You can’t call an Uber from the new phone booth installed at Port Moody’s Pioneer Park, but you may be able to chat with your favourite Nana who passed away in 2015.
The Phone of the Wind is an initiative of the Crossroads Hospice Society that gives visitors to the park an opportunity to work through some of their grief at losing a loved one by placing a call to them from the vintage rotary-dial wall phone mounted in a wonderfully stained and lacquered wooden booth.
And while the phone doesn’t have a special line to the afterlife, the act of picking up the handset and talking into the mouthpiece can be comforting in a time of loss and sorrow, said Amelie Lambert, the adult bereavement coordinator at Crossroads’ nearby hospice facility on Noons Creek Drive.
“It helps people not feel crazy all the time when they’re grieving,” she said.
“It helps to normalize grief,” added Brittany Borean, the bereavement service coordinator who helped bring the phone project to life after a volunteer let her know about a similar effort in Washington.
The first Phone of the Wind was erected in 2010 in Otsuchi, Japan when a landscape designer named Itaru Sasaki installed an old phone booth in his garden shortly after a beloved cousin died of cancer. In a 2017 article in Bloomberg, he said the phone offered him a way to maintain a relationship with his departed cousin.
In 2011, Sasaki’s private installation became a kind of public shrine after an earthquake and tsunami destroyed dozens of coastal communities including Otsuchi and people who lost loved ones in the disaster made their way to his garden to seek comfort by placing calls from his booth.
Since then, wind phones have been built in places like: Oakland, Calif., to commemorate the 36 people who perished in a warehouse fire; Dublin, Ireland; Marshall, North Carolina; and Aspen, Colorado.
The concept has also caught the imagination of novelists and filmmakers who’ve incorporated it into stories of love and loss.
To realize Port Moody’s Phone of the Wind, Borean enlisted the help of the city’s superintendent of parks, Robbie Nall, and carpenter Roy Balbino, who took his inspiration to craft the booth from one he happened to spy one day while driving along St. John’s Street.
Some of the wood is reclaimed from old memorial benches in the adjacent labyrinth healing garden, while the vintage black wall phone was discovered on Facebook Marketplace.
Lambert said having the Phone of the Wind in a public setting helps bring the grieving process out from the shadows where western society has tended to lock it away as a very private process.
“We don’t acknowledge grief,” she said. “We don’t have to hide it.”
In fact, Borean added, accepting grief can help ease some of the pain that comes from losing a loved one.
“It sends a message that it’s okay to grieve,” she said. “It’s not about ‘time will heal all wounds.’”
The phone can also provide a way for families to bridge generations.
Lambert said since the phone was installed in August, families have brought their kids to talk with members who may have passed before they were born or were too young to remember.
“It drives connections,” Borean said. “It creates a sense of community that you’re not alone.”