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Lost loved ones are just a dial away

An old telephone that was used as a Wind Phone during the Dearly Departed Players' Dunmore Cemetery Tour.
Kat Bolus
An old telephone that was used as a wind phone during the Dearly Departed Players' Dunmore Cemetery Tour.

Wind phones provide a line to help people cope with the loss of a loved one.

They’re not attached to a physical phone line. They can be rotary phones or portable phones.

The phones are not in service. And no one talks back on the other end.

“Picking up that phone, it gives them that that anchor, that tangible thing to hold on to," said Julie Esty, founder and artistic director of the Dearly Departed Players. "And I know for me when I did it, it gave me that chance to physically punch in my mother and father's phone number and I haven't done that in years."

The Dearly Departed Players provide the Dunmore Cemetery Tour each October in Lackawanna County. This year the tour included wind phones.

"We found some old phones, we found some newer phones, we found some of those older telephone tables, and we put them out here and little setups, and folks actually did use them," she said.

During the tour, the players portray notable residents whose final resting place is the Dunmore Cemetery.

"We thought ... this is the perfect forum to put the phones in and maybe give some of us here on this side, one last voice, you know, to say, 'I love you', 'I miss you', or 'I didn't get to say goodbye',” she said.

Itaru Sasaki created the first wind phone in 2010 in northern Japan to help him cope with his cousin's death. After a tsunami killed more than 15,000 people in Japan, he opened the phone booth up to the public. It started a movement. Now wind phones can be found across the United States and in Europe and Canada. In Pennsylvania, grieving loved ones can make calls from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lehighton.

Diane Szwajkowski is an end-of-life doula in Carbon County. Her phone is in a memorial garden on her property. She installed it last year on Mother's Day in honor of her late mother. A tree stump with a cushion on top sits next to it. The phone is on a box Szwajkowski’s husband made for her.

That area of her property is where she would go to talk with her mother.

"Which kind of felt funny," she said. "So the idea of having a phone that I could talk to her was something that was quite easy, because it's something I did every day when she was alive.”

She said people at first can be skeptical.

"But their testimony would be 'it felt like I really talked to that person, like I really felt connected to that person',” said Szwajkowski.

In her experience, everyone deals with death, dying and grief differently. Szwajkowski believes the wind phones offer a unique experience, one that people don’t always get through other tools for grief and bereavement.

"It's pretty amazing ... to sit back there and talk on the phone to my mom, and I know she's not there physically, and then I'll leave a space and I'll just sit there listening," she said. "There's like things that conjure in my brain that it's like this is what her response would be ... we all have that similar experience."

The last person to use the phone said she felt more peaceful and relaxed, Szwajkowski said.

Since the phone is on Szwajkowski’s property, she asks that those interested in making a call contact her first through email or her Facebook page, Doula Di Ann.

While the wind phones are no longer in the Dunmore Cemetery, Esty said during the tour there were some amazing and touching moments.

“One of my cast members lost his father 40 years ago, I lost my father nine years ago and it appeared to me that the grief just doesn't change," she said, adding it's something many people deal with on a day-to-day basis.

"If these phones from the past that were sitting in offices, that were hanging on walls, that are thrown to flea markets or the Salvation Army or wherever, can help somebody, then that's all good with me," she said.

Esty is currently working to install a permanent wind phone.

To find a wind phone, visit www.mywindphone.com/.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.

You can email Kat at katbolus@wvia.org