Forever Flowers

The day after we found out that Eleanora had died, she visited me in a dream. She likes to do that every now and then.

In this dream, she was elementary-school aged, long and lanky with a head of curls that looked just like mine. She was beautiful, just as she was and is and always will be in my memory.

I told her that I had decided to get a tattoo to honor her, but I wasn’t sure where to put it. She was standing directly across from me. She pointed to my right arm, just below my inner elbow, and told me to have it placed there. “Because,” she said, “when your arm is at your side, I will always be right there next to you.”

I woke up that morning with my decision made. I knew I wanted the tattoo to be a bouquet of eucalyptus and a couple other types of flowers. I just had to find a tattoo shop and get scheduled.

For weeks, I tried and tried to get on the books somewhere. For various reasons, each place I looked into ended up falling through. I started getting frustrated and worried that I’d never be able to get an appointment made.

One day in August, I went through the Starbucks drive-through (as we all know I often do). When the girl working the drive-through window handed me my drink, I noticed that she had a lovely floral tattoo on her upper arm, similar to what I was envisioning for my own.

Normally, I don’t speak up in that kind of situation because I’m introverted and was blessed with a Lifetime Supply of Anxiety. For whatever reason, that day, I spoke up. I told the girl that I loved her tattoo and asked her where she’d gotten it done.

Here, in our small town.

I had been looking everywhere else.

She told me the tattoo artist’s name, and I reached out to the shop on Facebook. (At that point, I wasn’t yet able to talk about Eleanora on the phone without bursting into tears, so I tried to avoid phone calls to strangers as much as possible.) Someone from the shop responded that evening and suggested that I get in contact with the artist directly, so I did.

That night, he got me scheduled for October 6th. He said he would be honored to do the tattoo for me. I remember being overjoyed at the timing; I’d be getting the tattoo done almost exactly one year after we found out we were expecting Eleanora. I also remember feeling like the tattoo plan was finally falling into place.

When Daniel and I were in Petoskey for my birthday weekend, the artist reached out to ask if we could scoot the appointment back a couple of days to October 10th. That was no big deal to me, and that timing actually ended up being even sweeter because I’d be getting the tattoo done on Eleanora’s four-month birthday.

When we got to the shop yesterday afternoon, the artist showed me what he’d come up with based on what I’d told him. It was beautiful. There was the eucalyptus to remind me of every perfect day with Eleanora, the rose to represent her rose bush, the baby’s breath to remind me of my perfect always-my-baby daughter, and the lavender to remind us of the oil used to make the sign of the cross on Eleanora’s forehead at her blessing ceremony. I just asked for one more thing: one more stem of eucalyptus.

If I’ve learned anything in the last four months about how I will grieve my daughter, it’s that there can never be too much eucalyptus.

He added one more stem to the design, printed out a variety of size options, helped me pick the perfect one, and off we went to get set up.

We talked about the weather, the local Covered Bridge Festival, and whether or not this is my first tattoo. I told him I have a small cross on my left foot and what I call my Basic White Girl tattoo behind my right shoulder. He said he has some Basic White Girl tattoos, too.

He pressed the outline of the design onto my arm, and I knew it was going to be just perfect.

I asked Daniel to sit next to me and hold my hand, and he obliged. I continually told the guys that I was sweating because I was nervous. I apologized for not being ladylike by telling them that.

I also apologized in advance for any tears I might shed. I have had such horrible separation anxiety since we buried Eleanora, and I knew this would be a huge step for me in my grieving process: to now have a permanent reminder that she is always there.

The artist told me not to worry. He said that he and his wife have experienced the same loss.

They lost their precious firstborn, a son, at twenty-eight weeks.

I knew then why none of the other tattoo places had worked out. I was meant to go to this shop, to this artist, and I truly believe that Eleanora made that happen.

We spent my appointment talking about our children in Heaven, the ways they visit us now, and the knowledge that they are never really that far away. We talked about how Eleanora loved spaghetti and strawberry lemonade. He told us that their son loved peanut butter. I said that Eleanora visits as a baby sparrow and that, immediately after her death, one single baby sparrow nested in our porch and remained there, steadfast, for days. He said their son comes by as a bee, and that they’ve seen more bees since losing him to ever believe it’s a coincidence. We talked about how much it sucks that society doesn’t recognize a father’s grief the way they do a mother’s. We talked about wanting more children and finding peace in the midst of the worst possible kind of loss.

When we were leaving, the artist commented that he was glad I chose to come to this shop, to this artist, for this tattoo. I told him this story—about how I tried and failed to get an appointment booked and somehow, by fate or serendipity or my daughter’s strong will, I ended up here.

The tattoo is perfect. It’s better than I could have even imagined. It’s my daughter, etched into my skin and my life and my memory in a way that can never be erased.

A few people have asked me how I feel now that the tattoo is done, and what I have told them is this: “It feels like having my daughter in my arms again.” There’s no greater peace than that.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering what Eleanora thinks of it (because I asked her to let me know!)…her rose bush is in full bloom again, with the biggest roses I have ever seen.

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