Wearing his heart on her sleeve

Want to ask Mickey Garcia about the wildly colored tattoo sleeve on her right arm? Please do.

The 47-year-old self-described "prissy little lady" hopes the brilliant display will provoke questions from the people she sees every day as an employment office manager and part-time beauty consultant.

Garcia welcomes the stares and the questions from the curious for an opportunity to talk about her 23-year-old son Vincent Arness who took his life in 2006.

"It's been three years and I still get tears in my eyes when I talk about him," Garcia said. "Everybody's at a different level of grief, but now I want to be that ray of hope."

Since her son died, Garcia has become an advocate for suicide survivors and suicide prevention, hoping for a chance to prevent such a devastating loss by steering someone down a different path.

Her tattoos tell the story of Vincent, nicknamed "Chunka" because he weighed nearly 10 pounds when he was born July 7, 1983.

Tattoo artist Zach Mueller of Distinct Ink in Carson City, in consultation with Garcia, created a panorama of Vincent's life. Every color and image holds a deep meaning for Garcia.

At the time of his death Sept. 18, 2006, Vincent was a welder at a cogeneration plant in Soledad, Calif. He is survived by his mother, three siblings and Garcia's grandson, Chase Evan, who is now 4.

"I told Zach what I was looking for and he created a perfect vision of what I had envisioned. He just helped me so much. He put his heart into it," she said.

The tattoos include a portrait of Vincent at age 5-1/2 from a photo taken at a San Francisco Giants game.

"I have that one where it can be closest to my heart," Garcia said.

Mueller created a "sugar skull" that includes a skateboard, Fox Racing logo and rip curl waves, indicative of Vincent's interests.

"He loved the ocean," she said.

A heart with a halo and an angel's wing reads "Chunka."

And there's a pin-up girl in a pirate hat.

"I love pin-up girls," Garcia said. "I'm a little bit of a rebel."

She also added rubies and pearls, July's birthstones. Shades of teal and lavender represent survivors of suicide.

A lotus flower completes the design.

"There's a really pretty meaning to the lotus," she said.

It can represent overcoming, or growing out of, a difficult period and blossoming into something more beautiful.

Garcia is thrilled with the results.

"The tattoo didn't hurt as much as the meaning behind it sometimes does," she said. "People ask me, 'Why would you want to be reminded of that every day?'

"My answer to that is that he will never be forgotten," she said.

Mueller said 60 percent of his business is made up of tribute tattoos, and he appreciated the effort Garcia put into memorializing her son.

"Everyone has a different story, a different reason," Mueller said. "She has definitely had some trials and tribulations in her life, and she was finally able to deal with them through her tattoos. It was neat to hear her thoughts and the meaning behind each design."

Since Vincent's death, Garcia has done much more than just wear his heart on her "sleeve."

Her job as an employment counselor puts her in touch with all kinds of young people, some who may be experiencing the same frustrations as her son.

She doesn't pry, but the tattoos can get a conversation going.

"Most people perceive it well," she said. "It's my means of outreach."

After Vincent died, Garcia joined the Douglas County Survivors of Suicide group that meets twice a month in Gardnerville. She's also a member of the Suicide Prevention Network and spoke at the spring symposium at Douglas High School.

She created a square for Douglas County's "Faces of Suicide" quilt and has made herself available for anyone who wants to talk.

"I'm the messenger," she said. "I want to be that ray of hope that life goes on."

Garcia will be joining walkers on Sept. 12 for the third "Walk in Memory, Walk for Hope" at Heritage Park in Gardnerville to commemorate those lost to suicide.

In 2008, 50 people participated, and organizers hope for more this year.

With Douglas County a leader in the state in the number of completed suicides and attempts, the event is designed to bring attention to a subject still considered taboo by some.

Organizer Jodi Wass, who facilitates the suicide survivors' group, said the quilt and the memory walk get people talking about suicide.

By the end of July, Douglas County had recorded eight suicides and 16 attempts. That compares to 13 completed suicides at the same time in 2008.

By the end of the year, there were 20 suicides, the highest rate in Nevada per population.

"It's an issue for all people in our community, nationwide and worldwide," Wass said. "We need to discuss it, acknowledge it, and keep on saving lives because suicide is preventable."

She's also distributing squares for a second remembrance quilt.

"Since the last quilt, we have a whole new set of survivors," Wass said. "You don't need to know how to quilt, embroider or even sew. Some people get picture transfers, use fabric markers and puffy paints."

Wass said the quilt is a positive way for survivors to honor their loved ones and work through their grief.

"It puts faces out to our community that these are people from our little town who have died by suicide. It helps keep loved ones alive in our hearts."


Suicide Prevention Network of Douglas County, in collaboration with the Nevada Coalition for Suicide Prevention, is sponsoring a community walk Sept. 12 at Heritage Park in Gardnerville. Walkers may register at 8 a.m. for the 3-mile walk which is to begin at 8:45 a.m. and proceed on Highway 395. Registration is $20 which includes a T-shirt, but no walkers will be turned away. Contributions will be used for suicide prevention and to support Survivors of Suicide. Information, Debbie Posnien, 782-8611.


Survivors of Suicide Support Group, first and third Thursdays 6-7 p.m. at the Partnership of Community Resources, 1528 Highway 395, Suite 100. Family, friends or coworkers of those lost to suicide are invited. Information, 782-8611; Jodi Wass, 450-2826.

Suicide Prevention Network of Douglas County, Debbie Posnien, executive director. Information: 782-8611.

Resource telephone numbers: Crisis call line, (800) 992-5757; Douglas Mental Health, 782-3671; Douglas County Sheriff's Office, 911; Partnership of Community Resources, 782-8611.


Survivors of Suicide


Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention


American Foundation for Suicide Prevention


Partnership of Community Resources



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