Monday, December 14, 2015

Tattoo as tribute: Susan Salluce explores the relationship between grief and tattoo in the astonishing photo-filled GriefINK

I've never had a tattoo because I am a big baby, but of course, in NYC, there is a huge tattoo culture. People get ink for all sorts of reasons, but there is a new movement to getting tattoos to honor the dead and to help the grief process.  Susan Salluce  has put together a book that is as meaningful as it is gorgeous. Both a narrative and a pictorial book, Grief INK gives voice to loss, and how we continue bonds with the deceased and find comfort.

Susan holds a Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology and is a Certified Thanatologist--a death, dying, and bereavement specialist.  She's also the best-selling author of psychological thriller, Out of Breath,

I'm honored to host her moving and beautiful book here. Thank you so much, Susan!

What made you want to put this book together?

Do you yourself have tattoos? How did memorial tattoos begin?

 About two years ago my son got tattoos, and one honored the relationship that we have. At that point and time, I wasn’t a huge fan of tattoos. Historically, tattoos in the United States were limited to military personnel, gang members, and bikers. But in the past twenty years, the tattoo industry boomed, and this piqued my interest. 

 I did not (and still don’t) have any tattoos. Yet. Like many others, I had preconceived notions about tattoos and the industry that were not altogether positive. However, I began to notice clients and people in the general population with tattoos that clearly honored a relationship, pet, or person. I asked people what their tattoos were about; the story behind them; why they chose to get the tattoo; how it impacted their grief. 

It was during this time that my perspective about tattoos shifted. As a death, dying, and bereavement specialist, I saw memorial tattoos as the language of grief.

Thus, in early 2014 I brainstormed with a fellow colleague, tossing around the idea of a non-fiction pictorial/narrative book about memorial tattoos. My friend and website manager, Matt Molinari, is a fabulous photographer, and I hired him as the photographer for GriefINK. Within six months, we were interviewing and photographing people for GriefINK who we found through social media or word-of-mouth, and they shared powerful, moving, and loving stories of their losses, tattoos, and healing.

I was so deeply moved--done away, really--by the updates on some of the people focused in the book. They truly had moved on, and I believe their tattoos helped them. Can you talk about this please?

It’s not so much that I feel that memorial tattoos help people “move on”, as much as they allow individuals to incorporate their losses into their skin, so to speak. When a 75-year-old woman has a tattoo of her son on her arm, that tattoo says, “Ask! Let me tell you about my son! He may be gone, but he is still my son.” When we speak about our losses, we breathe life into one another. The outward expression (the tattoo) speaks of an inner process (a relationship), and that relationship continues even though that person, or persons, is no longer alive. This form of memorial opens up our souls to share deep connections, and teaches us that death and loss are not taboo. I think this frees up space in our psyches, and in turn, allows us to live despite our losses.

What would you tell someone contemplating getting a memorial tattoo? How is it different from wearing a piece of jewelry from a deceased love one, for example?

Be choosy about the artist. Get recommendations. You must feel comfortable and confident about the tattoo artist, and together you can create a design that reflects the person who died, the relationship, and meaning. I met the most amazing tattoo artists, and they crushed any negative stereotypes I held. The participants in GriefINK also shared that the process of getting the tattoo was transformational; that the pain was cathartic; that in essence, the ink becomes ritual, as opposed to buying an object to wear. I feel it’s important for the bereaved to do what feels most comfortable, and I’m certainly not advocating one type of expression of grief over another.

What's obsessing you now and why?

I am obsessed with historical fiction, in particular, the refugees who fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975, and what has been referred to as “the boat people.” This topic was certainly not on my radar until I began to get my nails done by a Vietnamese nail artist who told me his life story over a series of months. I said to him one day, “You know, I’m a writer, and this has the feel of a very good story.” I’m about 1/3 of the way through my first draft of Pink & White, and loss, grief, and renewal are huge themes in this book as well.

Want to follow Susan on Facebook and Twitter? Here you go:
Twitter: @SSalluce

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