There is no question that the burden of grief on a sorrowing heart, is heavier than minds can conceive, or words can tell.
There is no question but that the burden of grief on his sorrowing heart, because of this terrible ordeal, this great calamity, is heavier than minds can conceive, or words can tell. (Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 76-77)
The loss of a child is indeed heart-breaking and beyond the limits of human endurance, yet we’re assured that our child has not been lost. He’s just stepped from this world into the next, and we will find them when we get there:
O thou beloved maid-servant of God, although the loss of a son is indeed heart-breaking and beyond the limits of human endurance, yet one who knoweth and understandeth is assured that the son hath not been lost but, rather, hast stepped from this world into another, and she will find him in the divine realm. That reunion shall be for eternity, while in this world separation is inevitable and bringeth with it a burning grief. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 201)
Grief and sorrow do not come to us by chance, they are sent to us by the Divine Mercy for our own perfecting:
Grief and sorrow do not come to us by chance, they are sent to us by the Divine Mercy for our own perfecting. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 50)
They cause us to remember our Father in Heaven:
When grief and sorrow come, then will a man remember his Father Who is in Heaven, Who is able to deliver him from his humiliations. (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 96)
And to obtain a harvest of spiritual virtues:
The more a man is chastened, the greater is the harvest of spiritual virtues shown forth by him. (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 96)
When we’re happy we may forget God, but when grief and sorrow come, we remember:
While a man is happy he may forget his God; but when grief comes and sorrows overwhelms him, then will he remember his Father who is in Heaven, and who is able to deliver him from his humiliations. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, pp. 50-51)
Separation belongs only to this world – our loved ones will be with us in the Kingdom of God and we will again look upon their smiling faces, illumined brows and handsome spirits. We will then be happy, comforted and thank God for His favor upon us:
O thou who art tested with a great calamity! Be not grieved nor troubled because of the loss which hath befallen thee—a loss which caused the tears to flow, sighs to be produced, sorrow to exist and hearts to burn in great agony; but know, this hath reference only to the physical body, and if thou considerest this matter with a discerning and intelligent eye, thou wilt find that it hath no power whatsoever, for separation belongeth to the characteristics of the body. But concerning the spirit, know that thy pure son shall be with thee in the Kingdom of God and thou shalt witness his smiling face, illumined brow, handsome spirit and real happiness. Accordingly, thou wilt then be comforted and thank God for His favor upon thee. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 85-86)
Not everyone has the bounty of being able to grieve the loss of their slaughtered children:
How many mothers have not dared, through fear and dread, to mourn over their slaughtered children! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 66)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá grieves for us so we don’t have to:
O my well-beloved, deeply spiritual sister! Day and night thou livest in my memory. Whenever I remember thee my heart swelleth with sadness and my regret groweth more intense. Grieve not, for I am thy true, thy unfailing comforter. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 4)
Effects of Grief on the Soul of the Departed
There’s no need for wailing and weeping, because mourning deeply affects his soul:
Therefore be thou not disconsolate, do not languish, do not sigh, neither wail nor weep; for agitation and mourning deeply affect his soul in the divine realm. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 201)
While in this world separation is inevitable and bringeth with it a burning grief. Therefore be thou not disconsolate, do not languish, do not sigh, neither wail nor weep; for agitation and mourning deeply affect his soul in the divine realm. When he findeth that thou art happy he becometh more cheerful, but when he perceiveth that thou art disconsolate, this provoketh anguish in his heart. (Bahá’u’lláh, Fire and Light, p. 9)
These days will pass away and in the Abhá Kingdom we’ll forget all our earthly cares and will find each one of our losses amply compensated:
Let neither despondency nor despair becloud the serenity of thy life or restrain thy freedom. These days shall pass away. We will, please God, in the Abhá Kingdom and beneath the sheltering shadow of the Blessed Beauty, forget all these our earthly cares and will find each one of these base calumnies amply compensated by His expressions of praise and favour. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 4)
It’s important to know that our loved one hasn’t truly died but gone to a better place, which can be a source of comfort and gratitude to us.
