Leah and I woke up around 9:00 AM. We were meeting at 10:00 AM for breakfast with her dad and her stepmom. As I mentioned before, they planned on getting tattoos with us a while ago and I was both honored and excited we could do this. It was helpful having two people with us that had experience in this area. Leah and I were newbies. I made a remark a while back about there being a lack of experience on Leah and my part because we had not spent any time in the joint and we weren’t part of any biker gangs. To my (probably) small audience, I do apologize as this was my normal sarcasm coming out. I erased the comment from my previous post but wanted to make sure I clarified myself. I am definitely not the type to offend people.
Both of us began the morning alright. We were in decent moods but some days can be harder for Leah than me. This morning was one of them. She was upset for a couple of reasons but the real issue was she was missing Ava. I was too, but that was matched with excitement because of a memorial tattoo I was about to get for Ava. Before we went in for breakfast, Leah and I talked in the car for a few minutes. It can be hard for me sometimes to see her so hurt by Ava’s absence from our lives. There was nothing that I could do about it. Absolutely nothing. All I have at my disposal are my words and my beliefs based on my experience with losing Ava. I always hope that’s it is enough to help her through the tough times. Every once in a while I can tell she just misses her and there’s nothing I can do. Like I have grown to understand, I am there for her if she needs me, but if she wants to be sad I want that to always be okay for her. After we talked, we went inside and ate breakfast. It was quite good.
Once we were at the tattoo parlor at noon it was quite a fun experience even if it was frightening for me. We all had last-minute decisions to make about what we exactly wanted. The whole design process took over an hour. This wasn’t too bad considering there were four of us and two of the tattoos were decided only shortly before we got there. I had a lot of excited anticipation about the whole thing. From the night before, I really did not think this was going to be a big deal. Maybe a little pin prick but nothing I couldn’t handle. I was wrong. Once the tattoos were designed the first person to get their tattoo was Leah’s stepmom. I said I would get mine second. I wanted to watch someone else get one first. I thought that would help.
Leah’s stepmom sat down and the tattooing began. I looked over at her a couple of times and she didn’t look like there was any pain involved. She was the wrong person to watch. She made it look easy. Leah and I eventually came over and stood by her and watched all the tattooing take place. I don’t know how long the entire tattoo took to complete but it didn’t seem to take too long. I asked her what it felt like and the only descriptions I got between her and the tattoo artist was bee stings, sunburn and annoying. I still told myself, “ah, no big deal I can handle that.” Her tattoo was a heart with Ava’s name on the inside. Along the left and right sides of the heart were Ava’s footprints. That alone made me so happy to see it. Above the heart was a halo and along each of her footprints was the date Ava was born and the date Ava passed away. It turned out perfect.
During her stepmom’s tattooing, I was starting to go from excited to anxious if not a little bit scared. I had no idea what it would feel like but I knew I wasn’t going to back out. This was too important. I don’t know what it’s called, but the temporary outline of my tattoo was applied to my arm. Once it was applied, Leah noticed the font was a little tough to read. This required a quick re-design of the font. This gave me some relief because I didn’t have to get my tattoo right away. I was being a chicken. We re-applied with the new font and everything was fine. I sat down and the tattooing was to begin. As soon as that needle hit my skin I knew I clearly was the wimp and Leah’s stepmom was way more tolerant of pain than I was. Leah was nice enough to sit with me during the whole thing which I absolutely had to have. This was not a bee sting. This was amputation of my forearm.
The whole tattoo took about an hour. The whole time I had a death grip on Leah’s leg. I was sweating. I had shorts on. I was sweating so profusely I left pools of sweat beneath both legs where my skin was coming in contact with the chair. There were a few moments where I wanted to stop. But, I told myself what this tattoo meant and I talked to Ava in my head a couple of times when I was actually able to pull together a coherent thought. Fortunately, I held still enough the whole time to make it. Leah’s dad and stepmom were there with me the whole time too and kept me company. It was definitely a family experience. My finished product on my right lower arm was the quote, “Those we have held in our arms for a little while, we hold in our hearts forever.” Below the quote were Ava’s hand prints angled with the thumbs together with a halo above them. Beneath the hand prints was “Aveline Mae” and “7-10-16.” It was perfect. It was worth every bit of pain. It was nothing compared to the events three weeks ago. That’s all I needed to remind myself to get through it. Aside from that, I established that there are probably more women out there than I would like to admit that handle pain better than I do. Oh well.
