is went to join the lord now. I have been looking for the perfect tattoo in which to memorialize her life. I found one but there will have to be some changes done on it to. I worried about her every night before she went to be with the lord. I've alway told my kids I love them several times a day and before bed. We are not promised tomorrow so hug and kiss your kids every chance you can no matter how old they are. There are a lot of nice tattoos here but haven't found one to beat the one I've already found. I love and miss you Ashley and when you left you took part of my heart with you.

Alexandra on September 14, 2015:

My Best friend was murdered by her fiance back in July ,we had been best friends for 8 years !

I cant seem to come up with a proper memorial tattoo for her ,im letting her down ,because I know that if this happened to me she would have gotten something the same day she found out :'( .

I miss you Samantha Higgins ♥

My beautiful best friend, I will never forget you !

jeff on August 13, 2015:

My dad died when i was a baby,he was stabbed and killed in a fight, but now im 18 yrs old n i been wanted to get a tattoo of him on my arm i cant wait. R.I.P Dad 1977-1998

monique on June 01, 2015:

my husband died Dec 22, 2012 of a massive heart attack. it was very sudden and shocking still till this day. I have been searching for the perfect tattoo that represents him and his love for music. I have found a few but they all seem too either too big and bulky, or just not what I expected. What do you think I should do or what do you recommend

Vehyn from Sydney on December 21, 2014:

It's just so humbling to see everyone react in such a beautiful way despite whatever tragedy befell them or their loved ones. Thank you for posting something so amazingly touching.

Cameron on March 03, 2014:

Hi my name is cameron I'm 13 years old and my dad just died a few months ago and when I turn 16 I wanna get a tattoo to remember him Ik it's early to be thinking about this but I really wanna think about what I'm gonna get and I need something special any ideas? Ps I wanted to add some things in it that make it super personal my dad died from a heart attack and he just turned 43 he died 12/8/13 he past away in bed next to me and when I woke up to him there it started to snow and every time it snows are song comes on "stay" I hope these personal things will help thank you!

Potato on March 02, 2014:

I lost my dad in 2005

in 2007 i lost my cousin

2009 my aunt