NPR recently re-aired an episode of The American Life in which a phone booth in Japan is featured where thousands of people go to feel close to the loved ones they lost in the 2011 tsunami and earthquake. In this glass phone booth, atop a picturesque hill in a remote town, people come to speak to those they lost whom they never got to say good-bye to or to say the things they didn’t say before that fateful day. The so-called ‘Wind Phone’ is just a disconnected dial phone in a white phone booth that overlooks the Pacific ocean. And even though the phone doesn’t connect to anything or anyone in the literal sense, thousands of people have still stepped in and shared messages with those they lost — messages, we can assume, of regret, forgiveness, love, longing, hope.
I’ve been lucky that I haven’t lost too many people in my life yet, but if I had the chance to speak to someone who has passed away, I think I know whom I’d choose.
I’ve lost three grandparents and while I would love to tell them I miss them, that I still think about them and talk about them, I would probably choose my mother-in-law, who passed away in the early 80s, to speak to if I had the chance. I’d tell her what an amazing man her son — both sons — grew up to be, what a good husband and father Drew is, how kind and funny and loving he is, and that I know, as a mother and because of what I’ve heard about her, what a big role she must have played in all of that. As a mom myself, if I didn’t get to see my children grow up to become adults, I can imagine how much it would mean to know they found partners who loved and appreciated them and that they were cared for. I’d tell my MIL about our kids, her grandkids — how funny and sweet and loving they are, and how Drew and I are doing our best to raise them well, to honor her and her husband’s memories, and to instill in them the same values they — and my parents — instilled in Drew and me.
If you could speak to a lost loved one, who would it be? What would you say?
ktfran September 20, 2017, 7:53 am
If I could speak to anyone, it would be my older sister, who died before her second birthday and three weeks after I was born. She was born with a rare liver disease that could be treated today, but not 39 years ago.
I would tell her that even though we only met briefly, I think about her often and how much I appreciate her looking out for me and our family. Really, I’d like to chat with her and catch up.
csp September 20, 2017, 8:13 am
I have to say that I listened to this podcast on the way to work yesterday and tears streamed down my face. I just loved it. Then had to pull myself together and go to work.
dinoceros September 20, 2017, 10:06 am
I’d call my grandma and ask if she was the one who caused the bird to poop on the niece she disliked so much. JK. I would probably call my grandfather who I never met. He was 25 years older than my grandma (other side of the family as the bird poop one), and died about 6 years before I was born. I’d just be curious to talk with him and see what he was like!
va-in-ny September 20, 2017, 10:38 am
I downloaded the podcast yesterday, and I just can’t bring myself to listen to it….yet. I don’t know when I’ll be in a space good enough to tolerate it without sobbing and spending the rest of the day with an emotion-headache.
The person I would pick would be my father. I’m coming up on the 1 year anniversary of his unexpected death (58 years old!) and I find that I’m either SO AWARE of it that it hurts, or I forget completely and do something stupid, like pick up my phone to call him.
I would tell him that we’re all doing okay. That my sister’s wedding this year was lovely (and was even featured on a website! http://chicvintagebrides.com/heartfelt-rustic-vintage-woodland-wedding/). I’d want him to know that everyone came, since he was disappointed that so many of his side of the family didn’t come to my wedding.
I would tell him that Mom was just diagnosed with breast cancer, but she’s tough as hell and we’re certain that she’ll beat that and put it behind her.
I’d want him to know that the boat survived the hurricane without a scratch – and we caught 3 mahi mahi (of the 5 we had on the lines!) after we put his ashes in the ocean this summer.
I would tell him that my husband and I are in contract on the purchase of our first home and I think he’d want to hear about all of the plans we have for it… and how difficult the seller has been throughout the process!
I would tell him that OJ Simpson was granted parole and is getting out of prison in October! AND Ford is bringing back the Bronco!
The funny thing is that all of the times I’ve thought “Oh! I need to call my dad, he would love that!” are from the little things, like the OJ update. Basically, I would just want to chat again. About nothing in particular….
Lianne September 20, 2017, 2:25 pm
This brought tears to my eyes. I am sorry for the unexpected loss of your father. I can’t even imagine the heartbreak. This is a good reminder to me that I should call my dad more often.
Amy - Chic Vintage Brides September 20, 2017, 8:52 pm
Your sister’s wedding really was beautiful! And I thought myself, knowing how important a Father’s role is at a wedding, how hard it must have been for your whole family. Your sister honoured him so perfectly with those little details she included in her day. I know he would have been so proud, and I have no doubt he was smiling down on your celebrations from above.
ecwashere September 20, 2017, 11:35 am
I would call my Grandma that passed away over 6 years ago. I would tell her that I miss her every day and how I never realized she was the glue that held our family together. I would tell her that I still smile at the memories of our shopping trips together (she was a speed demon in the motorized shopping carts!) and how she never drove like a little old lady. Mostly I just want to hear her voice again.
