The grief-stricken, and often hidden, side to Mother’s Day


Many people find this time of year difficult with constant reminders of parent they have lost


We have a new Mother’s Day tradition, and it’s bittersweet. You see, we’re not able to celebrate with my husband’s mother. She passed away four years ago, when I was pregnant with our first baby. As long as we’ve been parents, she’s been gone from our lives. We feel that loss every day.

For the first few years after her sudden death from cancer, we didn’t know how to incorporate her memory into Mother’s Day.

But after we moved to my husband’s hometown in B.C. from Toronto, he had an idea. He bought wildflower seeds and sprinkled them at the quiet spot in Merritt — about 2.5 hours east of Vancouver — where her ashes are scattered.

Mother’s Day ‘can elicit strong emotions’

It can sometimes take time for the children of deceased parents to find joy in special occasions, Prof. Deborah Davidson says

We’ll do the same this year and the kids will help, giving us the opportunity to talk about the Grandma they will never know and how much they would have loved her.

Kristen Thompson wonders if there will be a Mother’s Day when her family doesn’t grieve her mother-in-law.Picture1

For most people, Mother’s Day is a nice, quiet Sunday spent doling out cards, mimosas and hugs. But for those who lost a parent too soon, it can be filled with grief, with many struggling to find ways to remember the women with whom they should be celebrating.

Deborah Davidson, a professor of sociology at York University who specializes in motherhood and bereavement, says grief is often intensified around anniversaries and important dates.

“Mother’s Day especially can elicit strong emotions,” Davidson says. “Grief is not something people generally get over, but learn to live with it in meaningful ways, and learn to incorporate it into their lives.”

Sarah Rollingson, 32, of Red Deer, Alta., lost her mother three years ago, and says she starts dreading Mother’s Day in March.

“A few weeks ago, I went to a Paint Nite. The instructor kept saying ‘Remember, Mother’s Day is coming. Moms love this kinda stuff!’ . . . Inwardly I died a little bit.”

Rollingston admits she finds it hard celebrating Mother’s Day with her own children, given how much she is quietly grieving her mom.

“The first Mother’s Day after she passed I ignored it completely. I asked that it just be any other day and to let me grieve.”

Candice Humphrey, 31, a waitress in Spruce Grove, Alta., lost her mother nine years ago, and says Mother’s Day is one of the worst days of the year.

“Table after table would ask me what I was doing for my mom,” she says. “It was hard to hear, and hard to see daughters with their moms.”

Stephanie Lewis, 28, of Paradise, N.L., was 21when she lost her parents in a car accident, two days before Mother’s Day in 2010.

“I moved out of the province shortly after the accident, and my (now) husband and I ended up in the same town as his parents,” she says. “They would insist on having us over for Mother’s Day, which . . . was always really painful.”

Davidson says it can sometimes take time for the children of deceased parents to find joy in special occasions, and that traditions play an important part in the healing process.

“When a mother dies young, her children often . . . work to fill in the blanks, to continue making memories so that their mother is with them in material ways,” Davidson says.

“So if one has young children . . . Mother’s Day could be an important time to talk about the grandmother, and perhaps have little rituals that make grandma present in those children’s lives.

“Maybe it is reviving something that they did in the past that brings the deceased mom into it.”

Or, it may be about making new traditions, so the family feels the deceased loved one is still present as new memories are made.

Rollingston, who dreaded Mother’s Day in the first few years after her mom died, has taken a different approach since becoming a mother herself.

“We try to do something to celebrate,” she says. “My mom used to love corsages . . . Now, for Mother’s Day, we order (corsages) for our whole family. Everyone wears one and we go to church. It is a small way that we show the world how much we love her, and it keeps the memory alive for my children.”

Humphrey agrees that having children has helped change her outlook on Mother’s Day.

“I get a friend to bring flowers to her (I moved away so I can’t go). Last year, we watched a DVD slide show from her funeral with my boys, and this year we might plant a flower for her.”

Robyn Ross, 38, of Toronto, whose mother died of cancer when she was a teenager, says that while Mother’s Day is still difficult for her, it’s become a little more bearable because she can keep her mother’s memory alive through her son.

