It was a Saturday morning at Southbay Tattoo and Body Piercing in Carson, California, and owner Efrain Espinoza Diaz Jr. was preparing for his first tattoo of the day- a memorial portrait of a man his widow wanted tattooed on her forearm.
Diaz, also known as Rock Diaz, is tattoo artist for since the age of 26. But, he isn’t comfortable when it is about memorial tattoos. This one was especially sensitive. Diaz was tattooing Philip Martin Martinez’s portrait. an acquaintance and fellow tattoo artist who died in August of covid-19.
Diaz 52, who is a lawyer, said that “I need to focus.” “It’s an image of my friend, my mentor.”
Martinez Martinez, who was known to his friends and clients as “Sparky,” was a tattoo artist with a reputed reputation in nearby Wilmington in Los Angeles’ South Bay region. Sparky and Anita met through a tattoo. In 2012, Sparky gave Anita her first tattoo, a portrait of her father. This ignited an attraction. Through the years of their relationship, he had covered her body with intertwining roses, as well as a portrait of her mother.
His widow was now receiving the same photo tattooed onto her arm, which was also the place where Sparky’s tombstone was. This was her first tattoo Sparky did not apply.
“It is a bit odd, but Rock has been a great friend to us,” Anita Martinez said. Sparky and Rock “grew up together.” They met in the 1990s, at a time when there were no Mexican-American-owned tattoo shops in their neighborhood but Sparky was gaining a reputation. “It was artists like Phil that would inspire many of us to step into the world of professional tattoos,” Rock said.
After Sparky got sick, Anita wasn’t allowed in the hospital room of her husband, an experience that is a lonely one shared by hundreds of thousands of Americans who lost loved ones to covid. They let her to come in at the end.
Martinez 43-year-old Martinez said that Martinez was cheated out of his final moments. “When I arrived I was shocked to find that he had already left. We never got to say goodbye. We never had the chance to hug.”
She said, as Diaz began to draw the outline of the portrait below her elbow. “I do not even know if it’s ever going to heal,” she added. “But at least I’ll get to visit him every day.”
According to an 2015 Harris Poll, nearly 30% of Americans have at least one tattoo, a 10% increase from the 2011. The majority of tattoos are commemorative, said Deborah Davidson, sociology professor at York University in Toronto who has been studying memorial tattoos since 2009.
“Memorial tattoos help us speak our grief, bandage our wounds and open dialogue about death,” she said. “They aid us in integrating loss into our lives to help us heal.”
Unfortunately, Covid has offered many possibilities for memorials.
Juan Rodriguez, a tattoo artist who is known as “Monch,” has been seeing twice as many clients than before the outbreak and is booked months in advance at his salon in Pacoima in the L.A. neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. Memorial tattoos, which could include names, portraits and special artwork, are commonplace in his field of work, however there’s an increase in requests because of the pandemic. Rodriguez stated that a customer called him while he was on his way to the funeral of his brother.
Rodriguez believes that memorial tattoos help people process traumatic experiences. Rodriguez is a bit of an artist and therapist as he moves his needle over the clients’ legs, arms and backs, while sharing stories of their loved family members.
Healthy grievers don’t resolve grief by detaching from the deceased , but instead by establishing a new connection with them, said Jennifer R. Levin, a therapist in Pasadena, California, who specializes in traumatic grief. She suggested that tattoos could be a way of maintaining the relationship.
It’s normal for her patients in the 20-50 age group to get memorial tattoos she said. It’s a powerful way for people to pay tribute to life, death and the legacy.
Sazalea Martinez was a kinesiology major at Antelope Valley College in Palmdale. She visited Rodriguez in September to honor her grandparents. Her grandmother died in April of covid, and her grandfather died in February. Rodriguez tattooed an image of azaleas as well as “I love You” in her grandmother’s handwriting.
The azaleas, which form part of her name, are her grandfather, she said. Sazalea chose not to have a portrait of her grandmother because the latter didn’t approve of tattoos. She stated that the ‘I Love You’ message is simple and comforting. “It’s going to allow me to heal, and I am sure that she would have understood that.”
Sazalea was crying as the needle moved across her forearm following her grandmother’s handwriting. She said, “It’s still super fresh.” “They basically brought my children up. They impacted my character as a person. So to have them with me will be a source of comfort.”
This article was reprinted by khn.org, with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an independent news source, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-partisan health care research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.
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