The official mourning period for my father ended on the 10th of June, when we had the 40th day prayers and ceremonies. In our Orthodox Christian church here in Kerala (and maybe all the Orthodox churches), the belief is that it is on the 41st day (or maybe the 40th day, I’m not too sure,) after a person’s death that the soul finally leaves the earth. For 40 days the soul is supposed to be in this realm among the things, places, people, that the person knew, loved, yearned for, etc. There are significances for certain days. It is only on the third day after death that the soul leaves the grave/cemetery, as Jesus’ resurrection was on the 3rd day. Then there are specific days that the soul remains in the house, town, up until the 30th day, when the soul can go anywhere in the world. On the 40th (41st) day the soul leaves the earth. This is based on the Bible’s account of Jesus having remained on earth for 40 days after his resurrection. On that day there are prayers in church and at the grave.
For these 40 days, the bed on which the body lay before being taken for burial, is kept where it was—usually in the front room— and covered only with a white sheet. A cross and an oil lamp are kept at the head of the bed. (This would be in the west, as the body would have lain facing east.) The lamp is kept burning constantly throughout the 40 days. In the old days Mass was said for the deceased every day of the 40 days and there were prayers by the graveside. But nowadays it may not be so often. On the last day, after the Mass and the prayers at the graveside, the priest comes home and prayers are said at home and then the priest puts out the lamp and removes the white sheet.
I had been through this 3 times before, when my sister-in-law first and then my father-in-law and then mother-in-law all died from various types of cancer in the space of around 9years. I realised that these rituals were very helpful in coming to terms with the death of the loved one. I saw it helping my husband and his siblings. Of course, the void that the loved one left can never ever be filled. But it certainly does help in assuaging the grief at least a little. Then praying at the graveside every year on the death anniversary and on All Souls Day also provides a balm for the sorrow.
I hope it has helped my mother a little. I know that just 40 days can never lessen the sorrow of losing a partner after almost 68 years of marriage, but I pray that she will gradually get some peace. She tries to go on as normally as possible, because as she said once, fairly recently, ‘Anyway till I die, I have to live.’ So she makes a pretty good attempt to live as well as she can.
God bless you Mum and may your soul rest truly in peace Achach.