Steve Kinne is a retired doctor and Air-force Colonel.
After nearly three decades away from family, most of it traveling while in the USAF, I returned with my family to be near our grown children and extended families. Part of my goal in returning was to “catch up” with my dad, a WWII veteran, since he was in failing health. Before I did that however, I took five months off to hike the Appalachian Trail
as my transition from military to civilian life. As I remember having seen Spirit Houses while deployed to Thailand (dedicated to guardian spirits of land, buildings, etc.) and also pictures of spirit houses in Alaska (where the dead were placed to give their spirit adequate time to journey to the afterworld).
I envisioned mine to be more of a memorial or “monument” to my dad where I would feel comfortable talking to him. I sketched and planned, collected natural materials from the woods, found specific items of my Dad’s that I felt a connection to, built the house, and then placed it on my prepared spot on the ridge.
It was immensely satisfying and even healing to have built it fate would have it, my dad died two weeks after my return and so we never did have that opportunity to talk. And he was buried at a family cemetery about two hours drive away. I often “talked” to my Dad when I was out walking and exploring the woods ( one ridge in particular since I felt like it was a very spiritual place. One day while sitting on the rocks an idea about building a “house” for my Dad came to me… a place that his spirit could visit and where I could talk to him.for him. Now when the dogs and I are out hiking and I stop to visit his house, I call my Dad’s spirit to come and join me for a conversation. It may be a one-sided conversation, but I finally feel as though we are getting our chance to “catch up.” Subsequently, a good friend and fellow vet died of metastatic cancer. I had talked to her before her death about me making her spirit house and placing it on the same ridge where my Dad’s house is located. She really loved the idea and gave me permission to use an old bird cage that was sitting out in her front yard on a chair. The bird cage was so symbolic to me since she had been essentially “caged” by the effects of a severe traumatic event decades before. Now, however, the door of that cage would always be open so that her spirit could come and go freely. I added tree branches that had multiple tumors, birds (crows, which are often seen as being able to cross between this world and the next, and one brightly colored cardinal), some reminders of her veteran status, and several Native American items from her house. A rusty old wind chime of hers hangs from the house’s platform and I use it to summon her spirit when I want to talk with her. My hope is that other vets in our program and who are dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress will consider following suit and constructing their own spirit houses to remember/honor others who died. Whether these were fellow soldiers, innocent non-combatants, or even enemies whose lives they took, I believe this can be an important part of their healing journey. Steve is available for consultation about building Spirit Houses. Contact us to book him. Steve Kinne, MD (ret), USAF (ret) Co-Founder, Clear Path for Veterans