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People share the painful and powerful stories behind their tattoos

In a Reddit thread, people with tattoos and tattoo artists opened up about some of the most heartwarming tattoos they have or have crafted.

People share the painful and powerful stories behind their tattoos
Image Source: (Top) geosensation / Reddit (Bottom) Vasily Pindyurin / Getty Images

Trigger Warning: This story contains themes of suicide and death that readers may find disturbing

Tattoos are powerful things. They can be used to cover up scars or tell a story. When a tattoo is used as a way to move on from a painful memory or experience, the tale behind them can be moving and heartwarming. Reddit user Emmafayee was curious about tattoos that hold special meanings in people's lives, so she took to the subreddit AskReddit to ask, "Tattoo artists of Reddit, what’s the most beautiful [or] saddest requests you’ve ever gotten, or one that has stood out?" Tattoo artists, as well as folks who have tattoos, responded, sharing some of their most tragic stories.

1. Gone too soon

My oldest ever client. She was 76, and had just received a bad diagnosis, so had come in with her son to cross off 'get a tattoo' from her bucket list. She wanted a blue dragonfly on her collarbone, but couldn’t stand upright and steady for long, so, with the help of her son, I had to lay her down on the bed to apply the stencil. Wherever possible you should always apply a stencil with a client standing naturally, so that the design isn’t distorted when gravity shifts their body. She laughed hysterically when she stood up to check the stencil placement and it shifted from her shoulder and disappeared into her cleavage. We had a great time during the tattoo, the three of us laughed and joked; she had a great sense of humor and was really positive despite her grim diagnosis. Two and a half years later, she returned to the tattoo shop, now 78. Far less energetic this time, she asked me to add her son's name beneath the blue dragonfly. He had suddenly fallen sick and passed away before her. - Phil-Tandy-Miller 

2. Feeling whole again

My partner pro bonos tattooed nipples on women's reconstructed breasts. She is a cosmetic tattooist and post operative breast cancer patients are referred to her. They often cry when they see themselves after the procedure, they say they it is feeling whole again after so much trauma. - ledgerdemaine

3. In memory

Not me, but my artist. A guy came in his shop and asks for a St. George killing the dragon tat, my artist did the job, and that was it. Like a month after a girl came in the shop and she asked for the same design, and my artist said something like, 'Oh good, I have done the same picture like a month ago, so I’m still fresh and can do a really good job.' As soon as he finished the sentence, the girl started crying really really bad. The guy was her brother [who had died by] suicide one week before, and she wanted the tat for legacy. He did the job pro bono. - MisterPollaccio 

4. Tattoo funeral

I managed a tattoo shop and we were about to close when a group of 6 well dressed people came in. I asked if they came from a wedding. Complete opposite, they were coming from a funeral. All of them got a paper plane tattoo. Most people this was their first tattoo. They kept getting calls and 8 more people came totalling almost 16 people getting tatted plus guests hanging out. I had to ask artists to work over time and stay back but they all wanted to help this family and group of friends go through this tough time. For privacy I won’t mention how the person they were paying tribute passed but the reason they got paper planes is because she looked exactly like [the musician] M.I.A apparently and paper planes was their inside joke with her. We let them take over the music for the shop and blast that song as loud as possible and to see sad broken people smiling and dancing and celebrating this persons life touched me. - demarderollins 

5. If things were different...

I was an apprentice and I sold custom drawings at the same time. I once had a woman who wanted a rainbow heart that looked like shattered glass. She then explained [to] me that it was in memory of her daughter, who died [in] a car crash. The day of her death, she came out to her mom as a lesbian, her mom didn’t react well, and the daughter went for a drive to vent a little. That drive is the one [that] killed her. I could tell through the mails how devastated her mom was, and how guilty she felt. It really broke my heart. - Ice-and-Iron

6. Like daughter, like father

My best friend is a tattoo artist and a client walked in. He asked for a tattoo of his daughter's scar in the same area so his daughter [wouldn't] be self conscious about it. Throughout the appointment, he talked about his daughter and how proud he was of her. - 66CrazyCatGoddess66 

7. A little piece of her

Elderly man came in to the tattoo shop for his first tattoo. He wanted his wife’s name. While drawing it up for him, he explained his wife of 45 years had just passed away a month ago. He told me she never wanted him to have a tattoo but he was in the service and always wanted one (of her name) but he never got it because she wouldn’t let him. He said, 'I don’t mean to be ornery or disrespect her wishes, I just need a piece of her with me until we’re together again.' - jgorbeytattoos 

8. Stairway to heaven

My husband has a tattoo for his pervious fianceé who died of cancer at only 39 years old. It’s a woman going up a staircase and a clock at the time she died. I always thought it was a really sad, but touching memorial. - HotPink124

9. Now I'm crying

I have a cardinal on my arm in memory of my stepdad. He had one leg, loved Christmas, and one of my favorite gifts I’ve ever gotten from him was a dream catcher. My tattoo artist took all that and made a gorgeous one legged cardinal holding a dream catcher with some holly behind it. John, if somehow the afterlife lets you see it, I got it because you made a mark on my life by choosing to help raise a little red-headed demon. You didn’t have to, but you did it anyways. Thank you for everything. - TheGingerOgre 


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