Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Tattooing-Psychological aspects, Tattooed people-Psychology, Bereavement-Psychological aspects, Mourning customs, Grief, Grief in art, Tattoos, Memorials, Narratives, Metaphors, Ritual, Mourning, Body modification


This qualitative study explores how memorial tattoos function as mourning rituals in the grief processes of the bereaved. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 14 individuals who had honored at least one deceased loved one with a tattoo. Demographic questions as well as open-ended interview questions were put forth to participants in order to determine the meanings and uses of memorial tattoos for the bereaved. The objective of this study was to establish if memorial tattoos function as effective grief rituals as defined by the literature, namely if they integrated structure, symbolism, and the inclusion of others into the ritual experience. All participants stated that their memorial tattoos provided them with a connection to others during their grief process and with a symbolic representation of their loss. All but two of the participants identified ways that the process of obtaining a memorial tattoo provided structure during a chaotic grief experience. All but one of the participants articulated a least one way in which their memorial tattoo had been helpful in their grief process. More than half the participants identified ways that the memorial tattoos had changed them personally, and ways in which the tattoos had marked the significant transformation of their lives following the death of their loved one. The majority of participants spoke about their tattoos as functioning as tools for connecting with the dead, and half the participants identified how the tattoos have created gateways to talk about their grief experience.




iv, 98 p. : col. ill. Thesis (M.S.W.)--Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Mass., 2009. Includes bibliographical references (p. 85-89)