When my father was six years old in 1941, my paternal grandmother Rosa was institutionalized in a state psychiatric ward, just after the death of her infant son, for what we assume was depression. After that my father was told by his father and their family that Rosa had died; his father quickly married his office manager and they had a daughter very shortly thereafter.
In 1975, five years after his father had died and his stepmother remarried and was no longer a part of our lives, my father, who was in the military, had been contacted by a military chaplain that his mother was in fact alive, but very ill; she was calling for him on her deathbed at a state institution. He never made it there in time to see her before she died—alone, as she had lived all those years. Since 1941, she had been shuffled around state institutions, voiceless and alone, with no way to advocate for herself, her life essentially erased. Using psychiatry to silence—and erase—women was not uncommon at the time. When I decided to get my first tattoo, I knew it would be a rose in her memory to remind myself and family that her life had meaning and was a blessing.