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My daughter Renee has died. The news hit me like a locomotive. It came in a phone call from my granddaughter, who could barely convey the terrible message.

Badly shaken, I struggled to absorb the news and console her. In coming days, there would be a memorial service. After hanging up the phone, I clung to my wife of 46 years and together we wept.

Renee had arrived by bus to see her daughter the day before, after traveling many hours through the night from her home in Kentucky. Before resettling in Kentucky at the invitation of her son, Renee had lived for many years in Wichita Falls, Texas, where sadly she had become drug-addicted. Her son wanted to extricate her from that environment in hopes of helping her to stay clean with his family.  

The next day, Renee had ventured out in the midday heat to visit a friend who lived within easy walking distance. In the welcoming cool of the house, the two friends embraced each other after a long absence. After some chit chat, her friend excused herself to prepare some refreshment in the kitchen. But when she returned moments later, she found Renee unconscious and unresponsive.

As a Baha’i, I see death differently. In the Baha’i writings, Baha’u’llah revealed many wonderful passages about the life to come. He taught that every soul shall taste death, and upon the passing of the physical body be made to realize the worth of his deeds. In the spiritual world, heaven is nearness to God, whereas hell is remoteness from our Creator. To comfort the bereaved, Baha’u’llah wrote:

I have made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore dost thou grieve? I made the light to shine on thee its splendor. Why dost thou veil thyself therefrom? – The Hidden Words, p. 11.

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. The movement of My Pen is stilled when it attempteth to befittingly describe the loftiness and glory of so exalted a station. The honor with which the Hand of Mercy will invest the soul is such as no tongue can adequately reveal, nor any other earthly agency describe. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 155.

When my daughter died, these consoling passages from the Baha’i writings led me to pray that she would find loving acceptance as her soul embarked on the next stage of its eternal journey toward the presence of God.

In 1969, when Renee was four years old, her mother separated from me, and under Texas law got custody of our daughter. At 15 Renee left her mother’s home, moved in with a boyfriend, become addicted to opioids and slipped away from contact with me for long periods of time.

Opioids include highly addictive substances such as heroin, morphine, fentanyl, codeine, oxycodone and hydrocodone. They can be taken orally, inhaled, injected or smoked. High doses create feelings of euphoria and drowsiness. As tolerance increases, users require ever stronger doses. Opioid addiction can cause withdrawal from reality, compromise mental capacity, contribute to irresponsible behavior, and engender suicidal ideation. An overdose, or even the wrong mix of opioid substances like fentanyl, can cause immediate death. In the United States in 2017, opioid overdose deaths rose to a record level—more than 70,000 people. That epidemic number, higher than deaths from gun violence, car crashes or HIV, has made drug overdose the leading cause of death for adults under the age of 55 in the U.S.

According to Dr. A-M. Ghadirian, a practicing physician and professor with extensive experience in the prevention and treatment of substance abuse:

Psychoactive drugs … can be a substitute for different things in different people. For some it is an antidote for insecurity and fear. … To others it gives an illusion of self-esteem and confidence. To the hopeless it gives a perceived sense of hope and on one who is desolate and depressed it confers a false sense of power and elation. Some use it to escape boredom, to feel high and euphoric. Yet others use it to alleviate pain and despair. Whatever the reason for drug abuse it does not achieve the goal, but provides an illusory excursion into a world of unreality and pleasure. It is a psychological hijacking of the brain for a few hours or days with a heavy cost to pay later. – Substance Abuse, A Baha’i Perspective, pp. 4-5.

Concerning that “hijacking of the brain” by opium—the chemical basis for all opioids, which originally comes from the opium poppy plant—Abdu’l-Baha stated that its use:

… is a kind of insanity, and experience attesteth that the user is completely cut off from the human kingdom. May God protect all against the perpetration of an act so hideous as this, an act which layeth in ruins the very foundation of what it is to be human, and which causeth the user to be dispossessed for ever and ever. For opium fasteneth on the soul, so that the user’s conscience dieth, his mind is blotted away, his perceptions are eroded. It turneth the living into the dead. It quencheth the natural heat. No greater harm can be conceived than that which opium inflicteth. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 148.

Renee had struggled with addiction for many years. At times the courts compelled her to receive treatment. At other times she was on her own. Last year, in the home of her son, she had managed to stay clean for eight months. We learned later that when she returned to Texas last May, she had once more given in to her addiction with her friend. The rush of that poison stopped her heart.

My wife and I pray for the progress of Renee’s soul every day, and take solace from the Baha’i teachings, heartened that they promise us all an eternal future:

As to spiritual happiness, this is the true basis of the life of man because life is created for happiness, not for sorrow; for pleasure, not for grief. Happiness is life; sorrow is death. Spiritual happiness is life eternal. This is a light which is not followed by darkness. This is an honour which is not followed by shame. This is a life that is not followed by death. This is an existence that is not followed by annihilation. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 4, p. 163.

14 Comments

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  • Parker Scott
    Nov 27, 2019
    What a bunch of bullshit .we have a recovery system that is 72 years old and at best has a 5% success rate .we treat it as a disease but we know it's not. We send are loved ones that we have made soft to 50k a month rehabs that make them even softer and incapable of handling any of life's little challenges and the we bring them home and wonder why they fail .12 steps only works for the lucky 5% what about the rest of them like my son that was clean 8 years and was a junkie ...hunter for the south fl death rehabs and so er house .his last words where dad this shit dose not work we take their parents money and send them home in body bags .the folks that have all the answers dont know shit .there is only one way out DIG
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  • Nava Sarracino
    Jul 22, 2019
    Thank you for sharing so honestly...I have tears in my eyes as I think of all those that suffer. May healing continue and spirituality grow.
  • Heather Couts
    May 22, 2019
    I feel your pain. My youngest son died 3+ years ago from a heroin/fentynal overdose. I thought it would kill me. I thank God everyday for leading me to the Baha'i Faith. I will pray for the progress of Renee's soul.
    • Barron Harper
      May 27, 2019
      Thank you, Heather ... for your heartfelt thoughts. The Faith teaches us through Baha'u'llah that we are not tested beyond our capacity. But in the midst and immediate aftermath of losing a child we ask why?
  • Louise Profeit-LeBlanc
    May 20, 2019
    Thank you for writing this piece. There are so many of us Bahai parents who although we have taught our children about the dangers of addiction have been hooked into this lifestyle, one which has causes their spirit to be squelched by the drug of choice. I pray for you and all other parents who take solace in offering prayers for them in this world and the next and for your strength to carry on.
    • Barron Harper
      May 27, 2019
      Most difficult article for me in all the years of my doing articles. Thank you for your prayers.
  • Tim McLane
    May 20, 2019
    I was so, so sorry for your very sad loss. My wife and I will pray for the progress of her soul
    • Barron Harper
      May 27, 2019
      Prayers are always welcome.
  • Nancy Dinnigan
    May 19, 2019
    I'm so sorry for your loss. I trust Renee will find peace now that she is freed from physical addiction, and you will find comfort in knowing that your prayers help her.
    • Barron Harper
      May 27, 2019
      Soon after Renee's passing, my wife had a dream in which she saw her in the heavenly realm in a class and wearing a Scottish kilt. She took this as a message to me: that she was being redeemed and watched over. My grandfather was from Scotland.
  • May 19, 2019
    Sad for Irene but her soul is progressing and with a father like you much happiness will be hers in the worlds to come.?
    • Barron Harper
      May 27, 2019
      Inshallah.
  • William Bender
    May 19, 2019
    What a powerful and moving essay! Thank you!
    • Barron Harper
      May 27, 2019
      Much appreciate your comment.