Etched in the skin: Grief on a living canvas, memorial tattoos as expressions of grief

Written by PhD researcher Bee Swann-Thomas.

Bee Swann-Thomas

I am Bee Swann-Thomas and I am currently in my second year of studying for a PhD in Psychology. My research interest is exploring whether having a memorial tattoo has an impact upon the grieving process.

I have previously researched this topic for my MSc in Psychotherapeutic Counselling at Staffordshire University. What sparked my interest was the death of my Dad and having a memorial tattoo in his memory. Memorial tattoos have a very personal meaning to me, and I am pleased to have recently had my paper published in Mortality Journal.

The findings from this research showed that memorial tattoos can be a valuable therapeutic aid in the grieving process. They can serve as a permanent physical reminder of a loved one, help with continuing bonds, allow the deceased a virtual afterlife, help in the adjustment to loss, serve as a tool of communication, and be an embodied representation of change. Memorial tattoos empower the bereaved to emerge from the loss of a loved one with a ‘beautiful scar’.

Conducting my MSc research was really fascinating, and it was an honour to hear peoples’ stories of love and loss. As a result, I have decided to continue my research for my PhD.

I would like to invite you to participate in my research that is being conducted in the Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University. I am interested in the experience of individuals (aged 18 years or over) who have experienced the loss of a loved one and have had a memorial tattoo in their memory. I will be researching five different categories of bereavement: Perinatal loss, Loss through suicide, Military Loss, Cremation ashes tattoos and Loss through Covid-19.

The research will involve a one-to-one interview conducted remotely via the Microsoft Teams platform. The interview will last approximately 1 hour, where you will be asked questions relating to your loved one and your memorial tattoo. You will also be asked to provide a photograph of your memorial tattoo which will be included within the research.

If you are interested in taking part in the research or would like to request further information please contact the me at bee.swann-thomas@research.staffs.ac.uk


If you are affected by any of the bereavements outlined and would like to access a grief support service please contact one of the following:

  • Sands – Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity, Helpline: 0808 164 332, Email: helpline@sands.org.uk
  • Suviviors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS), Helpline: 0300 111 5065, Email: support@uksobs.org
  • Supporting the Military Family, Cruse Bereavement Care Helpline: 0808 808 1677, Email: helpline@cruse.org.uk
  • The Lullaby Trust, Helpline: 0808 802 6868, Email: support@lullabytrust.org.uk
  • Covid-19 Bereavement Support, Cruse Bereavement Care Helpline: 0808 808 1677, Email: helpline@cruse.org.uk

The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.