It started with Itaru Sasaki in Otsuchi, Japan. Devastated by the loss of his cousin and a strong desire to talk with him once again, a thought stirred in his mind. Just pick up the phone.
Symbolically, Saski constructed a telephone booth in his garden. The phone booth housed a disconnected rotary phone that is meant to send messages, thoughts and goodbyes and carry them on the wind. Known as“Kaze no Denwa” or “wind phone”, it began to draw others who were grieving.
In 2011 a tsunami devastated Otsuchi. Over 15,000 people were lost. Sasaki opened up his garden to provide solace and a space to process grief and the wind phone to connect with those who have gone. The story of Sasaki’s phone resonated with many around the world, and since then, similar sites have appeared to provide comfort and help to others who are untangling knots of grief. Sites like My Wind Phone and Telephone of the Wind show locations of phones and also allow you to add other locations. In most cases, phones have been set up in memory of a specific person who has died, but are for anyone who wants to connect with loved ones and to heal. They are sacred spaces, for the living .
In BritishColumbia, Canada, a phone has been erected in a wooded park. Many visitors find it helpful to speak their love and loss to the wind. In a story by a local CBC reporter, Brooke Robichaud talks about the death of her brother and how talking to him on this telephone has become a weekly ritual. She admits it was awkward at first, but soon became easier; she also brings her daughter to speak to Uncle Henry, and feels connecting with him in this way helps to keep his memory alive.
“I’ll do everything I can to share your life, your story, and how amazing you are. You still are. I can feel you around here,” she tells him.
Maybe it makes no logical sense to dial a phone connected to nothing but the wind, but for countless people, speaking their grief seems to offer a kind of healing connection. It allows memories to be kept alive, the unsaid to be spoken, and conversations to be continued, even if they are one-sided, even if it is just to say “hello” or “goodbye” and to remember the dead and deal with grief and loss.