45 Tattoos That Honor A Lost Loved One And Help Start The Healing Process

Grief and loss can be incredibly difficult to navigate, especially after the death of a loved one. For many people, memorializing their lost friends or family members can be a cathartic process, and something that helps them deal with their grief. A memorial can take many forms, but for some, tattoos can feel like the perfect way to remember someone you love. Their permanence can be appealing, along with the fact that you'll always be carrying the reminder with you. The wonderful thing about tattoos is that they are symbols, and symbols can hold many meanings — some of which can be deeply personal. 

A 2022 study published in the academic journal Mortality showed that "memorial tattoos play a beneficial role within the grieving process and ... serve as a positive therapeutic tool." Tattoos, for those who have or want them, can also be seen as beautiful pieces of wearable art, and who doesn't want something beautiful to remember someone by? 

Dragonflies are symbols of the beyond

For some, dragonflies are a symbol of lost loved ones. Spotting a dragonfly can carry a message to those who are grieving that their friend or family member is at peace and lives on after death. The image of a dragonfly also tends to look delicate and beautiful, which can sometimes represent the state of someone who is grieving.

Vanessa Bryant tattooed words from her husband

Though she did not share the final product online, Vanessa Bryant got a commemorative tattoo in honor of her late husband, basketball player Kobe Bryant, and their daughter Gianna, who both tragically passed away in a helicopter accident. Her tattoo artist said via Instagram that giving Bryant the tattoo was so she had "something to keep with you." 

Joe Jonas got a memorial tattoo of his grandfather

In 2018, singer and one-third of The Jonas Brothers Joe Jonas had an image of his grandfather tattooed in a portrait style to commemorate his life (via Instagram). Keeping photos of loved ones who have passed away can feel like a great way to remember them, but having an image of them permanently etched onto your body feels special as well.

Billie Lourd got a matching tattoo to honor her mom

Actress Billie Lourd got a memorial tattoo for her mom, the late actress Carrie Fisher (via Teen Vogue). The gesture was made all the more special because of what she got tattooed. Lourd opted to get a design matching a tattoo of planets and stars Fisher had on her ankle. Sharing a tattoo design with a loved one who has passed away is a unique way to remember them through how they chose to adorn their own bodies when they lived.

Sophie Turner got inked for her hero

Taking notes from her husband Joe Jonas, actress Sophie Turner also got a memorial tattoo for her grandfather, whom she considered her "hero," according to an Instagram post. Sometimes, less is more when it comes to a tattoo dedicated to a loved one, as the symbolism behind your tattoo feels more personal, since it may not be obvious to other people.

Lea Michele got the number five for Cory Monteith

The number five is a meaningful symbol for actress Lea Michele because her late co-star and boyfriend, Corey Monteith, wore a jersey with the number five when he played Finn on the hit show "Glee." Monteith tragically passed away in 2013, and this subtle but meaningful tattoo seems like a wonderful way for the actress to remember him.

Kanye West wanted a face tattoo for his mother

Choosing a prominent spot on one's body to display a memorial tattoo can be a key part of the process, but you may also want to take extra care when deciding where to get a tattoo. In the case of Kanye West, his ex-wife Kim Kardashian supported his decision to get inked, but also advised him not to make a rash decision to get it on his face, according to posts she shared on Twitter.

Special symbols that represent a loved one

The wonderful thing about a tattoo is that you can choose literally whatever symbol is most meaningful to you. In this example, something like a favorite mug for a coffee or tea-loving individual can be a great way to immortalize their memory.

Paris Jackson inked a familiar phrase

"Queen of My Heart" in Michael Jackson's handwriting is permanently etched into daughter Paris Jackson's skin. According to an Instagram post from Jackson (via E! News), this phrase is a reminder that "To everyone else he was the King of Pop. To me, well, he was the king of my heart."

Keep beloved pets close

Most pet owners can agree that it always feels like your pet is the cutest or best pet in the world. A 2021 study published in NeuroImage found that the bonds between pets and their owners can sometimes mirror that of parents and their infant children. This is why a portrait tattoo of your best, furry friend seems like a great way to remember them.

Demi Lovato got her late dog Buddy tattooed

In 2019, singer and actress Demi Lovato shared a photo of a new tattoo on social media (per E! News). The tattoo was a micro-portrait of her dog Buddy, who had passed away. Remembering him as her "baby angel Buddy," Lovato thanked her tattoo artist for the piece and declared that she would always love and remember her pet.