“I share stories with Brayden about all the special things she and I would do on Mother’s Day,” Ross says. “We always start Mother’s Day by lighting a memorial candle to acknowledge and honour her memory. Bray will make a card for her and we’ll read it together and leave it by the picture he has of her. We might eat her favourite meal or treat to honour her.”

Like so many others, I wonder if there will ever be a Mother’s Day when we don’t grieve the loss of my mother-in-law.

But the values she instilled in my husband — the values that make me love him, and that I see him passing on to our own children, remind me that her impact lives on. And that’s what we’ll celebrate on Mother’s Day as we scatter more seeds and imagine the day when that spot is filled with wildflowers.

The grief-stricken, and often hidden, side to Mother’s Day

Tattoo and Brew at Tatamagouche Brewing Company

By Amanda Doucette/Special to the Truro Daily News

Published on April 20, 2017

Alicia Vocke tattoos a client in preparation for her upcoming event on Saturday.


TRURO, N.S – Alicia Vocke loves visiting the Tatamagouche Brewing Company and says she felt the venue is the perfect location for an event.

“It’s a great chance for me to get together with clients further out of town, and it’s exposure for both me and them,” Vocke said. “Where can you go wrong with that?”

Vocke is the owner of Rolling Sea Tattooery in Truro on Prince Street. She’s hosting a tattoo event on Saturday at the Brewery, where registered guests can receive a pre-selected beer-themed tattoo.

Although the event is at a brewery, Vocke doesn’t advise drinking before getting a tattoo. The event is happening from 11a.m. to 6 p.m., so after getting inked, the brews are at your own discretion, she said.

“Alcohol and tattoos aren’t a good mix, but people are attending just to watch the tattooing process. And we do have a separate room booked, I won’t be tattooing right where they’re serving alcohol.”

Vocke says similar tattoo expos she has attended in the past have served alcohol, but this is the first time she is hosting this type of event.

“It’s really not about the alcohol, I can’t stress that enough.”

Each client will receive about an hour’s worth of ink, so right now there are seven appointments booked. They do have a wait-list, if someone doesn’t show up or isn’t interested in the pre-selected tattoos, it will be a first-come, first-served basis.

“I’m really excited for it. I really love the people at the Tatamagouche Brewery,” Vocke said “It’s a great environment and if all goes well, I hope this leads to other events in the future.”


Tattoo and Brew at Tatamagouche Brewing Company

Young American mental-health advocate dies at age 31



Amy Bleuel’s project was featured in a 2015 Star article about people who had chosen to get semicolon tattoos for mental health awareness.

While Bleuel was not a household name, her 2013 campaign had worldwide engagement and resulted in “real awareness” for those affected by mental illness, and the resulting stigma of mental-health challenges.

“Amy’s life was a testament that one person can truly make a difference,” said a statement from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Bleuel came up with the idea for the project in April 2013, when she urged those affected by mental illness to draw a semicolon on their wrist and post a photo on social media. The punctuation symbolizes a story that is not finished.

“A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to,” Bleuel said on her website. “The author is you and the sentence is your life.”

Since its inception, it is estimated that the project touched millions all over the world.

Bleuel’s project was featured in a July 20, 2015, Star article about people who had chosen to get the semicolon as a tattoo.

Former host of TSN’s Off The Record and mental health activist Michael Landsberg took to his personal vlog to commemorate Bleuel.

“She won (her battle) because she saved others. She changed lives,” he said. “What could you possibly do that was better than that?”

In the video, Landsberg recapped what Project Semicolon was about, pausing for a split second to restrain himself from crying. The battle Bleuel fought was of utmost significance, he said.

“The whole idea of the semicolon is about hope,” Landsberg said in a phone interview on Saturday. “Those of us that suffer from depression particularly, every one of us feels a sense of loneliness and a sense of hopelessness.

“She made me feel less lonely and she made me feel less hopeless.”

Bleuel, who lived with her husband, David, in Green Bay, Wis., struggled with depression most of her life. Her father committed suicide when she was 18. Her death notice does not state a cause of death, but says that she is “at peace in Heaven with her father.”

Bleuel had three semicolon tattoos: one on her left arm for her dad, one on the back of her right leg for her best friend who was going through a difficult time when she was founding Project Semicolon, and one for herself on her left arm above her elbow, she said.

As news of her death spread across social media Thursday, fellow advocates and the people whose lives she touched offered their gratitude and remembrance.