Therefore think not that he hath perished. Indeed he will endure in the heavenly kingdom as long as God Himself endureth. And this calleth for gratitude, not grieving. When he findeth that thou art happy he becometh more cheerful, but when he perceiveth that thou art disconsolate, this provoketh anguish in his heart. (Bahá’u’lláh, Fire and Light, p. 9)
Bahá’u’lláh doesn’t want us to grieve over our losses – He tells us that if we scan the pages of the Book of Life, we would discover that which would dissipate our sorrows and dissolve our anguish:
Let not thine heart grieve over what hath befallen thee. Wert thou to scan the pages of the Book of Life, thou wouldst, most certainly, discover that which would dissipate thy sorrows and dissolve thine anguish. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 132)
Grief and sorrow cause the greatest misery, so ‘Abdu’l-Bahá reminds us to not give in to it:
Yield not to grief and sorrow; they cause the greatest misery. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 13)
In one of the most popular prayers for spiritual growth He asks to affirm our intention:
I will no longer be sorrowful and grieved; I will be a happy and joyful being. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 150)
The best way to let go of all sorrow and anxiety, regret and tribulation, is to set our hearts on the tender mercies of the Ancient Beauty until we become filled with abiding joy and intense gladness:
From the beginning of time sorrow and anxiety, regret and tribulation, have always been the lot of every loyal servant of God. Ponder this in thine heart and consider how very true it is. Wherefore, set thine heart on the tender mercies of the Ancient Beauty and be thou filled with abiding joy and intense gladness. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 4)
Reading the Tablet of Ahmad will dispel our sadness, solve our difficulties and remove our afflictions:
Should one who is in affliction or grief read this Tablet with absolute sincerity, God will dispel his sadness, solve his difficulties and remove his afflictions. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablet of Ahmad, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 211)
Faith heightens our capacity to respond to sorrow:
Faith is an endowment from the Higher Kingdom and changes all beliefs into an aliveness in the spirit. The quickening of the soul renews the atoms of the body to the very marrow of the bone … The capacity for response to sorrows … has been heightened greatly. (Helen Reed Bishop, Introduction to the 1950 edition of the Kitáb-i-Iqan, p. vi.)
Prayer, contentment and gratitude help too:
Grieve not at the divine trials. Be not troubled because of hardships and ordeals; turn unto God, bowing in humbleness and praying to Him, while bearing every ordeal, contented under all conditions and thankful in every difficulty. Verily thy Lord loveth His maidservants who are patient, believing and firm. He draws them nigh unto Him through these ordeals and trials. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 50)
Sometimes, though, just like the Guardian, we need to wrap ourselves in a blanket, pray and supplicate, and give ourselves time for healing:
The lives of the Founders of our Faith clearly show that to be fundamentally assured does not mean that we live without anxieties, nor does being happy mean that there are not periods of deep grief when, like the Guardian, we wrap ourselves in a blanket, pray and supplicate, and give ourselves time for healing in preparation for the next great effort. (Shoghi Effendi, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 117)
Conversing with Those in the Next World
Someone asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá how it was that in prayer and meditation the heart often turns with instinctive appeal to some friend who has passed into the next life. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá answered:
It is a law of God’s creation that the weak should lean upon the strong. Those to whom you turn may be the mediators of God’s power to you, even as when on earth. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 96)
We can pray for them and help others solve problems when they ask for help:
In prayer there is a mingling of station, a mingling of condition. Pray for them as they pray for you! When you do not know it, and are in a receptive attitude, they are able to make suggestions to you, if you are in difficulty. This sometimes happens in sleep but there is no phenomenal intercourse! That which seems like phenomenal intercourse has another explanation.” The questioner exclaimed; “But I have heard a voice!” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said: “Yes, that is possible; we hear voices clearly in dreams. It is not with the physical ear that you heard; the spirit of those that have passed on are freed from sense-life, and do not use physical means. It is not possible to put these great matters into human words; the language of man is the language of children, and man’s explanation often leads astray. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 96)
Someone once asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá whether or not we can converse with those who have gone on to the next world. He replied:
A conversation can be held, but not as our conversation. There is no doubt that the forces of the higher worlds interplay with the forces of this plane. The heart of man is open to inspiration; this is spiritual communication. As in a dream one talks with a friend while the mouth is silent, so is it in the conversation of the spirit. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 178)
The conversations we’ll have our purely spiritual and dependent on the disinterested and selfless love of the two souls for each other:
The possibility of securing union with his beloved in the next world is one which the Bahá’í Teachings are quite clear about. According to Bahá’u’lláh the soul retains its individuality and consciousness after death, and is able to commune with other souls. This communion, however, is purely spiritual in character, and is conditioned upon the disinterested and selfless love of the individuals for each other. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 207)
The best way to do it is through prayer:
In prayer there is a mingling of station, a mingling of condition. Pray for them as they pray for you! When you do not know it, and are in a receptive attitude, they are able to make suggestions to you, if you are in difficulty. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 96)
We can pray for each other in both worlds:
As we have power to pray for these souls here, so likewise we shall possess the same power in the other world, which is the Kingdom of God. Are not all the people in that world the creatures of God? Therefore in that world also they can make progress. As here they can receive light by their supplication, there also they can plead for forgiveness, and receive light through entreaties and supplications. Thus as souls in this world, through the help of the supplications, the entreaties, and the prayers of the holy ones, can acquire development, so is it the same after death. Through their own prayers and supplications they can also progress; more especially when they are the object of the intercession of the Holy Manifestations. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 330)
The Role of Others
Know that in times of our great and irreparable loss, our friends are also sharing our sorrow and grief:
Your touching words in connection with the sudden removal of the Greatest Holy Leaf from their midst have greatly alleviated the burden of sorrow that weighs so heavily upon their hearts and have demonstrated that in their great and irreparable loss the friends are faithfully sharing their sorrow and grief. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 65)
Turn to them – draw on their love for strength and consolation in time of need!
