Can someone convey unconditional love, loss, grief, hope and joy all with a single tattoo?
That seems to be the case for a husband and wife whose backs are adorned with a matching pair of wings. A touching photo displaying their his-and-hers tattoos has gone viral—and when you hear the heartbreaking story behind the image, you’ll understand why.
A Heartbreaking Loss
Steven and Gloria Kimmel’s son Isaac was born in 2014. When he was just 6 months old, doctors diagnosed Isaac with spinal muscular atrophy. The rare, progressive genetic disorder that affects the muscles and nervous system is estimated to occur in one out of 6,000 live births.
The Kimmels, of Kendallville, Indiana, shared details of little Isaac’s trials and triumphs on a Facebook page called Isaac’s Strength. Although doctors told them that the disorder was terminal, Isaac’s parents relished every moment with their son and even participated in a clinical trial that led to a new drug for SMA patients.
While he did regain strength for a time, Isaac contracted a viral infection that his little body simply couldn’t fight. Sadly, Isaac passed away at just 14 months old.
As a way of dealing with their grief, which Gloria called “unimaginable,” the Kimmels decided to have matching angel wings tattooed on their backs.
“He Is Always With Us In Spirit”
“The tattoo was meant to be his angel wings,” Gloria told Yahoo Beauty. “He was half of each of us, so we each had one of his wings to hold us. He was the angel that was holding us together when we were so lost without him. The tattoos are a reminder that he is always with us in spirit.”
Shortly after what would have been Isaac’s third birthday, the Kimmels had cause for celebration when their daughter, Claire, was born. To share their excitement while remembering their precious son, the family had a photo taken with swaddled Claire resting on their backs, the angel wings aligned perfectly behind her.
Gloria’s sister Grace Arend shared the photo on Twitter.
“My sister & her husband got tattoos of angel wings after their son died 2 yrs ago,” Arend tweeted. “They had a baby girl in June. This moves me to tears.”
My sister & her husband got tattoos of angel wings after their son died 2 yrs ago. They had a baby girl in June. This moves me to tears. pic.twitter.com/2sVwxkfuBG
— Grass (@Grace_Arend_13) August 9, 2017
Thousands of people were touched by the emotional family photo, which has been shared on Twitter over 20,000 times and liked nearly 70,000 times.
Gloria pointed out to Yahoo! Beauty that even now, two years after losing Isaac, she is still learning new ways to cope with her grief. As anyone who has suffered a loss knows, grief doesn’t have an expiration date. For Gloria, she says support from loved ones and her church, plus grief journaling have helped. Here’s hoping the arrival of their beautiful, healthy daughter will help them heal as well.
To learn more about SMA and how you can make a difference, visit CureSMA.org.
Artist Turns To Illustrations To Help Her Grieve
The Kimmels aren’t the only ones who’ve used art to help process grief.
After artist Mari Andrew‘s father died, she looked for an outlet to help her grieve. Naturally, her talent for drawing—and conveying emotions through it—came into play. Andrew shares her illustrations about grief and loss on Instagram. Check out some of her poignant images below.
Here’s a to-the-point illustration about how the meanings of things shift after a loss:
And another the boils down the stages of grief into how they really feel for many people:
And in a similar vein, that the trajectory for healing after loss or other trauma looks a lot like the graph below:
She also shares messages that can provide hope in dark times, such as this one that captures what “healing” really looks and feels like:
Isn’t it encouraging to see people who are able to turn dark, terrible times into something beautiful and inspiring? We think so, too.