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How an unconnected phone on a nature trail is bringing comfort to grieving people

A close-up of a man's face. He's wearing a blue winter coat and a grey fur hat with earflaps. He's holding a phone receiver up to his ear.
Sterling Goulding says the wind phone on a nature trail in Deer Lake makes him feel closer to his wife, who died in 2020, and his daughter, who died in 2021. (Submitted by Sterling Goulding)

Anyone who’s lost a loved one would give anything to be able to hear their voice again, and while a new wind phone in Deer Lake won’t enable them to have a two-way conversation, it is helping to bring comfort to grieving people.

The “wind phone” is a concept developed in Japan; essentially it’s an unconnected phone located in nature, giving people an opportunity to feel they can talk to their loved ones who’ve died. And it is helping.

When Natasha Lavers lost her father to suicide four years ago, she honoured his wish to be cremated and not have a gravesite or headstone. 

But Lavers said that left her missing somewhere to go to honour her father’s memory and to give voice to her thoughts and feelings. She said the wind phone has provided just such a place for her.

“You always feel like your loved ones are listening, but it’s just the physical part of putting a receiver up to your ear, and having a conversation with your loved one, even though it’s just a one-sided conversation, that’s so powerful,” she said.

A male senior stands next to a Christmas tree, with two younger women on either side. The tree has clear lights and a bright star.
Natasha Lavers, right, is pictured with her father, Laurence, and sister, Shanda-Lee. Laurence Lavers died in 2018. (Submitted by Natasha Lavers)

A way to express grief

The wind phone in Deer Lake is a vintage rotary dial phone mounted on a wooden housing and located on the Humber River Trail. It’s a project of the town council’s new health and wellness committee, chaired by deputy mayor and family physician Melanie Young.

Young said she liked the idea of a wind phone because it’s simple and inexpensive, at a total cost to the town of about $80, but it presents grieving people a chance to work through their sense of loss.

“The phone itself acts as a symbolic intermediary. It allows people who are grieving the opportunity to externalize their grief,” said Young.

I feel that I’m in their presence.– Sterling Goulding

“For those of us that often help people along the grieving process, we know that externalizing grief can often be very powerful in healing,” she said.

It’s common for people to grieve long after an initial mourning period, said Young, and private grief can be very isolating.

“The world moves on and sometimes people feel like their world is shattered, and they are left in inner isolation in dealing with their grief,” said Young.

A white vintage, rotary dial phone is affixed to a wooden, booth-like structure which is located outdoors. Above the phone is a plaque that explains its purpose.
The wind phone was placed on the Humber River Trail by the Town of Deer Lake’s health and wellness committee. (Submitted by Sterling Goulding)

Brings loved ones close

Sterling Goulding has experienced the benefit of the wind phone first-hand, after losing both his wife and daughter within 11 months of each other. He said it’s still hard to believe they’re gone, and the wind phone gives him a chance to pause, and to reflect on all that his loved ones have meant to him.

“I’m still grieving a lot, and I find it comforting to go there, just by myself, nobody around, and listening to the wind and the trees blowing, I feel that I’m in their presence,” said Goulding.

A white woman with brown hair and dark glasses is looking straight into the camera. She is wearing a black top under a white blazer.
Melanie Young, a family physician in Deer Lake, is chair of the town council’s health and wellness committee. (David Purchase Art)

Young said the town has received similar feedback from other people since the wind phone was set up in December. She hopes people will find it to be an outlet for their grief as a healthy way to cope with their losses.

Young said the Deer Lake wind phone may be the first in the province. 

“We are quite happy at the town to be able to support people in their grief,” she said.

A black plaque, affixed to wood, reads in part: “This Wind Phone is for all who grieve. You are welcome to find solace here. Please use it to connect with those you have lost."
Young, who learned about the idea of wind phone in a journal article, says she thought it was a simple way to profoundly impact her community. (Submitted by Sterling Goulding)

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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