How a Hospice in Wales Is Memorializing Children With Birdsong

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The hope is that birds will mimic the sounds and pass them from bird to bird across the sky. M Parts Photo/Shutterstock

Tŷ Hafan is a pediatric palliative care facility in Wales that helps child patients and their families make the most of the time they have left together.

The children have conditions like Duchenne muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, severe cerebral palsy, cancer and rare genetic conditions. They may be there for years, months, weeks or only a few days.

When they are gone, they can be remembered in a unique way through a project in the facility's Memorial Garden called "These Names Will Be Forever In Our Skies." The children's names are released toward the sky for the birds to eventually capture in song.

Known simply as "Birdsong," the project's goal is to remember and celebrate the lives of the Tŷ Hafan children who have passed away. Each child's name is translated using Morse code into the song of the bird that sings the loudest in the month the child died. The song is followed by one second of silence for each year of the child's life.

All the children's songs are combined. Currently the piece is more than two and half hours long, and it will continue to grow as more children's names are added.

The idea was the result of a conversation between U.K. sound artist Justin Wiggan and Tŷ Hafan’s Head of Community Services and Partnerships, Tracy Jones.

'She was part of the chorus'

"The hope is that, as the piece plays in the memorial garden, the local birds will start to mimic the names and begin to sing them to other birds, so that the names pass from bird to bird throughout the skies," according to a post on Tŷ Hafan's website, written by a parent who describes the first time "Birdsong" was played:

"I had been involved with the project as it developed and was lucky enough to already have a copy of 'my' individual birdsong, a nineteen second piece of a robin singing my daughter’s name, Abigail. I have the song on my phone and take it everywhere with me. But this would be the first time I would hear the whole finished piece.
"I stood in the Memorial Garden gazebo listening as the individual birdsongs came from different areas of the garden. Sometimes one bird seemed to follow on almost immediately from the one before, sometimes the gaps were so long it came as a surprise when the next one began. All the songs were very different from each other, unique and beautiful.
"And a surprising thing happened, it felt as though the emotional downpour lifted and the sun came out from behind the clouds (the actual real rain continued unabated, the weather was horrific and clearly had no sense of occasion). I felt overwhelming warmth and comfort. I was no longer waiting to hear Abigail’s name, that didn’t seem to matter anymore, she was part of the chorus, she was part of every birdsong, the silences celebrated each individual short life, but it felt like all the children were together in the song of each bird. Abigail is not alone, she is with friends and they are joyfully singing."

We don't have a video of the finished project yet, but you can hear Wiggan talk about the evolution of the project in this clip on the BBC and hear some of the sounds for yourself.