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Morbid Ink: Memorial Tattoos

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Names, dates, angels, praying hands, and footprints: the design on that woman's arm could be more than just a tattoo. It might be a living memorial to someone she loved.

Dr. John Troyer studies death. As deputy director at the University of Bath's Centre for Death and Society, he's come across a lot of different ways people deal with grief. One way he says people of all ages, all around the world grapple with loss: they get a tattoo.

Troyer's seen death-date tattoos, gravestone tattoos, and images of favorite german shepards. He's seen soldiers with portraits of whole platoons, firefighters with friends' badge numbers, and grandmothers with tiny angel wings on their wrists. He's also observed a new trend: people mixing tiny specs of cremated remains into tattoo ink. For more information on this practice and other death-related topics, check out a project Troyer's working on, called the Death Reference Desk.

WNYC caught up with Troyer on his way to give a lecture on memorial tattoos at the Observatory in Brooklyn. He talks about another tattooing phenomenon here:

Then we headed over to Greenwich Village to ask tattoo artists what it felt like to give someone a memorial tattoo, and found some people with memorial tattoos to share their stories. Here's what they had to say: