A Phone in the Forest Helps Grieving Talk with Loved Ones

In a back corner of an Olympia, Washington park, hangs a disconnected rotary phone. From it, people who need to talk to someone who is no longer there, can do so from the solitude of the wooded surroundings.

The project was inspired by a phone booth set up in 2010 in Otsuchi, Japan. A Japanese farmer created a “wind telephone” to deal with his own grief in losing a cousin, but a year later, 2,000 residents of his town (about ten percent of the population) died in a tsunami. Thousands visit the site each year.

The Telephone of the Wind in Olympia was created by a Washington-area travel journalist, Corey Dembeck.

Dembeck tells Solace he was motivated to create the project after several losses.

“I heard the NPR story about the Telephone of the Wind in Japan a few years ago. My mom passed away a few years before that. I thought I could use something like that here. But I didn’t really have any overwhelming desire to make one. This year (2020) was tough. In the space of a year, I had my two labradors pass away, my father, my grandfather, and I don’t think I really coped with their losses. When my friends’ four-year-old daughter passed away, I knew the phone needed to be up.”

Dembeck dedicated the phone to Joelle Rose Sylvester and had it installed by noon the day he heard she’d died.

He later placed the first “call” to his mother.

“It’s a little awkward at first, but I walked away, feeling better. It’s almost therapeutic. I picked up the phone and dialed some random numbers. At first, you feel kind of stupid, but then you start talking and the emotions just kind of come out in a way that you didn’t really expect. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have anything prepared, so I said, ‘Hi,’ and gave her some recent updates on my life,” he told Seattle Refined.

In his haste to get the project up, Dembeck didn’t contact park officials, but is now working with them to create a more permanent design and place the phone on a stand rather than on a tree.

Dembeck plans to create more of these phone stands in Washington and Oregon and is raising a modest sum of money for their construction.

The sign Dembeck posted the day his daughter’s friend died best explains the power of the project, “This phone is for everyone who lost a loved one. The phone is an outlet for those who have messages to share with their lost friends and family. It is a phone for memories and saying the goodbyes you never got to say.”

You can find more information about Olympia’s Telephone of the Wind at this website.

Photo by Corey Dembeck

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