‘Making a difference’: Saanich ‘wind phone’ helps people grieve


Amanda Farrell-Low walks the paths at Royal Oak Burial Park, where she dialled into her personal experiences with grief to offer others solace by way of a unique project.

“It’s definitely making a difference for people in really beautiful, individual, personal ways, which I love,” said Farrell-Low, standing next to the wind phone in the Saanich park, where her brother has been buried for more than a decade.

“It seemed like the perfect spot to put one.”

But the project was several years in the making, she explains.

“The fact that I’d lost a sibling, which is something I would not wish on my worst enemy,” she said, adding that her brother, Liam, died of an overdose in 2012.

“That kind of loss and pain.”

So Farrell-Low took that trauma and did some good.

“I just really liked the idea of finding a way to help people process this kind of loss. This phone is for anybody who’s missing someone. It doesn’t really matter how they passed away or if they’re in the park or not,” she said in an interview.

“I really want this to be for everyone to use.”

A one-way call

A wind phone is a disconnected telephone that allows visitors to hold one-way conversations with deceased loved ones. According to an online map, there are now hundreds around the world. The first was built in Japan in 2010 — just one year before a natural disaster there claimed more than 18,000 lives.

“A Japanese artist there built in his yard after his cousin had passed away,” said Farrell-Low, pointing to Itaru Sasaki and his phone in Otsuchi, Kamihei District.

Then, the feat grew in popularity.

“Following the terrible tsunami in Japan in 2011, people started coming to this wind phone and just trying to connect with people they lost,” she said. “There wasn’t a lot of closure, so it was a great way to just speak with someone you were missing.”

READ PREVIOUS: Duncan resident recalls escaping Japanese tsunami 10 years later

So, for Farrell-Low, to install one in Saanich was like a calling — one a community counsellor and bereavement expert says shouldn’t go unanswered.

“As a person who does a lot of grief support and education and counselling in our community, I was really excited to hear about the wind phone,” said Marney Thompson with Victoria Hospice. “I think they’re a wonderful resource for people looking to feel connected with people they’ve lost.”

The phone at Royal Oak Burial Park, near the Spirits Garden, is, in fact, a decommissioned payphone that dates back decades, according to Farrell-Low.

“I really wanted to use an old payphone for this. I don’t know why. It seemed like an appropriate thing,” she said. “So, I got connected with a fellow in Nanaimo named Doug Ferguson, whose job was decommissioning phone booths all over Vancouver Island.”

A friend of hers, Beth Threlfall, painted the phone to add some life to it. Like a canvas, Farrell-Low finds the finished product is “a little whimsical” all thanks to the artist.

“There are a couple of little nods to my brother and other things on it,” she said. “Beth’s artwork often is very community-oriented and involves repurposing old materials, so she was the perfect artist to complete this project.”

Grief: ‘It’s universal’

Farrell-Low says the phone is much needed because what claimed Liam’s life all those years ago is taking more lives in B.C. than ever before.

“It’s just heartbreaking to think it’s gotten this bad,” she said. “The year Liam died, I think around 260 people had died of an overdose in B.C. in 2012. We just got the 2023 stats, and it’s almost 10 times that now in 11 years, which is devastating.”

READ MORE: 198 people died in January due to unregulated drugs: BC Coroner

Tragedy can bring people together, but they need ways to cope.

“Something like the wind phone is one,” added Thompson. “I think that death and dying and grief is certainly something that we’ll all experience. It’s universal in that way.”

So those who need to are encouraged to visit the phone. It’s in a secluded area, where the sounds of windchimes fill the air and tall trees abound.

“A phone conversation with somebody that you miss is a very intimate and personal thing,” said Farrell-Low. “It’s a nice spot to have a little moment. For me, personally, it seemed like a good way to try and connect with (Liam) again…This is a little more private, and having the phone in your hand gives you that little prompt.”

She’s also thanking park staff, who paid for the materials.

“Now it’s home. This is where it lives, and I’m just so happy to have it here,” added Farrell-Low. “It just seems perfect, and they’ve been amazing supporters.”

Ethan Morneau

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