There’s a phone in the woods not connected to anything but maybe the person you miss, the one most need to connect to. 

West of Ioco Road in Pioneer Memorial Park, the Labyrinth Healing Garden began as a place of peace and a place to mourn. Last spring, Brittany Borean glimpsed something new: the Phone of the Wind. Part art installation and part grief counsellor, it offered a tangible entry point into the intangible.

Borean, bereavement services co-ordinator for Crossroads Hospice Society, was inspired to bring the Phone of the Wind to Port Moody after seeing an installation in Olympia, Wash.

“Somebody basically took a piece of plywood and put it in the forest and attached a phone to it,” she laughs.

But while it looked slapdash, she realized the idea had resonance.

It’s an idea originated in a hilltop garden 7,000 kilometres west of Port Moody. It was there, in the coastal town of Otsuchi, Japan, that a man missed his cousin.

To cope with his grief, garden designer Itaru Sasaki put a phone booth equipped with a rotary phone on a hilltop garden.

“My thoughts couldn’t be relayed over a regular phone line,” he told Japanese public broadcasting network NHK, “I wanted them to be carried on the wind.”

Just as he was finishing the project Japan suffered the biggest earthquake in the nation’s history, subsequently triggering a tsunami that resulted in more than 15,000 deaths. In the aftermath of the destruction, residents came from Otsuchi – and then from across Japan – to visit Sasaki’s phone booth.

It became a solace for families “who wish they could have said something at the end,” he explained to Japan Times.

The idea spread.

photo supplied Brittany Borean

For Borean, the Phone of the Wind was a way to talk about things that often go unspoken.

“We really believe in talking more about death and grief in order to break the stigmas and the taboo around those topics,” she explains.

Grief is hard fog summoned by anything from a date on the calendar to a smell in the kitchen. It falls heavy and lifts according to its own schedule.  

At Crossroads Hospice Society, one of the aspirations is to help people cut through that fog and “connect to their grief,” Borean explains.

The phone could offer people a measure of comfort. There was just one problem: how would they build it?

“We had no idea initially,” she says. “Do I just get a crate and put it on a stick?”

After reaching out to the staff at Port Moody, a city carpenter took the measurements of one of the few remaining payphones. Using pieces of wood from memorial benches that had been replaced, the carpenter crafted the booth.

“The city of Port Moody went above and beyond,” Borean says.

For the phone itself, Borean rummaged through social media marketplaces until she found a collector in New Westminster who was selling a black rotary phone.

“It fits the booth beautifully,” she says.

The Phone of the Wind was installed two weeks ago and so far it’s been warmly received, she says. The photos have spread on social media. Bereaved people have been coming from around town to share words with someone they miss.

The day it went up, Borean recalls taking photos as a mother and her children walked by. It was, she realized, a chance for a parent to impart a little wisdom about life and loss. But for the children, it was a chance to see something they’ve never quite seen before.

“Look, a phone,” a child called.

It’s an empty telephone you fill with the things you wish you’d said, the voice you miss, and the things you need to say again.