A stylized photo tattoo captures a moment

When symbols just won't do, portrait tattoos are a great option for commemorative tattoos. However, given that not all tattoo artists specialize in realistic portraits, which is often what comes to mind when someone refers to a portrait tattoo, there are many other illustrative styles that can capture the likeness of a loved one.

Notes from a loved one leave a permanent mark

Whether someone's penmanship is aesthetically pleasing or not, there's something special about getting a tattoo in someone's handwriting. This tattoo seems to reflect a father's sign-off on a note or letter with "I Love You! Dad." And while their intention may not have been for their writing to be permanently etched into their child's skin, the memory of that message and their love lives on through the tattoo.

Personalize your tattoo in your own language

Because tattoos dedicated to mothers are often traditional, it may be difficult to feel like you've really made it your own. While a more timeless style is always an option, choosing to use another language (in this case, the Tagalog word for mother, "nanay") when honoring a loved one who's passed away can feel special and unique to your culture.

Ariana Grande remembers furry friend with name tattoo

When your pup has a name as beautiful as Toulouse, it seems fitting to tattoo their name as a means to honor their life and what they mean to you. Singer and actress Ariana Grande even chose a highly visible spot on her body — her hand — to display the tattoo (via Pop Sugar).

Detailed portraits immortalize the past

Stylized portrait tattoos might look and feel illustrative and "cartoon-y" to some, so if a portrait is your choice of memorial tattoo, you may want to consider opting for a realistic style, as it can accurately capture the likeness of the person you're memorializing.

Keep a special place close

As the famous "Wizard of Oz" line says, "There's no place like home." This tattoo of someone's house is a great example of capturing a memory or time that symbolized happiness and using that as a way to remember a loved one who is no longer with you.

Remember their life, not death

Grief can conjure up many negative feelings, so sometimes it's important to remember the life of your lost loved one. The individuals we love and cherish have great qualities and quirks that we can look back on fondly, like this tattoo that seems to honor someone who loved to bake.

Try religious symbols to keep you connected

For anyone with strong religious beliefs, a cross tattoo may seem like an obvious, though meaningful choice. Tattoos with spiritual or religious meanings can hopefully bring you solace, as the symbol you are getting tattooed has a bigger message and can make you feel connected to your loved one, as well as your faith. 

The butterfly is a symbol associated with grief

Butterflies are often associated with transformation and growth, as they are the result of a caterpillar's transformative evolution. However, some people have reported that in times of loss, butterflies have made their presence known, almost as if they're a loved one trying to communicate from beyond the grave. 

Make a heart tattoo your own

The heart is one of the most well-recognized symbols of love. So it seems fitting to use a universally acknowledged symbol for love as a way to remember a loved one who has passed. 

Share your grief with friends or family

When you think of matching tattoos, you may think of young love and youthful displays of friendship. However, finding comfort at a time of tragedy and grief often involves spending quality time spent with friends or family. Getting matching tattoos to commemorate someone you've lost could be a wonderful way to grieve and heal together.

Zach Braff commemorated his friend with a tattoo

To show his love and express his grief over the loss of his friend Nick Cordero (who passed away due to COVID in 2020), Zack Braff got a tattoo of Cordero dancing as a character he played on Broadway. This touching tattoo shows that remembering happy times can provide some healing during tragic times.

Tattooing a loved one's name is a beautiful tribute

Though some would advise against tattooing another person's name on your body, a memorial tattoo of someone's name feels like an apt way to honor their memory. A name holds so many memories and captures an identity, so having it tattooed might make it feel like that person is with you always.

Personal belongings can evoke memories

Family heirlooms and other personal trinkets can make for a beautiful tattoo design to remember a loved one who's passed away. Physical things can be lost all the time, but the sentiment and image of an heirloom belonging to someone you love can live on permanently with a memorial tattoo.

Floral tattoo designs can feel deeply personal

Whether you are choosing someone's favourite flower, or a flower that represents someone's birth month, a floral design is a subtle and beautiful symbol that can carry a lot of meaning. There are specific flowers you may want to choose in your tattoo design to convey your grief, but these symbols are also what you make of them, so choosing a flower that is most meaningful to you is best.

Favorite foods can bring comfort in many ways

It's not uncommon to bring grieving loved ones comfort food in a time of mourning. Food has a way of bringing people together in good times and times of sadness, so remembering someone through a favorite meal or a dish (or something that was their specialty) in tattoo form is unique and personal.

