Salve Regina employee creates ‘wind phone’ to help others process grief
Dawn Emsellem-Wichowski, director of library services at Salve Regina, has spent years creating a project that finally came to fruition this summer. She’s made a “wind phone” to help others process their grief in a safe, quiet and beautiful environment.
The idea originated from a man in Japan named Itaru Sasaki, who made the first wind phone after the devastating tsnami hit Japan in 2011. Sasaki would talk to his deceased cousin through the wind phone, and the phone became so popular that people from all over Japan would come to grieve and remember their loved ones at the spot.
“I was just so moved when I read about that story,” said Emsellem-Wichowski. She felt inspired to someday replicate that idea here in America, even though it would take years for her to actually complete it.
In 2014, Emsellem-Wichowski and her husband Keith Wichowski moved to a home in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, in Aquidneck Island. Their new home was located in a place near the Aquidneck Land Trust and its walking trails, and the area always has a lot of wind.
“The way they described [Sasaki’s phone] in the articles I read was that his house was on the coast as well, and he always had winds, so that’s why he called it the wind phone,” said Emsellem-Wichowski. “I just thought our current home would be sort of perfect.”
Emsellem-Wichowski began searching for a phone booth, which took a lot of tedious combing through ad listings online. Finally, she found one in Providence, and she drove to pick it up in her minivan.
“I just had this vision like the phone booths we had when I was a kid and a teenager, and I just completely wanted to have this phone booth that was American and … had this sense of place,” said Emsellem-Wichowski.
After setting up the phone booth at its new permanent location with the help of her husband, she began piecing the rest of the details together: a cherry-red rotary dial phone, marine foam cushions that could survive outdoors weather, a poetry board, a wind phone log for people to journal in, and beautiful flowers in the landscaping to help people feel secluded. The wind phone opened in August with the official title of the Goosefields Wind Phone.
Emsellem-Wichowski added that Covid-19 was one of the reasons she finally felt the urge to complete the project.
“I have been thinking a lot about Covid and how people lost loved ones, and they couldn’t go mourn them in ways that everybody used to,” said Emsellem-Wichowski. “So I think not being able to be with people, you need some kind of alternative where you can do something — some kind of ritual to acknowledge the person and what they meant to you.”
So far, the reception to the wind phone has been extremely positive, according to Emsellem-Wichowski. People have been writing poems and leaving notes in the wind phone log, and some have even left items — like painted shells from the Aquidneck Island Shells program — for others to enjoy at the booth.
“[The messages] are really moving,” described Emsellem-Wichowski. “People are like, ‘I lost my sister in an accident last year, and doing this was important to me.’ And somebody else was like, ‘I’m a sad person, but this made me smile.’ Yesterday evening, my husband and I were going for a walk, and a lady pulled over … and she was like, ‘Thank you so much. I lost my son, and I’ve gone there to talk to him.'”
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For Emsellem-Wichowski, working at Salve Regina has shaped her mercy-driven attitude, and while the wind phone was not directly related to the University, she feels that her time here has influenced the kind of activities she does outside of her work as a librarian on campus. To her, it’s the small, unknown acts of service for a community that often leave the most impact on humanity, and she sees the students at Salve Regina exemplify this all the time.
“I really feel our students are a little bit unusual in how service-oriented they are,” Emsellem-Wichowski said. “So many of them … volunteer just as a part of their life, and that has been hugely inspiring to watch over the years.”
Emsellem-Wichowski is happy to have her wind phone out in the world now, and she hopes it inspires others — just as Sasaki’s original idea inspired her.
“The idea of just putting it out there purely for other people to use — yeah, it’s sort of like a Salve thing,” she concluded.
Follow the Goosefields Wind Phone on Instagram here.