Wind Phone in East Nashville Offers Alternative Grief Therapy

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Photo: @enwindtelephone Instagram

With the grief created by the recent losses caused by the mass shooting at The Covenant School still deeply entrenched in the psyche of the community, people are looking for ways to process their shock and sadness. Because everyone mourns differently, there are many different resources to help process that grief. One of them is a unique device borrowed from the Japanese. It is called a Wind Phone, and in February of this year, a young woman named Allison Young dedicated the one she had installed by her house in East Nashville to her dead grandmother. She has opened it to the community.

“It’s important to offer as many different kinds of grief approaches as you can,” explained Young to News Channel 5, “so you help as many people as you can when you’re dealing with grief.”

The Wind Phone in Japan, which is Young’s model, is located in a sculptured garden on a cliff overlooking the sea where more than 1,600 died when the tsunami hit in 2011. It sits on the slopes of a mountain called Kujira-yama, which translates as “Mountain of the Whale.” It is seen as a place that exists between the world of the living and the dead. More than 35,000 venture there on a kind of pilgrimage every year, according to an article on lithub.com. It is an old-fashioned rotary phone connected to nothing but the great beyond, sitting in a minimalistic white phone booth surrounded by the constant barrage of the wind.

Young, a cancer researcher at Vanderbilt University, had seen the devastation in Japan herself, and after starting a degree in the study of death, dying and bereavement, according to WKRN.com, she felt inspired to bring the Wind Phone to Tennessee.

It is the journey there that is part of the experience in Japan, according to its founders, Mr. and Mrs. Itaru Sasaki. There are no signs, so everyone ends up wandering, lost before arriving. Itaru Sasaki says that the process of arriving creates the mindfulness that visitors need to be prepared to converse with the person they have lost on the telephone.

“You need to get your own feelings in order before you can talk to someone else,” Mr. Sasaki explains in the article. “You need to emerge from the tragedy, from the shell of pain you’ve been encased in. Those who come to the Wind Phone are already halfway there. They are ready to create a new relationship with the dead.”

The Wind Phone is a way to find closure by having a one-way conversation with the dead. Users find a way to say all the things they never had a chance to say to loved ones whose death still haunts them.

“The booth invites people to drop in to work out painful feelings in a comfortable space,” notes an article on Bloomberg.com, “sadness that can feel all-encompassing is, for a moment, confined to a specific shape and landscape.”

For those in Japan, it has become a private way of wrestling with the tragedy of the tsunami that reshaped the small community of 16,000 where it is located. In Nashville, Young’s version has the potential to offer the same emotional release for the families and friends of those lost at The Covenant School, or anyone else suffering from a great loss.

Those who live near the one in Japan may use it once, or every day to keep their lost loved one as part of the family, while those coming from far away often see the experience as a sort of final catharsis before finding a sense of acceptance and being able to move on while still remaining connected to the departed. With news of the Wind Phone having traveled around the world, visitors now come to the one in Japan from every country to use it.

Young’s version sits near her driveway, which users can employ to park their car while talking on the phone. She has also placed a little library next to the phone booth with an offering of free grief and bereavement books, and information about various grief support groups, according to Nashville Today.

The disconnected phone booths have spread across the United States in recent years, popping up in neighborhoods and on peoples’ front lawns, notes the story on WKRN.com. Young’s version is located at 1425 Rosebank Avenue in East Nashville.

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