A constellation can remind you to look up

A constellation tattoo can be made personal based on a loved one's astrological sign. The star as a symbol also represents hope, life, death, and resurrection, so it seems to be a fitting symbol to remember and grieve someone you've lost.

Use a zodiac sign as tribute

There are many people who abide by astrology and find meaning in their astrological sign, in terms of personal qualities, ideal friends, and even life partners. So using someone's astrological sign as a way to remember and immortalize them through a tattoo could be a cool idea, especially if your loved one was interested in astrology.

A deer can be a sign from a loved one

Like dragonflies and butterflies, some people have reported spotting deer shortly after someone's death, interpreting an unusual animal spotting as a message from a deceased loved one. Perhaps one way to remember the memories and the essence of a lost loved one is through a symbol like a deer.

Feathers symbolize a loved one's spirit

Feathers can represent communication with the beyond or, also, the presence of angels. A feather tattoo makes for a beautiful reminder of how we float through this world when we're living, and how our memories float on in our loved one's minds and hearts once we've passed.

Coins have a historical connection to death

Historically, coins have been used to represent the safe passage of a loved one into the afterlife — think of it as a toll fee. Coins on gravestones also have a significant meaning to people in the military, so a tattoo of a coin might be something to consider when thinking of a way to memorialize someone who was once in the military.

Fragrance can connect people

Anecdotally, people have claimed that familiar smells are potential signs from someone who has passed away. For anyone who had a signature scent, a tattoo to symbolize that may be meaningful. According to Northwestern Medicine, scent is one of the most powerful triggers of memories.

Song lyrics can provide comfort

Music has long been a source of comfort for those who are grieving. Song lyrics are also often tattooed, so bringing the two together to honor a loved one seems like a no-brainer for someone seeking a commemorative tattoo.

Approaching grief with humor can be helpful too

As the saying goes, "Laughter is the best medicine." Not all memorial tattoos need to be deeply symbolic or sad to be meaningful. If your loved one was a jokester, it may be fitting to approach their tribute with some levity.

Remembering someone through their birth year

Many people continue to celebrate a loved one's birthday long after they've passed, to remember the life that they lived. Focusing on a loved one's life, rather than their death, can be a way to shift perspective and try to begin to heal from grief.

Use a personal message as inspiration

If you're fortunate enough to have written notes or letters from a loved one, using this as tattoo inspiration serves as a great reminder of their presence. It is as though you're taking their loving words and using them to adorn your body.

Coordinate tattoos can remind you of a special place

Actress Angelina Jolie famously had the coordinates of where her children were born tattooed on her arm. However, this tattoo idea can certainly extend beyond this meaning and symbolize special locations that were significant during the life of a loved one.

Sunsets are beautiful symbols of an ending

A sunset marks the end of the day. It can also mark the end of a chapter, or a life. However, in the context of grief, it can also be looked at as the promise of something else, like the imminent sunrise, and the hope of a new day. 

Physical symbols bring perspective

Something as simple as a paw print can serve as a great reminder of the physical presence a beloved pet once had and the space they occupied in our world. Through a tribute tattoo like this, one can look forward and remember the space their pet will always hold in their heart.

An angel can represent a loved one in the afterlife

Some people remember the death of a loved one by saying "Another angel gained their wings," or "Heaven gained another angel." So it seems fitting to use angel wings as a tattoo design to symbolize loss.

Roses are symbols of love and grief

Roses are symbolic of so many things, including love, friendship, and grief. A rose tattoo feels like a great way to memorialize someone's passing and also work through your grief. Like a rose, mourning is a multi-faceted and complex experience.

A pulse is a representation of what once was

The sound of a beating heart has often been interpreted as the most basic sign of life. A tattoo design that pays tribute to this idea is a reminder of the physical presence of a loved one when they were still with us.

Zelda Williams pays tribute to her father

In a since-deleted Instagram post, Zelda Williams paid tribute to her late father — actor, and comedian Robin Williams — with a micro-realistic hummingbird tattoo on her hand. She captioned the post with a dedication to her "poppo," thanking her tattoo artist for "so beautifully bringing my reminders to life" (per E! News). 

Candles are a classic symbol of remembrance

In some cultures, candles represent hope, as they are a source of light. When we lose a loved one, the grief we experience can feel incredibly dark. Using a symbol like a candle to remind yourself that you will find hope and light amid the sadness and grief can feel very comforting.