Teen Talk

Think of all personal, family implications before getting a memorial tattoo

Kelly Richardson
Kelly Richardson Bee staff photo

HEY, KELLY: I’m a high school senior and want to get a tattoo for my cousin, who committed suicide. I wanted to get something like a cross with his name and the day he died in it. I’m not really religious, but I think it would be a good thing to honor him. My mom is freaking out and thinks I should wait and ask my aunt what she thinks, but I want to surprise her with it because I know how much she has been struggling and feels like people are starting to forget about him. I think the tattoo would really mean a lot to her.

Since I’m 18, I don’t have to ask my mom’s permission but I’m a little nervous that if I do it and she gets mad, I don’t know how long she’ll stay mad. My friends say that once she sees it she will like it and be OK, but I know my mom and she might be really mad. I know it’s my body and my life, so I feel like it really should be my business. It feels like a personal thing, and I don’t think she really should be mad because it really doesn’t affect her. Advise please.


DEAR KQ: First, pause.

Let’s lay out what we know so you can make an informed decision regarding something that will stay on your body forever. Pause long enough to think about why you feel compelled to do this, what the consequences might be and how this tattoo will look as you age and change.

It seems like you are inking yourself to ease the pain of your aunt. While that is thoughtful and compassionate, it will not take away her grief. She will still feel sad and even though she will know you haven’t forgotten about him, she still might feel others have. The idea that your tattoo will be salve on her wound might help with the sting, but the hurt will continue as she grieves her boy.

The fear of how your mom will react is something to consider. Hoping that she will be OK with it once it is done is a gamble. How strong does she feel about tattoos? What are her concerns? Would she feel better if it were placed somewhere less obvious and easy to conceal if you needed to for professional purposes? Is she concerned about the cleanliness of where you get it? Would she feel better if you were out of high school before you did this? How large are you thinking? Find out all of her concerns before you make the final decision.

A big question to ask yourself is it worth upsetting your mom just to console your aunt? Sit down and have an adult conversation with her about her concerns and why she feels the way she does. Give her a chance to explain her feelings before you ignore her objections.

I’m sure you are aware but let me say it again – tattoos require a lifelong commitment because they are on you forever. Sure, there is laser removal, but the amount of time and money involved with this might be more than you can afford when you are older. Don’t get the tattoo thinking that if you don’t like it, you can get it removed – view it more as something you are putting out to the world (think of it as a body billboard) forever.

You are right about it being a personal decision. Inviting something to be permanently inked onto your skin is a big decision. A lot of factors need to be considered, especially by you. Make sure you take the time to reflect on the question, “When I am 50 years old and look in the mirror, will I still want to see this tattoo?”

And while you can’t predict your future spouse, ask yourself, “Will my future spouse want to see this on my body every day?”

If your mom vehemently opposes and you talk with your aunt and she feels the same, think about other ways to honor your cousin. Maybe do a “Ride to Remember” for him or plant a garden or tree in his name. Maybe you can organize a fundraiser for Suicide Prevention or help raise money in his name. You can also make a scrapbook or collage to give to your aunt with pictures of your cousin or a memory box with special mementos of times you shared together.

The best way to remember your cousin is by living your own life to the fullest and without any regrets. Love other people. Lead a life of purpose. Make smart decisions. Practice forgiveness. Tell stories about him when the family is together. Lead a balanced life. Prioritize self-care. Know when to reach out for help. Do something that makes you happy every day.

Remind yourself that even through tough times or hardships, you will weather through it and never give up.