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Direction.

This past Thursday was Valentine’s Day. For most of my life, I thought Valentine’s day was stupid, even when I was in relationship. Last year, my grandmom, Eleanor, died on Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is also her birthday. That in itself is strange–to die on the same day you were born. I was pretty shaken when Eleanor died. My family knew it was coming, as she was well into her 80s and her health was declining quickly, so I was surprised by how affected I was. Something temporarily broke in me. I know part of it was the stress of school and the trauma and loss work I was doing, but I know that she died about six weeks before the anniversary of my mom’s suicide. My grandom’s death made me remember my mom’s death, which made me remember my brother’s death, but not in the calm, reflective peaceful way to which we aspire when we lose someone. It was more an underlying panic coupled with devastation and seeing futility all over the things I usually find meaningful  February through April 2012 sucked. I eventually snapped out it, but I feel as though I’m still tip-toeing towards that place of calm, reflective peace to which we all aspire.

In the meantime, I have to determine how my family’s losses will shape me and how I will honor those losses. One of the things I struggle with is finding ways to remember the people I lost in a way that feels genuine for me. I’m not someone who wants to visit a grave site. I don’t want to make a photo album. I don’t want to wear a locket. I’ve surprised myself in discovering that the thing that works for me is a tattoo. Last March, I got a tattoo in honor of my brother, and I can’t believe what a relief that’s brought for me. Over the summer, I was doing some research on narrative constructions of grief and loss, and tattoos and other body markings came up a lot. It seems there’s something universal in wanting to do something symbolic and permanent to recognize events and people whom we find significant.

Now, almost a year after Eleanor’s death kicked me into facing that which I like to ignore, I’ve felt a lot of weight thinking about my mother and what she went through in life. Then with Eleanor’s birthday/deathday approaching, I kept thinking about my family’s history and where we’re headed. So this past Valentine’s, I got my second tattoo. I now have a star compass on the inside of my right forearm. While I do just really love maps and adventure, when I think of my mom, I think of someone who was lost. She needed direction. But direction is something we all need, and we need guidance. A compass can help point you to where you’re going.

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