HARTVILLE, Ohio — Like a meandering path through a forest, grief is not a straight line. But along one trail in Stark County, Ohio, those suffering the heartache of losing a loved one may find some solace.
A small wooden structure at Quail Hollow Park holds one stool and a disconnected wall phone. The open-air telephone booth is known as a "wind phone" and is intended to carry one’s message in the wind.
“There’s something magical with the wind and the trees and the peaceful area, having that access point, people are just able to say what they need to say,” said Daria Sherman.
Sherman became acquainted with the pain of loss after her son, Paul, died in a work-related accident in 2012 at age 19.
“I died with him and it took me a lot of years to pull myself back to life,” she said.
The mother changed course in life after Paul’s death, channeling her grief into several books and going back to school to get a Ph.D. in philosophy.
In 2021, the family experienced another tragedy when Sherman’s son-in-law Chris Rohr died unexpectedly from cardiac arrest.
“I talked to him at 11. Two hours later, I was getting a phone call that he wasn’t there,” said Sherman’s other son-in-law, Matt Frey. “Nothing’s going to fill that void.”
Frey never got to meet Paul, but instantly connected with Rohr when he began dating Sherman’s daughter.
“If I had any troubles, I’d go to him and if he had any troubles he’d come to me. We became best friends rather than brothers-in-law,” he said.
In January, Sherman said she was struggling with a sleepless night spurred by grief when she stumbled across the wind phone concept on social media. The project was started by a man in Otsuchi, Japan, and opened for public use after a tsunami killed nearly 15,000 people in the region in 2011.
“This is a way to let what’s inside already come out so you can have closure,” Sherman said.
She enlisted help from Frey, who owns a construction and home improvement business to design and build the wind phone. A friend who volunteers with Stark Parks helped bring the project to the park district’s board.
Frey used design input from Rohr’s father, his business partner, and Stark Parks to create the wind phone.
“With this open concept, it allows the wind to actually pick up your conversation from the wind phone and carry on your words,” he said.
The structure was recently installed. Sherman and Frey hope it not only honors their lost loved ones but also helps others find peace in their grieving journeys.
“This gives you that outlet. I think that this will be a good reason to go reconnect with them and at least have a conversation,” Frey said.
Sherman added, “Its closure and acceptance that allows you to move on in your journey and life.”
This story was first reported by Catherine Ross at WEWS in Cleveland, Ohio.