This past week, the country was moved with the words “Daddy changed the world,” spoken by Gianna, 6, the daughter of George Floyd, from the shoulders of former NBA basketball player Stephen Jackson during a protest.
As I looked at the picture of her beaming, I thought of the many unknown ways her loss will shape her life ahead. It brought a wave of different emotions, shaped from loss at a young age.
When I was a teen, our father underwent treatment for an aggressive cancer, which required our family to move to San Diego.
After six months of intense chemo, the doctor informed us that there was no more they could do for him. We got on a plane and made our way home north for him to die at home.
The trip home was powerful for so many reasons, and the whole thing felt surreal. I remember he wore a mask so as to not get sick. And I also remember the kindness of a flight attendant who asked about the mask. We shared with her why our Dad was wearing a mask.
She pulled out a small card with an inspirational saying on it and gave it to me. It read, “When God closes one door, He opens another.”
I saved that card for a while and remembered the kindness of that flight attendant. She meant very well, trying to pass on the message that good things will come that might help fill that hole.
Recently, in this time of COVID-19 and thinking more on grief, I found myself Googling the phrase to learn more about it.
First, I learned there is actually no scripture with those words in the Bible, and the closest reference to doors closed and opportunities in the Bible is in Acts 16: 6-12. Second, I learned there is more to the verse that I have never heard.
The full verse goes like this: “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.” It was the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, who actually wrote the verse.
When I think of applying these words to someone who is grieving a loss, whether pending or in the past, I think Mr. Bell’s saying doesn’t really apply. I suspect the intent of Mr. Bell’s verse was talking about rejection during his design process as an inventor and working to find an investor who would support his design.
No child should ever lose a parent, but if they do, it is likely they might need to look long and hard back at that door that was closed for many years or decades and the grief might hit them differently as they move into different stages of life without their parent. And that nothing may ever fill that space. I’m not a counselor and am just speaking from experience.
I think in general we should do the opposite of Mr. Bell’s verse when it comes to grief — we should allow ourselves to fully feel that grief as it comes over us whenever and however much it does.
We should spend time looking at that closed door and feeling deeply the way our lives might be different and grieving that loss, instead of trying to rush on and try to make haste of feelings that are still resonating deeply.
Ella Saltonstall, born and raised in Kodiak, works as a speech language pathologist and enjoys musing about parenting, communication, music and everything in between.