In an interview with the Washington Post in June 2016, Bleuel said being the face of the project was healing but also difficult because of the expectations people had of her and some of the negativity that she endured from trolls on social media.

Still, Bleuel felt strongly that she was making a difference in giving hope to people with mental illness, while also educating society on the impact the illness has on so many lives.

“People want to know they’re not suffering in silence, you feel alone like no one cares, to know someone is there, that is what these people go forth with, they take this energy to better themselves,” Bleuel said. “I think it’s just opening the minds of society. I would hope through my stories and platforms that they would see these are everyday people, just like you, and they’re attempting to make their lives better, but here is what they struggle with.”

“I wanted to start a conversation that can’t be stopped,” she said, “and I believe I’ve done that.”

“This is an illness that can be fatal,” Landsberg said over the phone Saturday.

“We don’t give up on treating patients with cancer. If 10 per cent of them die, the other 90 per cent survive. We celebrate that. I would celebrate the lives that she changed and the lives that she saved.” With files from Alina Bykova

Young American mental-health advocate dies at age 31

Toronto tattoo artist inking in honour of missing and murdered indigenous women

Jennifer Liles is donating a day’s earnings once a month to a family of or organization advocating for missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada

Toronto tattoo artist Jennifer Liles leans over Celeste Toledo’s arm, the distinctive buzz of her tattooing needle blending with the Nas album reverberating through her small west-end studio.

It’s Valentine’s Day, but Liles isn’t inking a heart or lover’s name into Toledo’s forearm. It’s a monogram — MMIW — and it stands for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

This same day, hundreds of people gathered in front of Toronto Police Headquarters on College St. to remember and honour missing and murdered indigenous women, girls, trans and two-spirit people at the 12th annual Strawberry Ceremony.

It is the reason Liles choose Feb. 14 to launch her tattoo project — to raise awareness about missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada.

On the 14th day of each month, for as long as she can manage, the native artist from Kenora, Ont., will create symbolic tattoos for clients and give the day’s earning to a family or organization searching for answers and justice.

This first session was dedicated to Delaine Copenace, a 16-year-old from Kenora who was reported missing on Feb. 28, 2016. Her body was found in a lake three weeks later. Officials ruled her death an accidental drowning, a conclusion Delaine’s mother doesn’t accept.

It was Delaine’s tragic story that struck a chord with Liles.

“(I was thinking about) myself, my friends, kids I went to school with. … the awareness kind of came over me — this s–t happens everywhere,’ even in your small, tiny little hometown. It happens everywhere.”

After reaching out to Delaine’s mother, Anita Ross, to get her blessing for the dedication, Liles created four pages of tattoo designs including American traditional and black-and-grey fine-line styles that are popular with “tattoo collectors” now, and also designs that incorporate Haida and Northern Ontario iconography. Potential clients can pick a tattoo from the pages or bring their own design. Liles said it didn’t matter what people want tattooed, as long as they want their money to go to charity.

Some of the artwork for the missing and murdered indigenous women.  (STEVE RUSSELL)

One page features three women surrounded by roses; it was based on a flash piece by iconic American tattoo artist Bert Grimm, but unlike the original, the women are wearing jingle dress regalia rather than headdresses.

Liles chose to play on Grimm’s design, in part, because older tattoo designs often featured sexualized, racist depictions of indigenous women and she wants to change that view.

“I guess it’s a little bit of education,” she said.

Liles, 34, only recently began connecting with her indigenous heritage — she’s part Ojibwe through her mother’s side.

“We weren’t really immersed in it as younger children,” she said. “Now that I’m older, I’m finding the importance of my heritage.”

Liles posted her project on Instagram (@jenntattoos) and got a positive response.

TToledo, who is one of Liles’ regular clients and attends the Strawberry Ceremony every year, was one of the first to book an appointment. She went straight to Liles’ studio after this year’s ceremony for her ink.

“Basically, I just thought it was a really good way to support what Jenn’s doing, and if you’re going to donate, it’s a good way to donate,” she said.

The proceeds from the March 14 session — still open for bookings — will go to the Edmonton Sisters4Sisters Society. It’s non-profit founded in memory of Georgina Faith Papin, who was murdered by serial killer Robert Pickton, and supports families that have lost mothers, sister, wives and daughters lost to violence.

