“Once you lose someone really close to you, I think you naturally prepare yourself for the hard stuff: the big holidays they’ll no longer attend, the anniversaries they’ll miss, and the birthdays where they will no longer grow in age. We see those coming. We know they’re around the corner. We try to prepare ourselves for the pain those particular days encompass as best we can. We expect these milestones to make us fall to our knees. But we still try our hardest to protect our broken hearts during these times.
Then there’s the small moments we don’t see coming that have us bawling out of nowhere: their favorite song playing on the radio, the truck that passes us on the highway that looks exactly like his did, his first name being called at the doctor’s office, and running across an old video you never remember recording. Those ones sting the most because you realize it’s the small things you miss the most.
You miss their voice, their laugh, their smell. You miss the way they held your hand, and the way their chest feels when they hugged you. Those physical attributes are the ones we hope we never forget. But as time marches on, those specific characteristics can slowly fade away. But through my father’s death I’ve learned there’s one trait that won’t disappear, given the right circumstances.
Growing up, I was always mesmerized by my parent’s handwriting. The writing seemed to flow so beautifully, making everything they wrote so amusing to read. I was always fascinated by how differently both of my parents wrote. My dad wrote all of his words in upper case letters while my mom’s handwriting seemed to glide across the paper seamlessly. Their handwriting was never really something I obsessed over, but it was always something I took notice of when I saw it.
Before my father died of pancreatic cancer, I knew I wanted to get a tattoo in his honor. I wanted his input and I wanted to make sure he thought it represented him well. But I also wanted it to be very simple. It took me a few days of scouring Pinterest to finally find the idea I liked. So that day, I had both of my parents participate. I had them both write out their birthdates in their own handwriting. I knew if I was going to do this for my dad, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity with my mom as well. You never know what the next day will hold for anyone.
When I first approached my dad with the idea, he took to it instantly. During the four months he had from diagnosis to death, he really took in everything around him. He did things for people he probably would have questioned harder before. He seemed to be a big people pleaser, doing whatever we needed to help in our own grief processes even before he died. It’s almost like he would try to make things easier on all of us as best he could.
When I explained he had to write out his birthday in his own handwriting, he used a pen to write it first. He had always written and signed paperwork with Sharpie markers so once he studied his first attempt, he suggested he redo it with the Sharpie as that was much more ‘him.’ I watched him sketch out that second attempt and smile down on it. He looked up and said, ‘how’s this one? I think this one is better, don’t you think?’ I agreed and we both sat there studying the document. Maybe he was imagining it actually being tattooed on me and how that would feel. He never had any tattoos and wasn’t exactly a supporter of them, but again, he was a people pleaser at the end. I just sat there wondering what he was thinking. Was he wondering what the date would be that would inevitably mark his death? Did he wonder how many more days he had left? Did he even think he would make it to his 50th birthday? What was he thinking as he stared at his own birthdate? He died just a few months later, exactly 13 days after his 50th birthday. I held onto that paper for a year before I went to get it tattooed on me.
The tattoo appointment was a gift to me from my husband. I kept putting off the actual ‘tattooing’ part. I’m not sure why I was so reluctant. But Tim scheduled the appointment for me and made sure I finally followed through with something that meant so much to me. When the artist started tattooing, I made sure to really feel every letter. I paid attention to how his strokes were moving so I knew exactly what word he was working on. I imagined my father’s hand guiding his, as if to make sure it was exactly as he wrote it. The sting of the needle imbedding my skin was a comforting reminder his words were permanently stuck to me.
When it was all said and done, I felt extreme comfort that a piece of both of my parents were so close. Choosing to have them write their own birthdays instead of little phrases is more monumental to me because beginnings are beautiful. I chose to stay away from my father’s death date because for me, it’s a painful reminder. His birthday on the other hand is something that is a beautiful piece of him, as with my mom. Another reason I chose their birthdates is because I love that they were born in 1966 and 1967. Those dates will feel so distant down the road, so being able to have them near is really special.
I didn’t realize how much I would miss my dad’s handwriting. I didn’t know that handwriting could even be a part of the grieving process. Mourning handwriting? But I did. I still do. The letter he wrote to me in his dying days is now framed and hung in my closet. I find myself standing in front of it, studying the way he wrote my name and examining how he stayed true to his capital letters, word after word. I love to just stare at it, imagining him writing it and wondering how long it took him to finish it.
Since getting the tattoo, I also had a necklace made from something he wrote in a journal he kept in his last days. There’s just something about keeping such a specific piece of him so close that is so comforting. I’ve worn it for almost two years straight now, never taking it off.
Here and there I’ll come across cards he wrote in past years for my own kids’ birthdays or holidays. I’m so thankful now that I kept those cards. I love showing my kids their Puppa in heaven wrote them little notes that one day they can pour over, themselves. Finding papers he once signed or even sketched illegible words on brings so much simple happiness to me. Whenever I randomly come across his words, I imagine it’s his way of saying, ‘hey kiddo, I’m here!’ I believe in those moments of seeing a part of him, he’s truly hugging me and letting me know he’s never too far away.
One of the main things my father’s death has proven to me is that a person’s handwriting is as unique as their DNA or their fingerprint. No two people write the exact same, making it such a special quality from person to person. It’s the one exclusive property only they possess. When you can’t keep the physical person anymore, being able to keep their handwriting close by can bring immense peace. I think most of us in the world find our loved one’s own writings to be so personal and memorable.
I think handwriting, in a sense, is being phased out of our society. People rarely send cards through the mail anymore and when they do, most of it is digital. We don’t take the time to write out letters like our grandparents or even parents did before us. It’s much easier to type out an email or create holiday cards through an online photo service. Knowing what I know now, I know my handwriting will be something my kids will really miss about me. My experience with my father has really shown me the importance of writing them little notes or letters here and there for them to keep through the years. I now take the time to write journal entries to them individually. One day I hope they can inspect my own words in the way that I do my dad’s.”
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