Donna, a shrinking form curled in a fetal ball at her best friend’s side, was dying. My mother held her close. Each ray of afternoon sunlight illuminated swirls of fine dust. The effect made the blue fabric on Donna’s sofa seem silver, and brought a touch of otherworldly tenderness to our quiet gathering.
I sat across from them in a sturdy wooden rocking chair. We managed to share words that didn’t sound exactly like good-bye, just mostly. My mom asked about recent doctors’ visits. Donna wanted details about our plans for a two-woman show, her kind smile and inquisitive gaze letting us know that her inquiries were sincere and not anxious fillers in a room full of loved ones who easily lapse into silence. Indeed, silence was the other conversation, holding each of our hands, gazing into our eyes, offering a clear message: Let go. There is no need to pretend at the end of one’s journey.
Our conversation of short sentences led us to a place where my mom, her arm still wrapped around her dear, spoke for all of us as she read The Long Healing Prayer, a Baha’i prayer Donna had been reciting over and over in the weeks since my mom sent it. Donna nestled into her lifelong friend’s protective embrace.
“He is the Healer, the Sufficer, the Helper, the All-Forgiving, the All-Merciful.
I call on Thee O Exalted One, O Faithful One, O Glorious One! Thou the Sufficing, Thou the Healing, Thou the Abiding, O Thou Abiding One!” She began.
I let my gaze rest on these two women who had been friends since childhood. I listened to the rise and fall of softly spoken syllables. Pressing my toes into the soft carpet, I began to rock back and forth. Eyes closed, her head resting on my mom’s shoulder, Donna breathed a contented sigh.
“I call on Thee O Sovereign, O Upraiser, O Judge! Thou the Sufficing, Thou the Healing, Thou the Abiding, O Thou Abiding One!
I call on Thee O Peerless One, O Eternal One, O Single One! Thou the Sufficing, Thou the Healing, Thou the Abiding, O Thou Abiding One!” My mom almost whispered, choking back sadness.
Tears slid off my face.
“I call on Thee O Most Praised One, O Holy One, O Helping One! Thou the Sufficing, Thou the Healing, Thou the Abiding, O Thou Abiding One!
I call on Thee O Omniscient, O Most Wise, O Most Great One! Thou the Sufficing, Thou the Healing, Thou the Abiding, O Thou Abiding One!”
One word followed another, comforting us like the satiny edges of a favorite blanket calm a frightened toddler.
In the safety of this womb, I could not hold back the release of sorrows built up over years. As I rocked, great heaves of mourning accompanied my rhythmic motion. Into this river, I poured out a sea of regret and an ocean of hope. No longer was my sadness confined to the reality of Donna’s dying body, of her too-soon departure. As my mother prayed, I let go, completely.
“Thou art verily the Powerful, the All-Sufficing, the Healing, the Protector, the Giving, the Compassionate, the All-Generous, the All-Merciful.”
As the last words were spoken, my mom refolded the photocopied pages and set them aside. Twenty minutes had passed within the trance of supplication.
Every day for the next six months, I would recite The Long Healing Prayer, alone in my one bedroom apartment, replaying the scene that broke our silence. With the tenderness of an angel, still resting on my mom, Donna had smiled at me saying, “I believe a miracle happened while we prayed. Not for my body to be healed, but for someone else in the room.”
God knew I needed to hear that, so did Donna.
She died soon after our visit.
Little by little, I’m writing a book. This is part of a chapter toward the end. The other day, I knew I had to write down this turning-point memory. Donna, my mother and I sat together 13 years ago. At the time, I was single, childless, and afraid of death. That afternoon marks the moment I began to accept the inevitable transition we all must one day face.
Complete Long Healing Prayer found here