I Love You More
On November 19, 2019, I walked into a tattoo parlor to get my first tattoo. I wanted a tribute to my son whom I could no longer physically share with the world. I wanted a conversation starter, so that I could tell people who Caleb is when they asked me about it. I thought having his name in permanent ink on my skin might make him feel a little closer to me, but it also painfully made his death more real. Going through some of his keepsakes, I found his very first journal from when he was five years old. He would say what he wanted written and I would write it for him and then he would sign his name. I had not seen this journal in 12 years, so reading through it was very emotional. When I saw his name written in his little five year old handwriting I knew that’s the tattoo I wanted, and I had to put “I Love You More” because it’s something Caleb always said to me.
No Matter What, No Matter Where, No Matter When
Six weeks later, I was back in that same tattoo parlor with two of my dearest friends. These two ladies have not just been my friends for seventeen years, they have been my role models in motherhood and as women of Christ. Since the minute I found out something terrible had happened and my Caleb was gone, they have been with me and they have witnessed first hand the horror a bereaved mother goes through. They’ve spent countless hours by my side holding my hand, talking me through my breakdowns, cleaning up my piles of tissues and taking care of my girls and our family. They have made themselves available to me whenever I’ve needed them and they have comforted me through the absolute worst of days. We wanted a tattoo as a reminder of what we’ve been through, who we are to each other and that we will always be there, “No Matter What, No Matter Where, No Matter When.” I got, “No Matter When.” No matter when, I will trust God’s heart, keep my faith and be there for my friends when they need me. I use this tattoo in mindfulness as well. When my mind gets caught up in traumatic images and painful thoughts I trace this tattoo and say, “I am not alone and Caleb is okay,” over and over until I’m able to let the thoughts go. It’s a coping skill I use to help draw me back to the present moment and away from the negative thoughts.
Seventeen Butterflies and Two Hearts
So you know what they say, once you get one… On July 22, 2020, I walked back into that parlor and left with 2 more tattoos. Well, really 18 more.
Seventeen butterflies from smallest to biggest on my arm to symbolize how many years I had the beautiful gift of being Caleb’s mom. I’ve looked at butterflies through a new lens since August 12, 2019. A butterfly symbolizes a transformation, a rebirth from death to life. While sitting at Caleb’s graveside just a few weeks after he died, a white butterfly landed on my ankle and stayed there for a few seconds before it flew away. This little white butterfly had no idea it brought my heart comfort. Maybe God sent it to show me that Caleb is alive in Him, or to remind me that I do not grieve as one without hope and that mine and Caleb’s relationship did not have to end with his death. When I see a butterfly, I’m reminded to feel his love for me and his presence in my heart. I have 16 orange butterflies fluttering up my arm. The 17th one is not colored in to symbolize the year he died and his transformation to eternal life after death.
Early this Summer, we planted Butterfly Bushes in the front yard. Sometimes I just sit on the porch and watch them. Orange ones make me think of him and his love for all things Tennessee Football. Yellow ones remind me of the message of hope. Red reminds me of the happiness, joy and the love that life still brings. When it’s blue, I think of how sad I am and how much I miss my son. Sometimes I see a butterfly with a broken wing and I think of myself. I am broken. A piece of me is missing, but I’m still flying. Still living. Broken and beautiful, I’m finding my way just like a butterfly with a broken wing.
I also wanted one to recognize my family in whole..these two connected hearts with our initials on the back of my neck. J for Joe, C for Chrisy and CSJ in the middle for Caleb, Samantha and Jordyn.
Each tiny little poke to the skin was very painful, which I actually really wanted to feel. I’m in so much pain on the inside and I wanted to physically feel it on the outside. Some days the pain feels too much to bear. I hate my reason for wanting to get a tattoo but I love the permanent, meaningful representation of the love I have in my heart for my child who is no longer here with me. When people ask me about them I get to explain their meaning and tell them all about my amazing son, Caleb.
You know what they say…
In May 2021, I went to a Respite Retreat for Bereaved Parents in Franklin, Tennessee. When we showed up on Friday evening my heart was hard, guarded and I was extremely weary from grieving. It had nearly been 18 months since the worst day of my life and I didn’t understand how I was still breathing. Mentally, I was living in the past with Caleb trying to hold onto him. Physically, I was shell of my former self who was just going through the motions of life. As the weekend went on, that hardness began to soften and I opened up my mind to the possibility of healing, even if only a little bit, through the retreat. On Sunday morning we gathered in a circle, sang praise songs and talked through some scriptures. One of those was Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” As we talked through that verse, I broke down sobbing, wailing and I knew God was telling me it was time to let go. Not let go of Caleb, but to let go of the life I expected to have with him. It was time for me to exhale and rest in what my life is, and to stop clenching onto the life I thought I’d have as a family of 5. Because this was such a profound point of healing in my journey I had to mark it with a tattoo, it had to be the word REST and it had to be somewhere noticeable. Not just that, I wanted it in the handwriting of myself, my husband and daughters. My husband wrote the R, my youngest daughter wrote the E, my oldest daughter the S and I wrote the T.
On that same day I got the letters TNRPLAEP on my forearm. The letters are to remind of the verse Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” When I get consumed with how Caleb died, this is my reminder to think on what I know is true and right and how Caleb lived, not how he died.
Think that’s all? Think again!
In February 2023, I walked into the tattoo parlor, and walked out with 4 more tattoos! A Cardinal behind my ear, because Cardinals make me smile. A wave to represent grief. A sun on my right foot and a moon on my left. The sun was drawn by my oldest daughter to represent how she has been my reminder to live in the moment. She had just surpassed Caleb in age, and that was a really hard milestone. She shouldn’t be older than her older brother, but here we are. I don’t want to miss a single moment with her. The moon was drawn by my youngest to represent how she has been my light in the darkness. She carries Caleb’s personality and many of his characteristics inside of her. She is affectionate, funny, sweet, caring and gentle. She literally brings light into the darkest of days.
I’d love for you to share your tattoos with me! Email them to me at email@example.com.