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My sister Jordis’ fight against the growing tumor in her brain slowly drew to its foregone conclusion.
The full-tilt treatment she chose – aggressive chemotherapy, a craniotomy, radiation, a clinical trial of an unproven anti-cancer drug—took a hard toll. But it also gave her two full years in this physical world, a year and a half more than the six months the doctors initially told her she had left to live. She craved that extra time with her son Oliver and her husband Jerry, and was willing to do just about anything to extend it as far as she could. She fought long and hard.
Medical knowledge, however, still has a long way to go when it comes to brain cancer. Even her experimental, aggressive treatments could only postpone the inevitable. She even joked about that, though, reminding me often: death never loses. We all face it and we will all succumb. The only reasonable response to our mortality, she liked to say, was to live a happy life and have a happy death.
So one day in late August when her flight to the next world was about to board, all my siblings and my wife Teresa and I flew to Yellow Springs, Ohio to say our final goodbyes to our sweet, smart, beloved sister. We talked and cried and wished her a wonderful journey. We hugged each other and laughed and cried some more. Then, on one of those emotionally-crippling last days, we pushed her wheelchair out to the lake next to the hospice. The sun shone down on our little group, Jordis and her close friends and her three brothers and her sister and her husband and her ten-year-old, Oliver Thelonius Ruhl.
One of Jordis’ many close friends there in Yellow Springs lived on a farm, and her friend’s family brought a Cooper’s Hawk with them in a cage. They had nursed the hawk back to health after one of their children found it in a field, injured. The father took the hawk out of its cage and handed it to Oliver.
With Jordis and her family and close friends looking on, Oliver opened his hands and released it. The hawk flew immediately and powerfully to the top of the tallest tree around, and looked back down on us, finally free. And yes, all of us wept. This passage from the Baha’i writings consoled us:
This divine bird flew away to the rose-garden of the Merciful and that plant of humanity hastened to the garden of the Kingdom. That drop returned to the Most Great Sea and that ray betook herself to the Most Great Orb. Be happy and thankful because thou wilt see her face shining in the divine Kingdom and wilt find her as a lamp amid an assembly in the spiritual heaven. That nightingale soared upward to the divine rose-garden; that drop returned to the most great ocean of Truth; and that ill one found salvation and life eternal.
Why should thou be sad and heartbroken? This separation is temporal; this remoteness and sorrow is counted only by days. Physical companionship is ephemeral, but heavenly association is eternal. Whenever thou rememberest the eternal and never-ending union, thou wilt be comforted and blissful.
The maid-servant of God, she who hath ascended to heaven, hastened from this mortal world to the divine world and soared from this temporal realm to the expanse of the Kingdom. She abandoned the earthly cage and flew toward the bower of the upper world; so that, like unto a nightingale of significances, she may, in that divine rose-garden, engage in praising, glorifying and sanctifying the True One, with the most marvelous melody.
Consequently, do ye not sigh in grief because of her decease, and be not dejected on account of her ascension. To the people of adoration, death is an ark of deliverance, and to pure souls, flight from this world of dust is the means of attaining the divine world, and the invisible realm.
To be brief: I hope her noble son may seek the Path wherein his mother walked, and may become better and more illustrious; nay, rather, the lights of his love may also take effect in his grandparents.
As to ye who are friends of that bird of the meadow of guidance, ye must, after her, have such unison, love, association and unity that it may make things better and more favorable than they were during her days.
Praise be to God the divine bounty favors all of you, the doors of gifts are open before the faces of you all, and the radiance of the Sun of Truth is shining upon you all. – Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, V1, p. 179.
Jordis, such a lover of art in language, surprisingly just wanted her name, one symbol and four words on her headstone. First, the nine-pointed star, the symbol of the Baha’is, which simply translated means ‘follower of the light.’ The star stands for the oneness of God, the unity of humanity and the essential oneness of all religions. Then, simply and profoundly, she wanted one adjective and three nouns after her name: Loving Wife, Mother, Friend.
Like my sister did, we will all eventually soar aloft to that abode of everlasting life, hastening away from this mortal place. “We are only separated by time now,” Baha’u’llah says to console those of us left in this world, “and time passes. This brief separation will be followed by everlasting companionship.”
Our souls, the Baha’i writings promise us, will connect us to those we love throughout eternity. I believe we will find Jordis there in that placeless eternal place, radiant and joyful, released from the bondage of this limited physical reality, liberated from sorrow, grief and trials, set free from the temporary and transferred to the infinite, transcending the phenomenal and the physical to attain the world of unending bliss, immersed in the ocean of light.