Indeed the believers have not yet fully learned to draw on each other’s love for strength and consolation in time of need. The Cause of God is endowed with tremendous powers, and the reason the believers do not gain more from it is because they have not learned to draw fully on these mighty forces of love and strength and harmony generated by the Faith. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 93)
Sometimes we need to accept help, even if we’ve always been the one to give it. There are times we serve and times we need to allow others to serve us. Remember – the highest level of attainment is for us to be a servant; so if our friends have no one to serve, they can’t achieve their station:
Cling, O ye people of Bahá, to the cord of servitude unto God, the True One, for thereby your stations shall be made manifest, your names written and preserved, your ranks raised and your memory exalted in the Preserved Tablet. (Baha’u’llah, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 62)
The greatest gift we can receive is to rejoice someone else’s heart:
Never is it the wish of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to see any being hurt, nor will He make anyone to grieve; for man can receive no greater gift than this, that he rejoice another’s heart. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 203-204)
Of all pilgrimages we ever make, the greatest is to relieve the sorrow-laden heart:
Remember the saying: ‘Of all pilgrimages the greatest is to relieve the sorrow-laden heart.’ (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 92)
Be a role model for others:
Your noble letter uplifted us all and renewed our strength and determination; for if you could gather yourself together and rise above such grievous sorrow and shock, and comfort us, we, too, must do no less; but arise and serve the Cause which is our Mother. (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Priceless Pearl, p. 41)
What else has helped you grieve the loss of your loved ones? Post your comments below!
I’ve had a LOT of experience with this experience and judging by the divorce rate alone, I know I’m not the only one! We were created to be in relationship with one another, because that’s how we grow.
The Bahá’í standard is that we don’t give or take offence, but how many of us fall into this “habit of thought and speech)?
Bahá’í consultation is not an easy process. It requires love, kindliness, moral courage and humility. Thus no member should ever allow himself to be prevented from expressing frankly his view because it may offend a fellow member; and, realizing this, no member should take offence at another member’s statements. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 179-180)
One person does something (an event) which causes us to get upset or take offence (the meaning we give to it); and we believe they are the cause of our upset (the lie). For example: This weekend I was hoping to see my son while I was in the city he lived in. I love him very much and I know he loves me. I extended the invitation and he didn’t respond. (an event). I took offence and my lower nature had a lot of fun feeding me these lies:
Suspicion: He doesn’t love me anymore; he doesn’t want me in his life
Anger and Bitterness: I’m never going to ask him again; or answer his calls again.
Resentment: Why does he always do this to me? Why do I always set myself up for his rejection?
Envy and Jealousy: Why do other people have frequent interactions with their children and I don’t?
The Bahá’í Writings tell us how hard it is to free ourselves from these worldly thoughts which attract us to the centre of our selves. If we aren’t assisted by the divine power, we’ll escape from one and fall into another. We try to soar upward, but the density of the love of self, like gravity, pulls us back into the prison of self. The only thing that can keep us ever on the path of upward ascension is the power of the Holy Spirit:
Just as the earth attracts everything to the centre of gravity, and every object thrown upward into space will come down, so also material ideas and worldly thoughts attract man to the centre of self. Anger, passion, ignorance, prejudice, greed, envy, covetousness, jealousy and suspicion prevent man from ascending to the realms of holiness, imprisoning him in the claws of self and the cage of egotism. The physical man, unassisted by the divine power, trying to escape from one of these invisible enemies, will unconsciously fall into hands of another. No sooner does he attempt to soar upward than the density of the love of self, like the power of gravity, draws him to the centre of the earth. The only power that is capable of delivering man from this captivity is the power of the Holy Spirit. The attraction of the power of the Holy Spirit is so effective that it keeps man ever on the path of upward ascension. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 241)
How often do we blame others for our feelings, instead of owning them ourselves? My son didn’t make me feel any of those negative thoughts above – his action was just an action, until I gave it meaning, and the meaning came from my lower nature, it didn’t come from God.