“I can take a day off of work once a month … I can afford it, so I think that’s kind of an obvious thing,”Liles said. “And the other thing is, Delaine’s family just wants to make sure that there’s justice for a lot of families, not just theirs … her mom’s still fighting.”

Toronto tattoo artist Jennifer Liles is giviing a day a month to honour missing and murdered indigenous women. The days earnings will go to charity.  (STEVE RUSSELL)

Reached by phone in Kenora, Delaine’s mother, Ross, said the pain of losing her daughter is still fresh and raw, but that Liles’ gesture was “heartwarming and overwhelming … I never realized how many hearts my daughter touched.”

Ross said she’d be putting some of the money — $750 — towards a headstone for Delaine’s grave, and the rest towards memorial services for her.

“It’s a big help,” she said. “I’m very honoured that (Liles) honoured my daughter.”

Correction – March 13, 2017: This article has been edited from a previous version that incorrectly stated the official ruling on the manner of Delaine’s death.

Dates and numbers:

  • A May 2015 report by the RCMP found 1,224 indigenous women and girls were missing and/or murdered between 1980 and 2014.
  • Of the cases 1,049 are homicides and 175 are missing persons.
  • In February 2017, after speaking to families, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the number of missing and murdered women is likely “way bigger” than 1,200.
  • A national inquiry is scheduled to start formal hearings in May with interim findings due in November 2017 and a final report in December 2018.
Toronto tattoo artist inking in honour of missing and murdered indigenous women

Old Towne Tattoo Parlor’s Pokey is a Constant Student of Traditional Tattoos

BY JOSH CHESLER                                              MONDAY, MARCH 6, 2017

When the tattooer now best known as Pokey of Old Towne Tattoo Parlor was just a 17-year-old getting his first tattoo, he didn’t realize it was going to be the beginning of a career. As a kid who’d always been interested in tattoos, Pokey knew he wanted to collect them and become a part of the scene, but it wasn’t until a handful of years later when he realized he actually wanted to become a real tattooer.

“I’d just started college, and as lame as this sounds, I wanted to make a couple dollars while I was in art school, so I started tattooing out of my garage or kitchen or wherever I could,” Pokey says. “I knew I wasn’t doing the right thing. It just didn’t seem kosher. It seemed super wrong, and I knew that.”

As soon as Pokey finished his time in art school, the young artist began a formal apprenticeship at a shop in Artesia about six years ago. Since then, Pokey has become a solid option for fans and collectors of American traditional tattooing in OC. “I’m just honored and super humble about the amount of people who want to get tattooed and want to get what I like to do — traditional with bold lines and bright colors,” Pokey says. “I’m very fortunate for that. It’s crazy because there are tons of traditional tattoo artists in this area. I’ve never really thought about it too much, but there are so many artists who have been tattooing for so long.”

But although he’s established, Pokey’s sponge of a brain absorbs as much tattooing knowledge from those veterans as he can.
“I’m super humble and fortunate to have met the people I’ve met in my career so far,” Pokey says. “I still consider myself really young and still learning. That’s the good thing about tattooing is I feel like no matter how long you’ve been doing it, you can never know everything. You’re always going to be learning no matter how long you’ve been in the game.”

From the moment he learned about the importance of social media during his apprenticeship (back in the pre-Instagram days) to the tidbits about artwork and culture that Pokey picks up from fellow tattooers on a regular basis, the encyclopedia of knowledge between the burgeoning tattooer’s ears is constantly expanding. But among everything the hard-working has learned over the years, there’s one major lesson Pokey will never forget and believes is too often overlooked.

“I learned that it’s not necessarily about what the meaning of a tattoo is to you,” Pokey says. “Being able to get tattooed by your friends and tattooing your friends makes it more about the moment. It’s about that moment where it all comes together, whether we’re sitting here waiting for walk-ins or if we’re all done with our appointments. It’s not necessarily about what it is or what a tattoo means to you, but about the moment of getting tattooed. Those are the kinds of tattoos that I’ll always remember.”

