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Many people, when they reach an advanced age, start making practical preparations for their passing.

My parents did, bless their hearts. When they reached their eighth decade, my mother began to pare back their possessions, giving things away to their children and grandchildren. She “put their affairs in order,” as the phrase goes, by taking care of the details of their finances. My mother and father wrote a will and appointed an executor. Then they arranged their own funerals, stipulating how they wanted to be memorialized and interred. These kinds of physical arrangements do tend to focus the mind on the spiritual realities of death, though.

That’s probably why one day my mother, who had no particular faith despite the fact that all of her children had become Baha’is, asked me about the Baha’i view of immortality. Since she had always loved reading the Baha’i writings and prayers, I gave her these two quotes:

And now concerning thy question regarding the soul of man and its survival after death. Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God, His sovereignty, His dominion and power will endure. It will manifest the signs of God and His attributes, and will reveal His loving kindness and bounty. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 154.

…it is evident that life is the expression of composition, and mortality, or death, is equivalent to decomposition. As the spirit of man is not composed of material elements, it is not subject to decomposition and, therefore, has no death. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 306.

She thanked me, but didn’t say much about them, only that they comforted her. She told me she wished she knew what lay ahead, that she had some certitude about the next life. I could tell, though, when we talked she still had some fear of the unknown that lies beyond death. I hoped, when I saw the doubt and turmoil in her eyes, that she wouldn’t go to her death afraid and unsure:

Know thou that every hearing ear, if kept pure and undefiled, must, at all times and from every direction, hearken to the voice that uttereth these holy words: “Verily, we are God’s, and to Him shall we return.” The mysteries of man’s physical death and of his return have not been divulged, and still remain unread. By the righteousness of God! Were they to be revealed, they would evoke such fear and sorrow that some would perish, while others would be so filled with gladness as to wish for death, and beseech, with unceasing longing, the one true God — exalted be His glory — to hasten their end.

Death proffereth unto every confident believer the cup that is life indeed. It bestoweth joy, and is the bearer of gladness. It conferreth the gift of everlasting life.

As to those that have tasted of the fruit of man’s earthly existence, which is the recognition of the one true God, exalted be His glory, their life hereafter is such as We are unable to describe. The knowledge thereof is with God, alone, the Lord of all worlds. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 345.

ComfortingI wished so much that I could find a way to help my mother make the transition to the next existence with some of that joy and gladness. We talked more, I sent her books to read, but I wasn’t sure anything was really getting through.

Then, suddenly, she called one day and told me she’d had a seizure. My father had taken her to the doctor, and her diagnosis and prognosis were conclusive and terminal—she would die from a brain tumor within a few months. She was 84 years old. She told me she had elected to forego treatment, not wanting to spend her last days in a hospital bed undergoing chemotherapy.

So at the end of my mother’s physical existence, I had the privilege of standing at her bedside and holding her hand as she died. Surrounded by her children and grandchildren and even one great-grandchild, she passed away peacefully, after a long, loving and productive life.

In the last few moments of her time here on Earth, despite her halting breath and semi-comatose state, all of her progeny crowded into her Arizona hospice room to read Baha’i prayers. We wanted to send her soaring into the spiritual world. My wife Teresa began to say one of her favorite prayers:

O God, my God! Lowly and tearful, I raise my suppliant hands to Thee and cover my face in the dust of that Threshold of Thine, exalted above the knowledge of the learned, and the praise of all that glorify Thee. Graciously look upon Thy servant, humble and lowly at Thy door, with the glances of the eye of Thy mercy, and immerse him in the Ocean of Thine eternal grace. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 319.

As Teresa said the words “I raise my suppliant hands to Thee,” my mother, who hadn’t moved in many hours, suddenly rose to a sitting position and raised both of her hands toward the ceiling, her arms extended imploringly. We all saw it. A few people gasped, thinking that she was suddenly reviving.

But that didn’t happen. As Teresa kept reading the prayer, my mother slowly brought her arms back down, and lowered her head to the pillow, and never woke up. She died a little while later.

As I think about that moment, I hope that her movement from this world to the next gave some gladness and joy to her soul.

6 Comments

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  • Jane Abrams
    Mar 17, 2018
    I too have selected 'Abdu'l-Baha's Tablet of Visitation for my youngest son (the non-Baha'i) to read @ my pre-planned ceremony. It has always been and is my favorite prayer (for special reasons) and I am hoping that it will mean something special for him to recite it when the time comes right before my internment. My oldest son (the Baha'i) will recite the 'Prayer for the Departed'. I did not want to be a burden to them so I pre-paid and planned everything out and have my 'Burial Box' ready to go. I am so glad ...your Mother gave you all such a wonderful memory! Sincerest thanks for sharing with us.
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  • Radha Parikh
    Aug 01, 2017
    Thank you. My mother right now is on the last leg of her journey. I've been saying the long healing prayer and the healing prayer for maid-servants. I will try the Abdul Baha's Tablet of Visitation now.
    Warm regards, Radha
  • Taraneh Rezaei-Escobar
    Jan 22, 2016
    Thank you for sharing. My son of 23 years old passed to Abha's kingdom 6 months ago and it has not been easy for me but I know he is with God and he is happy cause I feel him and see him in my dreams the wonderful world is the other side and how happy he is .
  • Jan 14, 2015
    Very moving to my aging heart, David, not to mention my aging knees and back, thank you. Lately my Chinese friends and I have been reading on the subject of the souls preparation to move on.
  • Jan 12, 2015
    Perhaps it's true that the passing of one's mother is most especially moving and memorable for sons and vice versa for daughters when father dies. I'm not sure about that but in my case my dear mom's last few months, when she was 97, occurred near the end of my decade in China. I was able to return home - only just in time. She remained lucid right up to the end and she especially loved to hear classical poetry and humor on the theme of Doctor De-ath as quasi-rhymed with our family name - De Sailly. Tennyson's 'Crossing the ...Bar' was her favorite and she quite admired the Master's jokes, one of which resonates with David's excerpt : ''Know thou that every hearing ear, if kept pure and undefiled, must, at all times and from every direction, hearken to the voice that uttereth these holy words: “Verily, we are God’s, and to Him shall we return.”
    Sayings of no official foundation attributed to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, possibly in Pilgrims’ Notes, once informed an atheist: “the god in whom you put no faith, we too do not believe in.” And, without an apostrophe as used in the possessive case: “We are all gods,” - long pause - “and unto God we shall return.” This latter saying alludes also to Bahá’u’lláh’s serious and weighty reference to the noble Koran 2:156, (GWB 165)
    I've filed some of the Master's humor as i m o its matchless for sensitivity, a virtue I'm working on
    Baha'i love
    Paul
    CROSSING THE BAR Alfred Lord Tennyson
    Sunset and evening star,
    And one clear call for me!
    And may there be no moaning of the bar,
    When I put out to sea,
    But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
    Too full for sound and foam,
    When that which drew from out the boundless deep
    Turns again home.
    Twilight and evening bell,
    And after that the dark!
    And may there be no sadness of farewell,
    When I embark;
    For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
    The flood may bear me far,
    I hope to see my Pilot face to face
    When I have crost the bar.
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