K September 20, 2017, 11:36 am
I’d talk to either my grandmother, who passed away almost 6 years ago, or one of my best friends from high school, who unexpectedly passed away almost 3 years ago. For my grandmother, I’d want her to know how my younger cousins have grown up, tell her that I’m dating a wonderful man who has the same birthday as her, tell her that my grandfather is doing ok, and how much we all miss her. For my friend, I’d want to just talk to him – tell him all the little things that remind me of him – like when I pass a Chinese buffet, or see a movie we watched together.
Lianne September 20, 2017, 2:33 pm
I would call my Nana, who was like a mother to me. She died when I was 23 and I was not expecting it at all. At the time, all 4 of my grandparents were still alive and she was significantly younger than my dad’s parents. So her dying before them wasn’t on my radar at all. It was, and still is, the worst day of my life. I was just starting to appreciate her and our relationship in a more mature way. And given my actual mother and I don’t have any relationship, her absence is a very big hole in my heart.
I would tell her that I miss her every day. That even though she is not here with me physically, her presence helps guide me and I try to think about how she would feel about various decisions. I would tell her that her grandson is the most perfect, happy boy and one of my biggest regrets is that she will never be able to delight in him, because even though she self-admittedly favored girls, this little boy would have turned the tides.
I would tell her that, even though I often think about how she would be disappointed with the situation, I am sorry I can’t do any more to make my relationship with my mother work; it’s all up to her now.
I would tell her that I wish we could sit and gossip and talk about nothing. That I would gladly start watching soap operas if we could discuss the latest scandal together. And that I still think of her whenever I make pancakes, smell juicy fruit, or think about Shirley Temple.
Kate September 20, 2017, 2:41 pm
I’d want to call my dad’s dad who died in an accident in 1967 and get to know him better and tell him what a great guy my dad turned out to be, and how cool my grandmother was.
Kate September 20, 2017, 2:41 pm
I mean, “get to know him,” not better, we never met.
Rangerchic September 20, 2017, 4:06 pm
I love all the stories here! The thing is, I don’t know who I would call. I’ve thought about it and I just don’t know. My great-grandparents on my father’s side died a long time ago…but not before I had my first daughter. I need to find that picture of all 5 generations. I didn’t really know them well enough to really want to talk to them again.
My grandmothers are still alive but both my grandfathers are gone. My paternal grandfather died 4 years ago. He would always talk about his roots. I enjoyed many conversations with him.
My maternal grandfather; however, died when I was 8 or 9. I was always terrified of him because he would force me to give him a kiss on the cheek. And he was an alcoholic so he always reeked of alcohol. It was so bad, I remember staying the night with my grandparents and he would get up in the middle of the night for a swig of whisky. So I really have no desire to talk to him.
Those are the closest members of my family that have passed away, thankfully. There have been distant relatives of course but I didn’t really know them.
Actually, I might want to talk to what would be my great-great-great-great grandfather on my paternal side. My grandfather was always talking about his great great grandfather, the german-speaking swiss ancestor who came to America, married, had children and decided to return to Altdorf, Switzerland because he didn’t like America (so the story goes). I’d ask him why he abandoned his family and ask him why he even came to America in the first place.
Then there is a story on my maternal side about a great-great uncle (?) who buried all their earnings (in light of the great depression…somewhere or all over the yard) and then was murdered because he wouldn’t divulge it’s location. I need to get more details on that before my grandmother passes away.
theotherbarb September 20, 2017, 6:29 pm
Oh, my….I cried when I first heard the NPR podcast, and then again when I read your beautiful essay about it. And now all these wonderful stories.
I would probably call my dad who died more than 20 years ago. Awhile before he passed away, he told us that he could “go at any time”, and to take care of our mother after he was gone. She was the one who had had health problems all our lives, and he went first. Although Mom was about as independent as she could be despite that, we did indeed take care of her for the next 15 years, until her death a few years ago. I’d tell Dad that she lived a good life after he was gone, although she – and we – missed him every single day. Hope they’re together again…..
Rebecca October 10, 2017, 1:40 pm
I would call my cat, Lu. I would tell her that I wish that I had payed better attention. I would ask her for her forgiveness for the pain she felt. Being as stoic as cats can be, I didn’t know, I tried to, I asked her, observed her, but still I didn’t know. I’d thank her for loving me unconditionally and tell her that she still has the softest fur suit, the loudest purr, and the brightest eyes of any cat I’ve known. I love you, Lu. I’m sorry, sweet girl.