By Nicola Finch –
How many of us have the ashes of a loved one in an urn, on a mantle, or packed away in a cupboard? Cremation has overtaken burial as the disposition of choice in British Columbia, so there is a lot of interest in doing something special with the ashes. Some families will scatter most of the ashes at a special location and save a little bit for each family member to keep. Most of us have seen the more common keepsake jewelry that holds a tiny bit of ashes. These are typically metal, mass-produced hearts or cylinders or dog paws worn as pendants; they have openings for a smidgen of ash and seal tight with tiny screw tops. Glass makers, potters, traditional jewelers, even tattoo artists are finding ways to incorporate ashes into mementos. It stems from a desire to keep a little bit of our loved one with us for the small comfort it provides.
Since 2002, on our 48 acres in the Chilcotin Forest, off-grid and online, David and I have created commissioned, custom wooden jewelry for clients all over the world. Owners and partners in Touch Wood Rings Inc., David creates the commissioned wooden rings, pins, and pendants while I (Nicola) market and handle communications with clients, and I manage our websites and social media.
Credited with starting a revolution in a jewelry industry, David is the pioneer of the steam-bentwood ring. David’s original steam-bent style of crafting a wood ring came into being after he was injured on the job (steel fabricating), and then recovering from extensive spinal surgery. Never one to sit idly, he started fiddling with what was in front of him: chunks of firewood, pieces of wood too interesting to put on the fire. From this period in David’s life came an eclectic and beautiful collection of hand carved wooden spoons, bowls, backscratchers, keepsake containers, and most notably, our wooden rings. From their humble beginnings as a therapeutic activity, David’s meticulously crafted and naturally beautiful wood rings became our primary focus.
For the first few years, we were working with clients who wanted wooden engagement and wedding rings almost exclusively. Some told us they had always dreamed of having a wooden ring, but none existed until ours. Engagement, wedding, and anniversary rings are still 90 per cent of our business. David inlays his rings with contrasting woods, and with crushed stone and shell, and other natural materials like dried flower petals, sage, and sweet grass. Sometime in 2004, I asked David if he could make me a ring with an inlay of some of my mom and dad’s ashes. And so it began. David knew and loved my family, too, so it was a very personal and tender undertaking for him.
We began offering Touch Wood Memorial Rings in 2005. It’s not a separate business, but it is a branch of our work that is close to our hearts. I have cremated three close family members. My beloved brother Michael took his own life in 1984; he was 29. My mom died young; just 58 years old, and my dad also at 72. I was intimately involved with the farewell for my brother and in the dying times of my mom and my dad.
I have a background in theatre as a visual and performing artist. I’ve worked in healthcare and non-profit management and as a freelance website designer working with elementary schools, small businesses, and artisans. As an avid genealogist, my ongoing labour of love is researching and writing the story of my Great Uncle Charley Bailey from his WW1 letters home. See https://charleybailey.blogspot.ca/.
My other passion is advocacy work with green burial in BC. am active in community deathcaring, with a special interest in death literacy, and I recently competed a death doula certificate course through Douglas College. I want people to talk about death, the same easy way we talk about the other milestones in our lives. I love talking with our memorial ring clients, learning a bit about them and their loved one, and finding a way to incorporate some of those memories into their memorial ring.
A wooden ring is now a pretty commonplace Green alternative to precious metals and gemstones. The quality and beauty of David’s work, however, is anything but commonplace. Recognizing the care, skill, and love that goes into everything David creates—people are often deeply affected when they see and handle his work.
Touch Wood Memorial Rings are wearable works of art reminiscent of the Victorian era when mourning jewelry was popular. Memorial rings, pins, and pendants are inlaid with cremated ash and can be made in memory of a person or a companion animal. Every memorial piece is created with deepest respect for the life being honoured.
Nicola Finch lives off-grid in a remote area west of Williams Lake. She and her husband are co-owners of Touch Wood Rings. Nicola’s passion is holistic end-of-life care, from death doulas to Green burials.