It behoveth you, therefore, to attach blame to no one except to yourselves, for the things ye have committed, if ye but judge fairly. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 222-223)
The more we blame each other for our feelings, the more we take offence, even though no offence might have been meant at the beginning, when the other person was just trying to state what happened and what it would take to get their needs met, but when this happens, the whole relationship can start to fray.
Let’s look at some other examples:
Your husband leaves the toilet seat up after you’ve told him a million times to put it down, and it seems like his failure to do so is causing your anger and upset.
A friend doesn’t agree with something you said and you think her lack of agreement is causing your upset.
Your boss gets angry with you and you blame your anxiety on what she said and how she said it.
Each of these things is just an event:
Your husband leaves the toilet seat up
A friend disagrees with you
The boss is angry at something you did
The upset we feel comes from believing the lies we tell ourselves about what happened.
He has no respect for me; he never listens; nothing I want is important to him . . .
If she doesn’t agree with me she’s no friend of mine; why isn’t my point important? how could she be my friend and disagree on this important issue? . . .
She must be PMS’ing; she’s made me look bad; she’s shamed me in front of my coworkers . . .
So if most of the problems between us come from taking offence, believing the lies we tell ourselves and blaming others, what can we do to free ourselves from these habits of thought?
Learning how to distinguish between what happened and the meaning we give to it is important if we don’t want to keep drinking poison and staying stuck in our lower natures. Instead of blaming them for making us angry, we need to learn to love them for the imperfect sinners they are, and see their actions as arising from their lower natures.
As a devoted believer you are urged to . . . attain a level of insight which sees them as captives of their lower nature, whose actions can only lead them deeper into unhappiness and separation from God. By this means, you can liberate yourself from the anger to which you refer in your letter, and foster your own spiritual development. (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)
We can’t change what happened; but we can learn to stop believing the lies we tell ourselves about what it means; and learn to think more positively instead.
When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness. (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 29)
If just one person learns to dissolve their negative feelings, the whole argument will come to an end. The other person can’t push our buttons and there is no one to argue with; and if you aren’t busy arguing with each other, it’s easy to be more loving.
Instead of personalizing my upset about my son’s lack of response, I could just as easily tell myself:
His phone might have been lost, stolen or broken and he didn’t get the message
He was away
He was busy with his own life
He just forgot
None of those beliefs have the negative charge the others ones did, and allowed me the freedom to overlook his faults and forgive him; which makes it much more likely we’ll have a more positive, loving interaction the next time we speak.
Changing a habit of thought or speech is not necessarily easy. It requires us to be vigilant and persistent, and practice until we get it right. Don’t worry! If you’re sincere in wanting to change this habit, God will increase the number of tests to give you an opportunity! Don’t lose heart! The more we work at changing our thoughts and reactions, the more we move the world towards peace!
Dealing with loss and grief is never easy. It’s a process that takes time, even for the people actively engaged in moving forward. The slowness often frustrates the people around us, who want us to move on and “put the past in the past.” These comments can only make someone feel worse.
In terms of taking time off to heal, the Bahá’í Writings tell us:
There is no object in over-taxing your will power and strength by forcing yourself to do things for the Cause. You should let your mind rest in the thought of the infinite love, Mercy and Forgiveness of Bahá’u’lláh, and cease to fret about whether you are or are not doing your share until you fully recover your health. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 282).
You should have no doubt that the completion of any act of service is contingent on one’s health and well-being, and you are urged to let go of the misconception of failure you have been carrying. In the course of life, unforeseen circumstances occur that can interfere with the achievement of our goals. This is part of life in this world and must not be regarded as a dereliction of duty. (Universal House of Justice to an individual, 12 January 2010)
In the middle of my despair, when I was feeling worse for not being able to work, the House of Justice lovingly told me:
You are encouraged to follow the advice of your therapist in regard to the absences which you should take from your employment in order to facilitate your healing from the trauma you experienced in the past. The time taken away from work beneficial to society would doubtless be more than compensated for by the increase in effectiveness with which you will be able to perform such functions when your healing is more advanced. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 22 December, 1992.)
