In Loving Memory: Memorial R.I.P. Tattoos
When I lost a very dear friend at the shockingly young age of twenty-six, 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 we were fifteen, 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
- ones that say "R.I.P"
- to remember a beloved pet
- other ways to design a unique memorial tattoo.
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 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 pesonal 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 Tattoo Ideas: Portraits, getting a portrait tattoo is often a very moving and emotional experience, one that is amplified even more when the portrait tattoo is intended to honor a loved one who has passed away. Portrait 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.
“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
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.
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 their 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.