When my sister, Melinda turned 50, she ran a half marathon. She has a thing for marking milestones and she’s good at it. I have no doubt now, five years later, she could have run another half or even a whole one, but she picked something different this year. She decided to get her first tattoo. She said it took her 55 years to figure out something that meant enough to her to have it etched permanently onto her body.
When she first mentioned getting a tattoo, I thought it was a marvelous idea. I even told her I would get one with her if she wanted. We both liked that thought and so we ran with it. Sister tattoos. It may seem silly to some in our generation, but for all the wrestling we did with the practice at one time, we get it now. For us, at least, it has become a way to make note of what we value. A reminder to ourselves. A notable way to see what’s important every day. To find a common design wasn’t easy. We wanted something meaningful to both of us. We wanted it to be significant and beautiful. We talked about many possibilities. I sketched. We adapted. I sketched some more. We pivoted and shifted numerous times. Each time getting closer to what we wanted, until finally we had a plan.
Finding an artist we liked took even more time and getting an appointment wasn’t any easier than coming up with our design…but we persevered. We found someone who could take my rough sketches and turn them into real art. This week, we became living canvases.
Let me tell you why this experience is so important to us. The dementia journey we are on together is hard. We post pictures of Mom and Dad all the time. In those pictures we are always smiling, but this road isn’t all smiles. There are also a lot of tears for all of us. We don’t post the tearful days. The days when our hearts miss Mom so much or the days she is starring off at nothing. When she tries to connect and engage, we celebrate every tiny expression because we don’t know how many more times that connection will happen. It is a roller coaster journey with a downward trend. We desperately hold on to the smiles when they appear, but we cry too, as she slips further away.
The silver lining is that since we get together with Mom and Dad weekly, we have become more bonded as sisters. We are in this together. We are holding each other up, on good days and on bad ones. We stand together. We weep together. We celebrate together. This crazy idea of a sister tattoo is a way to process our journey…together.
As we have watched Mom and Dad through this time, we have become ever so grateful for their abiding love for one another. We have recognized that we have taken that love for granted to some degree because it has always been a constant in our family. So familiar, it is like the scenery of our lives. Always in the background. But we have come to recognize, as we travel this road, that it is more than just scenery…it is the bedrock of our own lives. Our foundation. A Great Love that embraces us and sustains us, and always has. We now see what a rare treasure it is to have had this example our whole lives. So, we chose to celebrate it. To build a memorial of sorts to tell the story. Instead of paper, we carved it onto our skin as a testimony.
In the design, we selected the daffodil because it is Mom’s favorite flower and also happens to be her birth flower. For Dad, we couldn’t pick a favorite flower because he loves them all. It would be like asking him to pick one of his children over the others. We looked up his birth flower and found it was the poppy which symbolizes commitment and remembrance. What better flower for this season than that! His commitment to Mom never wavers and he is her memory since she has lost hers. He is her remembrance. Then we added a third element…an olive branch to represent the peace of God and the spiritual life that Mom and Dad have shared and passed along to us. Three stems because a three-strand cord is not easily broken. The words Great Love are written in the stems to represent the love which Mom and Dad have shared from the beginning.
I chose to have color added to my tattoo because the love they share has spread, like water colors, to those of us who surround them. Melinda chose black and white for the simple beauty of their love, to be what it is and no more. We are both recipients of this Great Love. It is a love that only God could sustain and one that He continues to carry close to His heart as it ages. The laughter mixing with the tears. Like the pain of the ink and the beauty of the finished piece, this combination of bitter and sweet is found in all of life.
Great Love causes great pain, but without it, the fragrance of life isn’t as sweet. The picture isn’t as vibrant. To love greatly means putting the heart in a vulnerable position, always. It means being aware of the crushing weight that’s coming and walking towards it anyway. It is holding your head up and walking into the pain and fear of what is yet unknown. Allowing your heart to break piece by piece and not running away. Great Love requires great courage. Dementia is not an easy journey. It is the long goodbye but we are honored to be walking together in the shadow of their Great Love for the duration. We will remain to testify of their legacy of love and carry it forward.
Shout out to our tattoo artist Jaycee. She is so talented. Follow her on Instagram…@Jayceeshinetattoos. And also follow the shop of all female tattoo artists @justanotherhitw. They are in Anderson SC and it is worth the drive!!