Wind phone

From my letters to Rick, October 29, 2017

I haven’t written to you in a while. I’ve been talking to you all the time, though. We sit here chatting every evening, don’t we? You typically have nothing to say, but we both know I did most of the talking anyway.

I miss you.

Those words sure don’t convey the pain of it.

I had a little meltdown this morning. I had one yesterday morning, too. And last night. It seems to be getting worse, not better.

I tried to stop taking the Xanax yesterday. Maybe that caused Meltdown 1. Who knows? I woke up at 7ish and lay in bed thinking about you and crying. Then I read some posts in the widows’ groups on FB. Somewhere, one of the things I read mentioned a This American Life podcast about a wind phone. Did you listen to that? I wish I would have listened to more of these podcasts when you were alive and listening to them, too. We could have shared more conversation about the responses they all invoke.

This one was about a man whose uncle died in the tsunami in Japan in 2011. In his grief, he bought a telephone booth and put it out in his yard, overlooking cliffs. He sat in it and called his dead relative and talked to him. Soon, people from all over would come and talk to their loved ones. You probably listened to it.

One in particular really hit me.

➈ The father
One call I watched was from a young father with rectangle glasses and a long black jacket.
He lost his family; both parents, a wife named Mine and a one year-old son named Ise.
“Dad? Mom? Mine? Ise? It has already been 5 years since the disaster.
If this voice reaches you, please listen.
Sometimes I don’t know what I am living for.
Ise, please let me hear you call me ‘papa.’
Even though I built a new house…
Dad, mom, Mine and Ise without all of you it is meaningless. I want to hear your reply but I can’t hear anything.”
He takes off his glasses and covers his eyes with his hands.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you.”

Oh God, those words.

I’m so so so sorry. I’m so so so sorry I couldn’t save you, Rick.

I tried so hard. Every day for months. I tried to help you mentally, tried to help you physically. Tried to save you.

And I failed.

I know it’s illogical. I know I’m not God. But, I tried everything I could think of and failed.

In the last few months, you asked me to come lay with you often throughout the day – on my lunch hour, when I finished work at 4, and in the evening, when you went to bed at 9 or 10pm. You wanted to lie next to me and talk, and touch, and just be together. I’m so sorry for every time I didn’t.

Sometimes I’d need to finish something, or sometimes I’d be exhausted from caring for you and I’d say I need some alone time – I’ll come to bed soon.

I hate myself for that – for not seeing that there wouldn’t be much more time, for not recognizing how very sick you were.

I’ve got plenty of alone time now.

I know I’m human. I try to forgive myself for things that I did because I was tired, scared, and so very sad watching you die.

I know you forgive me. I need to forgive myself.

I love you and always will. That bullshit phrase from Jerry McGuire isn’t bullshit. You complete me. Or you did.

And now I am no longer whole. I am shattered in pieces. I have no choice other than to call up every memory of you and try to savor it forever.

Where are you? If I built a wind phone, could I talk to you?

Listen to the This American Life podcast, “Really Long Distance.”

About the author

Katherine Billings Palmer is a technical writer, poet, and essayist from Garden City, Michigan. She’s won several academic writing awards, including first place in the University of Michigan Dearborn Critical Essay Contest for her work about poet John Donne: “‘The Sun Rising’: A Lover’s Boast.”

In 2017, Katherine’s husband, Rick, died of complications from small cell lung cancer. She wrote a series of poems and essays about her struggles to cope with her grief. I Wanted to Grow Old With You is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

Her latest book, A Widow’s Words: Grief, Reflection, Prose, and Poetry – The First Year was published in January 2019 and is also available on

Katherine is a guest blogger for the Hope for Widows Foundation and writes about her grief journey at

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