I have always, without fail, told myself that no matter what was going on in my life, if I just lost some weight it would all get better. The lows wouldn’t seem so low, the painful moments would feel a little bit lighter – all because I would suddenly be worthy of happiness. But in February of this year, the painful moments came to a head: my sister lost her battle with a terrible disease called Neurofibromatosis Type 2.
We’d always known that Shannon had NF2, always known that she wasn’t going to live a long and healthy life, but that didn’t stop us from feeling so broken and shattered that some days we’re still unsure of where to go from here.
I wish that in the aftermath of Shannon’s death I could say that I was enlightened, and that I no longer felt the need to lose weight, to look better, to be perfect in order to deserve happiness. But that would be a lie. I still told myself that in order to achieve success, to garner love from others, I needed to look better.
Somewhere during this ongoing struggle, I made a decision: I’m going to get a tattoo.
The tattoo itself was one I wanted for a long time, the words “Until the very end” on my ribs. For years, though, I told myself that I was only allowed to get it once I reached a more acceptable weight. “Once your stomach is flatter, then you can get it.” “No one is going to want to see your belly, so you really shouldn’t get this tattoo.” But then Shannon died, and I started to see the cracks in my logic. Shannon was gone, and nothing (not even a perfect body or a perfect life) was going to bring her back. My sister was someone who was shamelessly confident in herself, no matter what she looked like. She was always, without fail, the first to tell someone they were beautiful, and that she loved them. She had the incredible ability to see and appreciate someone’s loving spirit no matter what their appearance. She would have rolled her eyes at me so hard if I had told her, “This is something that really means a lot to me . . . but I’m probably going to wait until I’m a little skinnier to get it . . .” Shannon taught me many things, in both her life and her death, and the most important was that choosing to wait on your happiness is a terrible mistake.
I decided to stop acting out of this place of fear that I so often stay in, and I got the tattoo.
The quote itself comes from Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, and appears twice in the book. The first place is in the dedication from J.K. Rowling, in which she says “and to you, if you have stuck with Harry until the very end.” Harry Potter played an incredibly large role in our childhood, and continues to do so even in my adult life. My sister and I would wait eagerly for each new book to come out, and often we would stay up all night reading out of sheer excitement. Even today, I still reread the series about once a year. Every time I read them, I find new things both about the book and about myself in the process. Every time I finish, I’m always left feeling a little heart-sad that it’s over, but that’s the beauty of books . . . they’re always there to come back to.
The second place in the book it appears is near the end, when Harry is preparing to face his possible death. His loved ones who have died surround him, and he asks “You’ll stay with me?” and his dad responds, “Until the very end.” I have always felt such a strong pull towards this passage in the book, and after Shannon died, that pull intensified. To me, this quote symbolizes so much more than just my favorite book – it’s a small reminder, everyday, that even when the people we love die . . . they never truly leave us. I believe with all my heart that Shannon will be with me until the very end.
And finally, the last reason that I chose to get this tattoo has nothing to do with Harry Potter, and everything to do with myself and those lessons Shannon taught me. I finally got tired of telling myself over and over that I would get this tattoo “someday,” because what “someday” really meant was “when you’re skinny enough to deserve it.”
For so long, I told myself that my body wasn’t good enough for this tattoo, that to have a tattoo in this spot on my ribcage I would need to have a stomach that was smaller, thinner, better. I told myself my belly didn’t look good enough to have this tattoo, but what that really meant was that I didn’t look good enough for anyone. That my body was inherently something to be ashamed of, something to hide, and something that no one would ever find beautiful. I didn’t deserve to have this tattoo, not until I proved it to myself by losing weight, getting in shape, and proving my worth.
But in the months following Shannon’s death, it’s gotten a little easier to start letting go of those beliefs.
Losing a loved one is a terrible thing. It rips you apart and rearranges your life into two times: Before They Died and After They Died. But as terrible as losing Shannon has been, I am so grateful for the things she’s taught me in both of those times. One of the biggest is that it’s silly to waste any time not loving yourself.
So, I got a tattoo in a spot that would mean showing other people my imperfections. Some people might not understand how getting a tattoo could influence those kinds of thoughts, but to me it symbolizes a step in the right direction, a step towards self acceptance, and a step towards learning a lesson from a loving sister, who will be with me until the very end.
That’s something I am absolutely sure I want tattooed on my body forever.