When a Door Opens

People often say things like, “When a door closes another one opens” or “When a door closes, a window opens.” Sometimes people don’t use the passive voice, but have God or the universe opening the door.

I know the intent of the quote — to encourage people to look beyond a failure or a loss or a disappointment and to keep trying because, as Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”

As admirable as the intent might be (I say “might be” because no one likes being jollied into a different outlook after a disappointment), the saying itself is beyond idiotic.

The entire door quote, attributed to Alexander Graham Bell, is: “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

Whether you use the long or the short version, the quote completely ignores the nature of a door. When a door closes, you can open it again. That’s the nature of a door. It closes. And it opens.

The worst use of this witless saying is to comfort those who are grieving. (And yes, people do say this to people who lost a spouse or a child or someone else whose death is catastrophic.) Apparently, they think . . . well, no. They don’t think. The loss of a beloved to death is in no way akin to a door closing. An unscalable wall suddenly thrust in one’s path is more like it. Or the sun losing its warmth. Or a tsunami hurling you into a completely different world. There are hundreds of applicable synonyms, but a door? No.

The truth is, though, things do change. Even in a seemingly static neighborhood, every time people open a door to the outside, they see something different. Sun and flowers, perhaps. Or snow and blue skies. Or a car passing. Or shadows that weren’t previously there.

And when someone dies, seemingly destroying your life, you can veer off into a different path and develop a new life.

After all these years since Jeff died, a different path opened up to me — a new town, home ownership, gardening and landscaping. It’s a good path for me, though it’s not one I would have ever chosen if Jeff were still alive. It’s not one that would have ever even entered my mind.

Come to think of it, Bell’s saying is silly on all fronts — not just the door analogy, but not being able to see the newly opened door because we are so fixated on the closed one. The truth is, often we can’t see another way because at that time there is no other way. It took many years, many changes in me and my outlook, several deaths (not just Jeff but parents and siblings) for me to find the new path.

But other than death, from which there is no recourse, when a door closes, just open the dang thing again.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

7 Responses to “When a Door Opens”

  1. Uthayanan Says:

    What you have written is interesting and encouraging for me.
    The last four months I am struggling very much with grief.
    With curfew + lockdown
    As you said with “Meeting the Challenges of the Third Year of Grief”
    The last words that you have written “with courage, perseverance, and strength”.
    With all
    Now there is a hope that there is a door is going to open from December to April 2021 to find a new path.

  2. Carol J. Garvin Says:

    There are a lot of ‘sayings’ that don’t do well under close scrutiny. Analogies can be like that, too; they’re often very limited in their applications. People need to be more thoughtful about how they use them. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the closing door saying in regard to death, but when facing a disappointment like losing a job, having a plan unravel, a house purchase fall through, or maybe a book query rejected. It works a little better for them.

  3. Estragon Says:

    A door is generally a device allowing passage in both directions. Death is obviously a one-way trip.

    Another way in which the door metaphor fails is that a door is generally opaque, closing off that which is on the other side of it. A death though leaves the memories of the life lived visible to those of us confined to the living side, only concealing whatever, if anything, exists on the death side. Maybe a maze of fun-house mirrors would be a better metaphor?

  4. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    In general, I find both the “celestial” door quotes and the more humorous takeoffs to be annoying, i guess mainly because they’re overused like telling a grieving family “our thoughts and prayers are with you.” I don’t even know what the hell that means other than it’s a stock phrase that seems to absolve people of saying something original.

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