Just as the grief journey is a transformative process, origami, the art of folding a perfectly square piece of paper into a beautiful sculpture can be transformative in creating a state of mindfulness. Making precise and repetitive folds requires focus, concentration and attention to detail, creating a peaceful environment of relaxation and reflection.
The traditional paper crane is probably the most famous of all origami models. It’s designed based on the Japanese red-crowned crane which, in Japanese mythology, is known as the “Honourable Lord Crane,” the wings of which carried souls up to heaven. The Japanese name for this model is “Orizuru” which simply means “folded crane.”
An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes (the lifespan of a crane in years, according to the legend), will be granted a wish by the gods. The wish could be for happiness, health or good luck.
The paper crane became an international symbol of peace after Sadako, a Japanese girl who developed leukemia following the bombing of Hiroshima during WWII, set a goal of folding 1,000 cranes while terminally ill in the hospital. The ending of the story varies. Some say she far surpassed her goal, ultimately folding approximately 1,400 of the paper birds. Others claim she fell short and that friends and relatives folded the difference after her death. Regardless, today, thousands of origami cranes are on display, as symbols of peace, in a variety of locations that have experienced unrest or violence, including the 9/11 memorial in New York City and Pearl Harbor.
Folding Your Paper Crane
Folding a paper crane is relatively easy, but precision plays an important role in the look of the finished product. Still, there is no need to strive for perfection for this to be a relaxing exercise. The simple act of folding can do wonders for the soul, even if the beak is a bit crooked or the wings aren’t quite right. In fact, many Japanese practice wabi-sabi
, a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. This aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete," perhaps mirroring our own experiences of grief.
- One perfectly square piece of paper. You may purchase origami paper online or in person from a craft store, or you can cut your own square of paper - but it must be perfectly square.
- Folding instructions. These are readily available online. Here is one example:
- Thread for hanging your crane, if desired.
- Find a quiet area free of distraction.
- Play some quiet music if you like, or fold in peace.
- Sit with a solid surface in front of you – this could be a table, a lap desk, or other hard surface that provides you enough space for folding.
- Select a piece of paper.
- Before folding your crane, you may want to write something on the “wrong” (the nonprinted side of the paper). This could be a memory about your loved one, a message, a mantra, or a hope for the future. When the crane is folded, what you have written will not be visible to others and will be known only to you.
- Follow the instructions (see Supply List) to fold your crane.
- To add thread for hanging (optional), thread a long needle and knot the end; put the needle through the hole in the bottom of the crane and pierce it through the top of the crane. Draw the entire length of thread through the crane and display as desired.
- We’d love to see your cranes if you’d like to share! Post on social media using #RememberingALifeCrane.
- Have origami paper and directions available at a funeral or memorial service so guests can each fold a paper crane that can be given to the family or taken home as a remembrance.
- Gather a group of family and/or friends after the service to create paper cranes in memory of the loved one.
- Display cranes on a decorative indoor tree or create a mobile.
- Fold a crane and send it to someone who is grieving. Include a supportive note that includes memories of their loved one.