After my tattoo was Leah. Hers was much less ink than mine. It seemed like hers didn’t take long at all. She didn’t find the feeling to be that enjoyable but she also wasn’t cutting the circulation off to my leg either. My wife can be tougher than me, I can admit it. I can still do more push ups than her though. Leah’s finished product was a simple but very pretty infinity sign with a feather incorporated, located on her right wrist. Within the symbol was “Aveline Mae” spelled out in cursive that followed and replaced the outline of the infinity symbol. Next to the feathers were birds flying away. Yet again, this tattoo was perfect and I could tell she loved it just as much as I did. I just thought to myself how much I hoped Ava was looking down and smiling.
Leah’s dad was last to go and for good reason. His was the most complicated of all of ours but definitely worth the wait. The tattoo he chose was a cross with wings on both sides. This was located on his left shoulder and upper arm. Above the cross was “Aveline Mae” and below it was “7-10-16.” The description does not do it justice but the wings were intricate with a lot of shadowing and the cross had similar effects added to it. When it was done it really was amazing. I was certainly touched to see our daughter’s name above such a beautiful design. It was fitting for Ava. Her dad handled the pain way better than I would have. His took well over an hour to do. I don’t know that I will ever get a tattoo again, let alone one of that size.
The entire process took about five hours to complete. It was a fun time and I am glad we did it. There was a sense of permanence Ava had in my life by doing it and I also felt this sense of relief for facing something that I didn’t want to but doing it for her. Although I already said it I am also very grateful that Leah’s dad and stepmom chose to recognize Ava’s memory in this way. They did it with us and was something that would be permanent for the rest of all our lives. After tattooing time, we went to see Ava.
Usually, when I am at Ava’s grave I take that time to send her a message and think. I ask God to get a message to her so that she can know how much I love her and how much I miss her. I also wanted to make sure she knew I got my first tattoo for her. I thanked God for the gifts that He and Ava had given me and that was it. Leah and I stayed for a little while but not too long. We had to get back home. She was still really missing Ava as was I. By the time were done with tattoos I was both grateful and sad. We were doing something to honor the memory of our precious daughter but at the same time I wished I hadn’t had to do it in the first place. She was just supposed to be here.
While we were away getting our tattoos, my brother picked up a whole truckload of bark for our garden. We were behind schedule when he first picked it up but he decided to pick it up anyway. He had to find a key we had hidden so that he could get into our garage. I asked him if he would just leave the bark in our driveway and I would take care of it as soon as Leah and I had the chance, perhaps that night. Without being asked, he not only got the bark, but he carted it by himself and put it in our garden for us. There was only a small portion of the bark left to lay where we still needed to put liner in. It looked so nice. I was filled with such gratitude and joy. He said he wanted to contribute to his niece’s garden and that he and my sister-in-law loved Ava so much. Words just can’t say what I feel when people say things like that and do the things they do.
This brings me to my final point (again). I don’t know what I would do without family. My mom and dad, Leah’s parents, our siblings, our nieces. This garden is a symbol of family. It’s for Ava, but everyone did something to make that garden happen. It means everything to me and I know it does to Leah too and it isn’t even done yet. I can’t possibly forget our neighbors either. We have the best neighbors we could ask for. There are two families in our neighborhood that have shown a tremendous amount of empathy and compassion for us. Whether this is read by them or not, they are amazing people and I can’t put into words how much home feels like home when you have people around you that care. I owe everyone, our family and our friends a lifetime of gratitude. I don’t know that my words could ever be enough.
Today was a good day. It was a reminder of how great the world can be and how important family is. It was also a reminder of how grateful I am to have Ava as my daughter. She may not be here, but she will always be with me. I know it’s important to embrace the good days. You never know what tomorrow brings.