In 2011, a year after her husband’s suicide, Amber Martini walked into Testament Tattoo in Leavenworth, Kansas. “I had been emotionally frozen and I wanted to feel something,” she said in a recent interview.
Her husband, Army Sergeant Ralph Mena, Jr., had loved tattoos, and this was a way she could honor his memory. She worked with tattoo artist Clinton Burkes to develop a design that expressed her grief, her anger, and her determination to keep going.
The memorial tattoo is centered on her breastbone. A favorite Bible verse spans from shoulder to shoulder in flowing script. Beneath that a locked heart, filigreed with her husband’s initial, is lifted by iridescent wings. The strikingly beautiful image conveys both Martini’s spiritual stance and her marital commitment.
“It’s the first thing I see when I look in the mirror in the morning, “she said. “This tattoo has given me peace in some of the darkest points in my journey as a widow.”
Martini also hopes that it’s going to raise awareness about military suicide prevention. A photograph of her tattoo is one of several currently on display at the White River Valley Museum in Auburn, Washington. This new exhibit, called “SERVICE INK,” tells the stories of over three dozen individuals and the military-inspired images they’ve had inked onto their bodies. They touch on several themes, but Martini’s tattoo is not the only one in the exhibit that honors a fallen soldier.
She realizes now that getting the tattoo was the start of a healing process. “It’s so important to know yourself and own your story,” she said. By sharing that story publicly, she hopes others will realize that they are not alone in their feelings of anguish or despondency, and that they’ll reach out for help.
“This could change somebody’s life.”
SERVICE INK is on display at the White River Valley Museum through November 15, 2015. To learn more about the Museum, visit http://www.wrvmuseum.org.
Barbara Lloyd McMichael is our ground reporter in South King County, Washington, and author of the syndicated book review column The Bookmonger.
Photo courtesy of the White River Valley Museum