And with regards to taking absences from the Bahá’í community, and feeling guilty for failing to participate in Bahá’í activities, they told a friend of mine:
You have asked what to do since psychological problems sometimes make it difficult for you to participate in community events and Assembly meetings. In striving to follow the Teachings and the best medical advice you can obtain, you will want to remember that the healing you do now is an investment that will enable you to better serve in the future. Ideally, you would combine concentrating on healing with avenues of service which do not interfere with it. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 23 October, 1994.)
Even Shoghi Effendi had to take time off to heal his broken heart!
Shoghi Effendi had to take a “leave of absence” from his job “under the weight of sorrows and boundless grief” until “by the grace of God, having gained health, strength, self confidence and spiritual energy” he was able to return. (Ruhiyyih Rabbani, The Priceless Pearl, p. 42.)
Many times when Shoghi Effendi was intensely distressed, I saw him go to bed, refusing to eat or drink, refusing to talk, rolled under his covers, unable to do anything but agonize, like someone beaten to the ground by heavy rain; this condition sometimes lasted for days, until forces within himself would adjust the balance and set him on his feet again. He would be lost in a world of his own where no one could follow. (Ruhiyyih Rabbani, The Priceless Pearl, p. 45.)
And ‘Abdu’l-Bahá approved!
We also have a Tablet of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed to Shoghi Effendi, expressing His concern about his health, but at what period it was written I do not know: He is God! Shoghi Effendi, upon him be the glory of the All-Glorious! Oh thou who art young in years and radiant of countenance, I understand you have been ill and obliged to rest; never mind, from time to time rest is essential, otherwise, like unto ‘Abdu’l-Bahá from excessive toil you will become weak and powerless and unable to work. Therefore rest a few days, it does not matter. I hope that you will be under the care and protection of the Blessed Beauty. (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, p. 7)
In their impatience for us to “get over it”, sometimes people say we need to forgive and not judge. Of course this is true! It’s just not helpful, nor does it take into account the time needed to heal. The House of Justice wrote this to a friend who was struggling with the judgements of the Bahá’í community around her:
Experience seems to suggest that the healing process can often be a lengthy and stressful one requiring the close guidance and help of trained professionals. Advice given by well-meaning believers to the effect that you should seek to transcend psychological problems does not qualify as competent advice on what is essentially a medical issue. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 23 October, 1994)
The purpose of life is to know and love God, and God sends each of us tests uniquely designed for this purpose. Often it involves separating us through others through death, divorce or estrangement. Where we once relied on others for love and support, we have no choice but to turn to God if we don’t want to stay stuck or turn bitter. This takes time!
Another purpose of life is to acquire the virtues we will need in the next world. This is a full time job, which requires all of our care and attention. If we are busy trying to improve the quality of someone else, we are losing a chance to improve ourselves, as Shoghi Effendi describes:
If we allow our attention and energy to be taken up in efforts to keep others right and remedy their faults, we are wasting precious time. We are like ploughmen each of whom has his team to manage and his plough to direct, and in order to keep his furrow straight he must keep his eye on his goal and concentrate on his own task. If he looks to this side and that to see how Tom and Harry are getting on and to criticize their ploughing, then his own furrow will assuredly become crooked. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 92)
One of the hardest virtues to develop (and possibly one we will need the most in the next world!) is patience.
Great love and patience are needed towards new believers, especially those who have come from very troubled backgrounds. (From a letter written by the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer July 22, 1981).
I’d like to close with a story that illustrates this (author unknown):
A man spent hours watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. It managed to make a small hole, but its body was too large to get through it. After a long struggle, it appeared to be exhausted and remained absolutely still.
The man decided to help the butterfly and, with a pair of scissors, he cut open the cocoon, thus releasing the butterfly. However, the butterfly’s body was very small and wrinkled and its wings were all crumpled.
The man continued to watch, hoping that, at any moment, the butterfly would open its wings and fly away. Nothing happened; in fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its brief life dragging around its shrunken body and shrivelled wings, incapable of flight.
What the man – out of kindness and his eagerness to help – had failed to understand was that the tight cocoon and the efforts that the butterfly had to make in order to squeeze out of that tiny hole were Nature’s way of training the butterfly and of strengthening its wings.
What’s been your experience with taking time to heal; or watching helplessly as others heal? Post your comments here: