My Tattoo Story #3

Posted: September 12, 2012 in Uncategorized

Since my favorite holiday is fast approaching I thought it only appropriate to honor my father. On my left arm, I have a tribute tattoo that was drawn by Matt (he did not tattoo the original but went over it again later and added the background) that I had placed on me weeks after my father died. This is difficult to put into words because I’m not sure even how to begin. How do I possibly discuss what it was like losing my father? Unexpectedly. He had been ill for almost a year with strange symptoms. He was taken to every doctor in the area to try to figure out what was wrong with him. He couldn’t remember things, he couldn’t sleep, he had what appeared “restless leg syndrome”, his gait was off, and he was losing weight. As luck would have it, a neurologist happened to walk by when my father was in an observation room attempting to complete memory puzzles (he couldn’t) and she said to my mother, “I know exactly what is wrong with him. He has Huntington’s Chorea.”

Finally, after almost a year of not knowing we had the answer but it wasn’t good. The disease had taken out my grandfather (my dad’s dad) in the early 90’s. At that time it was not diagnosable. So we knew what to expect and it is an awful, awful disease. My father was a biker and enjoyed riding is Triumph but now that his balance was off, he had to put the bike away. And driving? How was he supposed to commute to work? Could he work? He had difficulties remembering his appointments or the bid estimates he drew up. He was a self-employed electrical contractor who earned the bulk of my family’s money. This was a death sentence. His disease would progressively get worse and in the end, he would be locked inside his own mind unable to talk. As it turns out, he did not die of Huntington’s Disease but instead a massive heart attack while commuting to work. Early in the morning, alone. I think this image bothers me most because it was an awful way to die. I won’t get into the graphics of it. In a way, I guess it was for the best. I didn’t have to watch my father deteriorate right before my eyes. I didn’t have to watch him waste away to nothing. Instead I didn’t get to say goodbye.

The truth? I died too that day. I always knew that my father’s death would affect me greatly. He and I were a lot alike despite our disagreements and arguments. He is the reason I love Halloween and horror movies, and “romantic death songs from the 50’s” like “Tell Laura I Love Her” and “Teen Angel.” My father had an extensive record collection that I now own. So when he died, so much of me went with him. I have been an avid journal writer since I was 7 years old, averaging one or two journals a year. So as you can imagine there are TONS of journals on my bookshelves. But you won’t find a single mention of my father’s death. I stopped writing. Instead I wrote poetry, trying to cope and make sense of his passing. Trying to make sense of who I was now, how I was going to get “passed this,” and living in a world without him. But one thought kept haunting me. No matter where I went, no matter how far I ran, or how fast, I would NEVER find him. He wasn’t here anymore and I still don’t know what to do with that, even today.

I refer to my grieving period as “The Dark Ages” and I wouldn’t wish a minute of it to anyone even someone I dislike. It’s a process where you think you are fine, you think you are coping but everyone else around you knows otherwise. And you don’t listen. You can’t listen because to hear would be to admit you are not as brave or strong as you think you. That you wish you were. I almost lost my marriage. I almost lost Matt, my love because I didn’t want to love him. I didn’t want to see him dead some day, mourning for him, tearing at the fabric of the world to bring him back to me. So I pulled away and tried to keep myself safe but isolation is a very lonely place and hard to leave once you feel at home there.

But eventually, through therapy, Matt and Barbie, and my own will, I pulled through and came out the other side. I still grieve my father. There are days when out of nowhere it hits me that he is gone and I can’t catch my breath for a few seconds. Then it passes and I tell myself, “It’s okay. You are still allowed to miss him.”

So the tattoo below is my tribute tattoo. Matt drew caricatures of my father and I. Why? Because he had drawn some a few weeks before he died, of my entire family, and my father wanted to frame it. My father was also an artist and loved Matt’s rendition of who we were. The banner at the bottom reads “Momento Mori” which means “in death we remember.” A few years later once Matt was tattooing, he added the background. I wanted it to be a hokey, haunted Halloween theme, a throw back to all the awesome Halloween parties my dad threw when I was growing up. For our love of horror movies and cemeteries and ghouls. One tombstone reads “Ded” which is my silent wave at my dad, a play on words. I receive a lot of compliments on this tattoo and most people assume it is of Matt and I. That’s okay. I enjoy correcting people and being able to acknowledge my father’s life even if for a moment.

So I will end this post with something poetic. I mentioned earlier that I did not get to say “goodbye” to my father on the day he died. This is true. But two weeks before he died, Matt and I had spent the weekend at my parents’ house. My mom was on this crazy cleaning kick where she was throwing out things from the basement. (most of it was mine, that’s a WHOLE other story). Once we arrived my dad said, “Dawn, mom threw out the jewelry box I bought you when you were 8. I told her you were going to be pissed.” And rightfully so. Just because I had not moved it with me, didn’t mean I no longer wanted it. I was devastated and my mom refused to feel bad about it. Later, my father said, “I know which bag it’s in. We’ll get it out before you leave.” So that Sunday afternoon, I drove my car down to his garage and stood in front of the dumpster while he pulled out the bag of trash. And sure enough, there it was, with the jewelry of my childhood still inside it. He handed it to me and I hugged him. I then told him I loved him and would see him soon. He kissed me on the forehead and said to “I love you too.” And then we drove away. Like we always do.

I guess if this post has a lesson it would be to grieve at your own pace. No one has the right to tell you how long you should grieve a person or how to do it. Just feel it and if you find yourself sinking, reach out your hands. Someone who loves you is waiting and wanting to help you.

  1. Barbie says:

    Beautifully said Dawn.

  2. Barbie says:

    Also, I love the scenic picture at the top.

  3. illustratedlibrarian says:

    Thank you! This is the first time I have ever tried to put this into words. It was hard.

  4. Barb says:

    Very nice tribute to your dad.

  5. Wendy says:

    Writing of your dad and you are priceless. Thank you for letting us in your memories.

  6. Suzana says:

    Beautiful tattoo. Beautiful Dad.

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