Old Towne Tattoo Parlor, Orange, 714-941-6055, @pokey_tattooer

Old Towne Tattoo Parlor’s Pokey is a Constant Student of Traditional Tattoos

Freckles are forever

Once the subject of relentless childhood teasing, freckles are emerging as the latest tattoo trend

Speckles are suddenly a ‘dot’ commodity, with women happily paying hundreds of dollars for the latest tattoo trend, When thick, full eyebrows became a mainstream beauty look, microblading — a form of semi-permanent tattooing using tiny needles stacked in a line to create a “blade,” rather than a traditional tattoo gun — became the hot new way to dress up a face.

Sarah Strange, 20, after tattoo artist Gabrielle Rainbow, below, finished giving her freckles. The “little stings” were worth it, she says.

That now seems fairly tame. After all, most people have eyebrows and want to keep them.

But freckles are emerging as the latest tattoo trend. Women — so far it’s mostly women — are paying about $250 per session for that distinct dusting of cute across their noses and cheekbones. Sarah Strange, 20, has natural freckles but they fade in winter. She wanted to make them visible yearround, and had them tattooed in a similar pattern across her forehead and nose this week. The “little stings” were worth it, she said.

“People have been giving me compliments,” said Strange, a tattoo apprentice herself. “They say they look cute.”

The trend may have started last August. Kylie Jenner literally made headlines when she posted an Instagram photo of herself makeupfree, freckles and all. Now #fauxfreckles has since become a thing on social media. Drawing on freckles with makeup has always been possible, and stickers are sold online, but for a youthful, freshly-scrubbed look that is also waterproof, freckle tattoos are an option.

“I’m noticing more and more people want to have them done, mostly because of social media,” said Amber Gotzmeister, 35, who has been doing cosmetic tattooing for 10 years. Sometimes called permanent makeup, this option has long been available for women who, for example, wanted to fill in sparse eyebrows or to recreate an areola after breast surgery, but demand has grown among a younger generation, said Gotzmeister, who opened The Good Geisha tattoo shop on Dundas St. W. last June. She estimates that since fall, the proportion of her clients requesting freckles or beauty marks has grown to 10 per cent of her business, mostly spreading through Instagram.

“We post a photo of a beauty mark or some freckles, and all of a sudden we get a frenzy of inquiries,” Gotzmeister said.

A manual technique, similar to microblading, might last about one year. Micropigmentation, in which a freckle is daubed on with a machine, is considered permanent but is likely to fade eventually or at least lighten.

Most people go for the machine, Gotzmeister said, which produces a cleaner, longer-lasting dot.

She stresses to clients that everyone’s skin is different, and makes no guarantees about the freckles’ longevity. It can vary due to sun exposure, facial treatments, chemical peels, laser procedures and individual healing factors.

Many grow up hating their freckles or at least attempting to cover them up. Freckles are associated with the same gene that creates red hair, and both can sometimes lead to schoolyard teasing. On a Facebook thread about the freckle tattoo trend, multiple people posted such comments such as: “People made fun of my freckled face and now they are trendy?????”

Gotzmeister said people always want what they can’t have.

“It’s like if you grew up with straight hair, you’ve always wanted curly hair. Its one of those things you idealize from the other side.”

But Lauren Spencer, founder of beauty school Lash Forever, is vocal in her criticism of the fad. The company offers training in cosmetic tattooing — but not freckles.

She attempted two dots on her own cheek, 10 years ago. They’re still there, visible under makeup. They turned blue.

“People always say, ‘you have a little something on your face,’ ” Spencer said. “I’m like no, this is a bad decision.”

Although the technology and techniques have advanced in the past decade, the same pigment is still in use today, Spencer said. Cosmetic tattoos carry a risk of fading to blue or grey with sun exposure, aftercare and certain skin treatments, she said. It can also occur from improper technique, such as pushing the needles too deep into the skin.

Gabrielle Rainbow, a Montrealbased tattoo artist who specializes in cosmetic work and regularly works in Toronto, said clients need to do their research. She is only aware of four artists in North America offering the service.

“If you go see someone who is trained or who has done this stuff before and you can see their work, the risks are much lower,” she said. Most of her freckle clients are women in their mid-20s to early 30s and have a few tattoos already.

Last year, her friend decided she’d like a few faux freckles. Rainbow tested them on herself first.

“I started to realize a lot of people wanted them,” said Rainbow, 24. “Then I realized, yup, they’re super cute.”


Toronto Star



Freckles are forever