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This 'wind phone' helps grievers feel connected to the loved ones they've lost

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

We all experience grief at some point in our lives, but many of us avoid talking about it. From Connecticut, Meg Dalton reports on a church trying to change that with a creative approach, a telephone.

MEG DALTON, BYLINE: An old, cream-colored rotary phone sits in a grove of trees just outside a historic church. A crowd surrounds the phone and Kate Bagnati steps toward it, picks up the receiver and dials a number.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROTARY PHONE DIAL CLICKING)

KATE BAGNATI: Hey, mama. (Crying) I miss you. I know you're around, but this is a pretty cool way to talk.

DALTON: Bagnati's mom, Grace, died about a year ago. The phone she's using isn't connected to a telephone line. Reverend Deborah Rundlett says it's a wind phone.

DEBORAH RUNDLETT: It is a means by which to have the conversations you didn't get to have - the good, the bad, the ugly - and know that the wind will carry them to the source that needs to receive them.

DALTON: Reverend Rundlett is the pastor of Ridgebury Congregational Church in Ridgefield. Her church's wind phone is 1 of 4 in Connecticut. The wind phone is attached to a wooden post at the end of a gravel path. There's a bench next to it, and the plaque above it reads...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: This phone will never ring. It is connected by love to nowhere and everywhere. It's for those who have an empty place in their heart left by a loved one. Say hello. Say goodbye. Talk of the past, the present, the future. The wind phone will carry your message.

DALTON: Lynda Shannon Bluestein and her son approach Reverend Rundlett about bringing the phone to her church. Bluestein has terminal cancer and is in hospice care. She wants the wind phone to be a space for normalizing grief.

LYNDA SHANNON BLUESTEIN: I don't think that when my body dies that's the end of me. I think there's so much more. And I want them to know that we're still connected by love. And I saw having a wind phone here as a place where my family and friends could go and keep me alive.

DALTON: More than 150 wind phones have popped up across the country in recent years. That's according to mywindphone.com, a website that locates and tracks wind phones. Amy Dawson created the website a year and a half ago to honor her daughter, Emily, who died in 2020.

AMY DAWSON: Grief gets swept under the carpet. People get three bereavement days if they lose their spouse or, you know, their family member, their child. Like, are you kidding? And you're supposed to move on, and you don't move on, you move forward.

DALTON: Dawson was inspired by the first-ever wind phone. That phone was created back in 2010, more than 6,000 miles away in Otsuchi, Japan. Bluestein says a garden designer, Itaru Sasaki, was mourning the loss of his cousin.

BLUESTEIN: He found an old phone, and he built a little - in his garden, he built a little phone booth. And he would dial up his cousin and say, oh, this is doing well this year. The kale is wonderful. And just - and he said it really helped him.

DALTON: A year later, an earthquake and tsunami devastated the region. Sasaki opened his wind phone to the public, and it became a place of solace for thousands of visitors. That's what Bluestein hopes to do here in Connecticut. In her dining room, she has a collection of rotary phones in different colors, all waiting for a home.

BLUESTEIN: I don't have a lot of time left, but I have a lot of ideas about where I would like wind phones to be around Fairfield County.

DALTON: Bluestein thinks of these wind phones as her legacy, something that will last long after she dies, a literal lifeline for her community.

For NPR News, I'm Meg Dalton in Bridgeport, Conn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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