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This local 'wind phone' helps people grieving loved ones

phone in shelter box on tree
Julie Sandman
This wind phone at Heritage Acres Memorial Sanctuary in Clermont County is available for anyone who needs it.

Tucked amongst the trees just off a path at Heritage Acres Memorial Sanctuary, there is a phone booth of sorts. A black and white, push-button wall phone in the style of an old rotary phone is mounted inside a small wooden shelter attached to the base of a tree.

This phone isn't connected to anything and users can't actually make calls. They can, however, use it to speak to people who can no longer answer.

"A wind phone is obviously a phone," explains Julia Sandman, a founding member of Heritage Acres, a green burial ground in Clermont County. "It's not connected to anything, but it's out in nature and it's a way for people who have lost someone to reconnect or maybe say some things that weren't said before they passed or perhaps catch them up on what's going on in their lives."

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The concept started in Japan when a man mourning his cousin set up a phone in his garden and used it to say all the things he wished he still could. When an earthquake and tsunami followed a year later, he opened the phone to visitors to use to speak to their lost loved ones. Thousands flocked to it.

The idea of the wind phone is that the wind will carry your words on to those who have passed before you. Sandman calls it therapeutic.

"After I use it I always feel a little lighter, a little better. Not to say that you don't cry or anything like that, but it's still... it's a good cry because you're remembering your loved ones and, of course, sort of reconnecting with them, so to speak."

There are more than 150 wind phones across the United States. Closer to home, the Heritage Acres phone is the only one in the Tri-State, but there are seven in Ohio and two in Kentucky. Heritage Acres Board President Bill Gupton was the first to hear about the idea and bring it up to the board. From there, Sandman says she picked up the idea and ran with it, installing the wind phone in April 2022.

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"When we started cleaning and preparing Heritage Acres for burials, we came across a lot of unused wood — parts of fencing and that sort of thing — and that's what I actually made the box out of, was reclaimed wood that we found on the property," she says.

Sandman knows the phone is getting used though they aren't tracking visitors. There's no right or wrong way to use the wind phone.

"I think that depends on the person — some people may not get it or don't feel comfortable with a phone in their hand and maybe feel better just meditating on a bench. I'm not sure how to put it into words. The space itself is out in nature, so I feel a connection. And being in a cemetery is even more emotional — you know that there are people there. I don't know, I think it would be different for different people. For me, it works."

The wind phone is open to the public. Heritage Acres is a green burial ground, meaning everything is meant to decay naturally; there are no embalming fluids. The land doubles as a nature preserve. The wind phone is located a short distance down the Pawpaw trail. Hours are from dawn until dusk.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.