Observations: Through the doorways

Published on: May 28, 2014


The cool mountain air of Bogota, Colombia, whispered words of peace to me, available simply by walking through the doorways into the unknown. I let fear stop me. Mitch Traphagen photo

The cool mountain air of Bogota, Colombia, whispered words of peace to me, available simply by walking through the doorways into the unknown. I let fear stop me. Mitch Traphagen photo

The open doorway, leading to other open doorways, leading to a tearoom in the La Candalaria District of Bogota, Colombia, beckoned and called out to me. A feeling of peace wafted out of those doorways through the equatorial but cool mountainous air. It appeared to offer a respite from the frantic pace of that city of 8 million souls. It even appeared as though something were in there, a reflection, perhaps, that could provide some answers to life. Answers seem to come in moments of crisis and serenity alike, and that tearoom appeared to offer the latter.

But something stopped me from walking through those doorways to find the peace I could feel. Hesitation, fear — call it what you will. We had been told that this corner of the La Candalaria District was part of the rougher corner of a once famously dangerous (but now remarkably prosperous) city, despite that La Candalaria is home to artists, museums and universities.

I didn’t walk in. I let fear stop me. Fear of what I couldn’t see and certainly couldn’t feel. That fear was not grounded in reality at all. But I missed something because of it. Now I’ll never know what had beckoned to me on that beautiful summer morning. That moment is gone forever.

There are all sorts of advice, suggestions and tidbits of wisdom about how to behave around the dying. I’ve been reading much about that these past few days as I spend moments with my Mom in hospice care.

Much of the advice involves showing love, compassion, forgiveness, and positive affirmation about the loved one’s life and allowing them silence in togetherness — the peace and time to simply die.

And in reading that, it left me wondering: Why wait until someone is in hospice care for that? Life should be celebrated to the greatest degree, particularly while life is at its best. So I started to think of things to talk about — quietly, gently — that do just that. Things I should have said years ago but for reasons I can’t begin to fathom now, waited until my Mom could not, or could just barely, respond.

I spent three weeks in Minnesota, saying “I love you” and saying goodbye to my Mom. Mitch Traphagen photo

I spent three weeks in Minnesota, saying “I love you” and saying goodbye to my Mom.
Mitch Traphagen photo

The best moments are gone forever now. They once seemed so free, so easy, that I took them for granted.

People are living longer than ever now, and we have extended life and postponed death with medical triumphs. Equally, however, we have also extended dying. There is no real medical triumph for that.

I have personally come to believe that God has His hand in every aspect of the lives of those who invite Him — from the monumental events to the seemingly trivial.

In times of pain or loss, we may often ask, why would God do or allow something so bad to happen to us or to those we love? The truth is, we don’t know the answers to those questions. The answers are known to God and to those who have gone before us on a plane that we simply cannot understand here on Earth. But through our faith, we can get a glimpse of it. And just from that glimpse, it is clear that the bad things we ask God about are vastly outweighed by the many blessings He has given us. There are too many to count. Our minds aren’t open enough in this life to even begin counting them. Looking back, that is so true for my family.

Our lives are short here on Earth. Life is a blessing; an incredible gift, but also only a very small part of God’s time; mere moments in a life of eternity that is filled with love, and reflected upon with what we were blessed to learn and those we were blessed to encounter here.

Cesar is a remarkable young man. Still in his teens, thus still immortal, he has an amazing empathy for the old and dying people under his care. He treats them gently and with respect. He leaves them looking and feeling better than when he arrived, and he always asks if I’d like a cup of coffee as he stops at the doorway. He can’t possibly imagine what these people are facing — he is too far from it. Life is still infinite for this young man, yet he sees it ebbing away in others on a daily basis. And he treats it all, and leaves it all, with dignity. Cesar does not appear to be afraid of death.

I wasn’t much older than Cesar when I heard a police officer tell me, “You have to be a man now. You have to take care of your mother.” Those were hard words for a teenager to hear, and harder still to implement. Those words, well-intended to be certain, have echoed in my head for the past 36 years. The police officer told me that as my Dad was carried from our home for the last time, words long forgotten by that officer but permanently etched into my memory.

Perhaps as a result, but more out of love, I remained in Minnesota for three weeks, spending final moments with my Mom. It is not enjoyable to watch someone die. But as a son, for a mother that I willingly love and honor, perhaps it is what I have to do now, despite that I know, deep down, there is really nothing I can do for her anymore, except join with my brother and sisters in telling her we love her as she walks through the last doorway of life. That we love her is something she already knows. As a family, we have been given so many gifts.

There is nothing to be afraid of and, while joyful that I had the opportunity to say so much, including goodbye, I’m saddened that it took something like this to realize that fear has no place in life. Perhaps had I not let my fear get in the way, I could have learned that in a Bogota tearoom years ago by just walking in … through the doorways.