I once got a temporary tattoo with my mom and sisters on a trip. I got a permanent version of it after my mom died to honor her.
- Growing up, I never thought I would get a tattoo.
- Then I went on a trip with my two sisters and our mom, and we all got temporary butterfly tattoos.
I was born in 1952, an era when body art was not nearly as common as it is today. While tattoos have been around for thousands of years, in the US during the 1950s and '60s, they were somewhat frowned upon. Growing up, I never wanted a tattoo or anticipated getting one someday, let alone in my seventh decade.
That began to change a few years ago when I traveled with my mother and two sisters to celebrate a milestone birthday. In 2002, we began the tradition of special trips together when one of us turned 50, 60, 70, and so on. My mother was particularly fond of butterflies, and we contemplated getting temporary matching butterfly tattoos together so that the four of us would have a marking (for however long it would last) that signified our deep love and connection to each other.
We did get press-on tattoos one year, but, of course, they faded away quickly. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, we began Sunday Zoom calls to stay connected since we lived fairly far apart — me in California, Mom and one sister in New Jersey, and my oldest sister in Florida.
Then, in September 2021, we got that fateful phone call that our 97-year-old mom didn't have much time left. We all dropped everything to be by her side and with each other. We spent Mom's last three weeks together, reminiscing, making sure that nothing was left unsaid, and honoring her wishes for her final farewell.
My older sister and I decided to get butterfly tattoos in honor of Mom
My older sister, Diane, and I decided that we wanted to get those butterfly tattoos, real ones, as a symbol of our love for Mom and our connection to each other. Our youngest sister, Ilyse, decided not to get one, which we understood and respected. We told Mom about our intention, and it made her happy. We weren't able to get it done before she died, but a few days after her funeral, Diane made an appointment with a tattoo artist in the area. At the time, Diane was 73 and I was 69. We were a tad nervous but very excited about the adventure.
As tattoo neophytes, we didn't do the research we should have done to choose the best butterfly image and colors — we trusted the tattoo artist to help us figure that out. With his help, we chose an outline that we both liked and told him the colors we wanted (Mom's favorites, lavender, pink, and blue). I had decided to have mine on my left shoulder near my heart but visible in a sleeveless top. Diane chose to have hers inked near her left breast, over her heart.
On the day of our appointments, we were excited to finally turn those pretend tattoos from years ago into a reality. Both of us have a pretty high pain threshold, and though it was a bit uncomfortable, it didn't hurt that much. (Full disclosure: I had already researched areas of the body that were supposedly less painful to get a tattoo on, and the shoulder/upper-arm area was one of them. It was good news for me since I had already decided that's where I wanted mine.)
When people ask me about my tattoo, it often leads to great conversations
The healing process was fairly simple; I just needed to keep it clean and covered with Neosporin. Once it was healed, I was pretty happy with how it turned out. Had I had more time to learn about how tattoos healed, I would have chosen a thinner outline of the butterfly, with a simpler pattern on the wings so the colors would show up better. My butterfly is a bit darker than I'd prefer, but I still love it.
I am often approached by strangers who compliment me on my butterfly, which has led to great conversations as I briefly explain its significance. Many have responded with their own stories about their special relationships with their moms. When I mention that it's my only tattoo and I got it at nearly 70, they are surprised and delighted.
It's easy to see it when I look down on my shoulder, and I feel Mom's presence within me every day. When I'm dealing with difficult situations and emotions, I look at or touch it and whisper a message to my mom. It gives me great comfort to know she's with me in the spirit and the image of my butterfly tattoo.
She always said that when she died, she would come back in the form of a butterfly. She has, and she is with me constantly.
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