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Spirituality

How Can the Living Accompany the Dying?

Bill Ahlhauser | Mar 26, 2022

PART 4 IN SERIES A Special Form of Accompaniment

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Bill Ahlhauser | Mar 26, 2022

PART 4 IN SERIES A Special Form of Accompaniment

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

When my close friend George passed into the next world – into that mystery the Baha’i teachings call “the ocean of light” – his death left us with the responsibility of burying his body.

Of course, this happens constantly everywhere in the world – the living must accompany the dying in their journey to a second birth, but can only go so far. At the end, we’re still here and our loved one has departed. Our time is coming, sooner or later, but it hasn’t arrived yet. Baha’u’llah wrote:

This life cometh to an end with physical death, which is a God-ordained and inescapable reality. That life, however, which is mentioned in the Books of the Prophets and the Chosen Ones of God is the life of knowledge; that is to say, the servant’s recognition of the sign of the splendours wherewith He Who is the Source of all splendour hath Himself invested him, and his certitude of attaining unto the presence of God through the Manifestations of His Cause. This is that blessed and everlasting life that perisheth not: whosoever is quickened thereby shall never die, but will endure as long as His Lord and Creator will endure.

RELATED: Visiting a Dying Friend: When We Pass Into the Next World

Because we never perish, the Baha’i teachings call for respect for the body left behind by a noble human soul, including by washing and shrouding that human form, and with a simple prayer ceremony to precede a normally prompt burial.

Three of us performed the washing and shrouding of George’s body, including George’s eldest son Anton. The certainty that George now lives in a state of joy and freedom palpably contrasted to the unimaginably ravaged body that he had used up during his life on Earth. What God gave George, George had expended in His path. 

In washing and shrouding George’s body in preparation for his burial, we were transfixed and transformed into a far more spiritual state. It was as if we got, for a moment, to share in his lifetime of labors, to honor how he had carried his load. “For Attar’s heart, an atom of Thy pain,” wrote Baha’u’llah, quoting a 12th century mystic. Preparing George’s body for its final rest gave us all a glimpse of an atom of his pain.

The burial took place a few hours later in a small rural cemetery where George’s mother and many of his relatives were laid to rest. I had never noticed this burial ground despite living within 2 miles of it for 26 years. Contrary to forecasts, the weather turned out to be good. Maybe 60-70 people attended, mostly Black, mostly relatives. The funeral home director knew George from childhood, and drew a parallel between his family of 14 children and George’s of 13. 

Introducing the prayers, I explained that we were holding a simple, dignified Baha’i burial and that the memorial service or home-going celebration, with eulogies and testimonials and remembrances, would come later. Yet we acknowledged the heroic nature of George’s life on Earth and his new freedom in the next world, mentioning our firm conviction that God is not a believer in skin color and that one day humankind would not be, either – so that, at some point, our children’s children will not be able to imagine believing in such a horrible and hurtful oppression, so costly to all of us.

At his funeral, the difficulties of a divided society seemed to fall away. We were granted, and we treasured, a marvelous evidence of the power of the love of God. I remembered Abdu’l-Baha’s exhortation from Some Answered Questions: “Were it not for the love of God, estrangement would not give way to unity.

RELATED: Can Dreams Prove the Existence of the Next World?

Those who were assembled in memory of George’s countless services to humanity felt, and would forever remember, his radiant presence. We each had the great comfort, at a time of the loss of a strong soul, to see that person’s offspring arising in his or her stead. We were indeed buoyed by the sight of George’s children providing strength to each other, service to their bereaved stepmother, and reality to George’s wishes. 

Their loss is grievous, yet we pray – even as we see glimmerings of the fulfillment of our prayer – that they embody the essence of their sire. Neither George nor his good deeds are truly lost, not even in this world.

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