Sean got his first and only tattoo in his final year of high school. On his upper arm, he has the image of a wooden cross and with banners draped over it to commemorate the life of his uncle David, who had passed away from cancer at the age of 36. “I sketched the design myself. I just wanted something classic and a little bit rustic.” The spelling "Onkel" is in Plattdüütsch to reflect the dialect that was native to Sean's grandparents, and has been preserved in small ways in the family vernacular around the dinner table and family gatherings.
At the time, many of Sean’s family members, including two cousins, an aunt, and his Dad, had gotten similar tattoos to remember David. “Everybody mourns in their own way,” Sean says, and for his family, getting tattoos was one thing they felt they could do to honour David’s life. Sean’s uncle had played a really important role in the family and community and he left behind a legacy of love and hope. In his final year, he made a recording of his life’s story, original music, and poetry to be shared with his family and friends. Sean remembers him warmly as an inspiring father figure and amazing storyteller. “Our family spent a lot of time together,” Sean recalls. Many of his fondest childhood memories include his uncle. “As I have gotten older, it amazes me how he managed to live such a full life in such a short time.”
7 years later, Sean is glad that he didn’t get his tattoo in too public a location. “I really like the way tattoos look, but this tattoo is mostly for me” Sean says. “It helps me keep the good memories alive.” When I asked Sean if he would consider getting another tattoo, he thinks it’s unlikely. “I would have to wait for something as significant and worth remembering.”
Books for Tats
Edward St Aubyn is renowned for his ability to dissect with savage and beautiful precision the agonies of family life. His take on King Lear, Shakespeare’s most devastating family story, is an excoriating novel for and of our times.