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.