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Raleigh's first 'Wind Phone' allows families to call lost loved ones at Oakwood Cemetery

Posted November 25, 2022 9:32 p.m. EST
Updated December 6, 2022 7:20 p.m. EST

— Sometimes, I dial my childhood home's phone number. Although it's disconnected, I ask the dial tone, 'Can I please speak to Grandma?' And I imagine all the things I wish I could tell her about my day – about my life.

Especially as the holidays approach, there is often someone on our heart that we wish we could call. Wouldn't it be nice if those who are dearly departed could be only a phone call away?

The Wind Phone was first created in Japan to answer that wish: To provide a beautiful and peaceful place where visitors could have a phone call with lost loved ones.

For quite a while, the only wind phone in North Carolina was in Marshall, hours away from the Triangle.

However, thanks to the compassionate work of Ian Dunn, Raleigh has its own wind phone – handmade from oak and overlooking a peaceful spot at Historic Oakwood Cemetery.

"The original wind phone in Japan has proven to have helped countless people grieving the loss of their loved ones," says Dunn.

Using the wind phone for the first time

Robin Simonton, executive director of Historic Oakwood Cemetery, says she was very excited to use the phone for the first time. After making a particularly meaningful discovery in her family's history, she rushed to use the phone – and call her grandmother.

"I approached the phone, and just pushed one number. Picked it up and told my grandmother about the find," says Simonton. "She was a big family history buff and would have loved our discovery."

Since then, she's discovered the gift of actually dialing her grandmother's phone number – a number that's etched in her heart.

"It's a number I haven't actually entered in a phone since 1997 when she died, but a number I can still rattle off to this day," she says.

She says as we approach a season that is often difficult for those going through a loss, she hopes the wind phone provides comfort for those who use it.

"We've all been through a lot of loss the past few years, I hope that people feel like the phone helps them reach out to those they love and miss," she says.

Communicating beyond life and death

For many years, Historic Oakwood Cemetery has served as more than a place to bury those who have passed. Executive director Robin Simonton has developed many programs to help build community and help local families maintain a connection to their lost loved ones.

In summer of 2021, Oakwood Cemetery created a Grove of Remembrance, where people could tie ribbons with messages for departed loved ones on branches of crepe myrtles in a grassy field. Before that, they gathered 'Death Letters' from the community, allowing locals to share their ideas about death, ancestors, memories and legacy.

"I'm personally very sentimental about death. - and really thought it would be great to have [a wind phone] at Oakwood," says Simonton. "I feel the wind phone is just another tool for our community to use to connect with their loved ones."

Simonton says it can be difficult for some people to talk to their loved one at a grave site, but the wind phone provides another avenue for communication and for trying to grapple with grief and loss.

"Who, of a certain age, isn't comforted by the twirling of a phone cord as you chat it up with someone you love?" says Simonton.

Simonton reached out to Dunn and asked him to make the phone for Oakwood – who says he was honored to contribute in such a meaningful way.

"Having two friends interred at Oakwood that I regularly visit, I understand the need for a means of symbolic communication," says Dunn.

How does the wind phone work?

Visitors are encouraged to use the wind phone as simply another means of sending messages to departed loved ones. Some find healing in sitting by a loved one's grave. Others prefer to release a balloon with a message written inside.

The beauty of the wind phone is that it feels familiar – like we can just pick up the phone and call our loved one, just like we always used to do when they were alive.

Your loved one doesn't have to be buried at Historic Oakwood Cemetery to use the wind phone. Simply pick up the phone and give your departed loved one a call for the holidays -- and let them know you're still thinking of them, where ever they are.

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