By: Rebecca Frager
There is a quotation attributed to Alexander Graham Bell that goes, “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.”
I haven’t experienced many closed doors in my life, but I have experienced a few. There was a door that closed for me when my father, Robert, died at the age of 47. I was 21. That door never opened again, but I learned to live a life without having the support and wisdom from my father. What he had given me in my 21 years had to get me through the rest of my life. And, for the most part, it has served me well. He was a good father to me, and there was no replacement for him. No new doors opened when I lost him.
Another door closed when my brother Robert died at the age of 33. I was 31. That door never opened again. I had to continue in my life without having my older brother – my first friend and confidante – to commiserate, reminisce, and laugh with. No one would ever understand me like he did or be able to share those special bonds that siblings share. No one could ever replace what we had, but, by then, we had grown apart due to distance and life experiences. I had opened many new doors to relationships with friends who became as close or even closer than the brother I had lost.
Then, there was the door that didn’t just close – it violently shut on my almost 23-year marriage. That was a tough one. I was scared and shaken to my very core. I married right out of high school and had literally moved from the protection of my father to the protection of my husband. When his infidelities destroyed our marriage, I felt entirely lost and unsure of what my future would be without him. But, there were new and amazing doors that opened to me. I went back to school full time to pursue a degree in English literature and eventually became a librarian. I met a wonderful man, moved across the country from Boise, Idaho, to Baltimore, Maryland, got married to my husband, Ray Frager, and nearly 18 years later, I am dwelling in an even stronger and more equal marriage.
Three years ago, another door closed. But this was far worse. No, this was like every door slammed into my face, knocking me off my feet. It changed me like nothing ever had. The devastation was something I didn’t think I would ever come back from. That closed door was the suicide of my first-born son, Robert. At the age of 35, his overwhelming depression got the better of him, and he ended his life with a gunshot to his head. The grief was unbearable. While I didn’t blame myself, I couldn’t get over the fact that I had no idea he was in a place to even consider doing such a thing. I can still hardly remember that first year of grief. For months, I felt like I couldn’t breathe right. My husband insisted many times that I see a therapist to help me with this grief I was experiencing. I finally and quite grudgingly agreed to his request. He made the appointment for me, probably thinking I wouldn’t go. But, I’m glad he pushed me. A new door had opened for me – a door to healing and learning to live with a grief that will last a lifetime.
Rob had been living with us, but he had recently moved to Arizona. His room was the way he left it. And it was a real mess – full of tools, electronic equipment, boxes of papers and junk everywhere. I couldn’t even begin to deal with clearing his things out, so I shut the door. It remained shut for over three years. Everyday I walked by that shut door thinking of the mess inside. I tried to ignore it, but it continually gnawed at the back of my mind. Each conversation with my mom invariably would end with her telling me I needed to “get in there and clean out Rob’s room.” She said I needed to reclaim it. I began dreading her phone calls and eventually started to lie to her, saying that I was slowly working on it or that I was almost done. But the door remained closed. I had become hostage to that closed door. Part of me didn’t want to be free of it.
Then one day, I was ready. While I was away this past summer visiting my mom, I asked my husband if he could start at least clearing out the tools. He spent hours going through the junk and made a good-sized dent in the room by the time I got back from my visit. The door remained closed to me. I still couldn’t enter the room. Finally, one week ago, I told Ray I was ready. I wanted to reclaim that room. It wasn’t Rob’s room. It was mine, and I wanted it back. We spent the next day – close to 10 hours – cleaning, boxing, bagging, removing, going to the dump, shopping for curtains, rugs, plants, and other things to help transform the room into something beautiful again.
Now, the door is open. I walk by the open door, gaze inside, and see how nice and neat the room is. The air is fresh. There are candles in the windows, so even from the outside, the room looks warm and welcoming. The room looks like a “Rebecca” room. Occasionally, I catch myself calling it Rob’s room, but Ray reminds me that it isn’t Rob’s room anymore. “It’s your room,” he says. It is a place where I can reflect, think about the happy times I had with my child, see his picture on the wall, experience a moment of grief and longing for his presence. But the door that had so long been closed is once again open.