18 June 2006

40th day prayers

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.


  1. My condolences to you. nothing as you said can fill the void. My prayers are with you and your family.

  2. Gibran said
    For life and death are one, even as the
    river and the sea are one.
    In the depth of your hopes and desires
    lies your silent knowledge of the beyond...
    May you and your mother find peace..

  3. Thank you starry nights and Sarah.
    Sarah, I am at peace you know because, as I had posted earlier, I got almost 3 years to say bye to him. he just went away so gradually and I came to understand so much more about him in those 3 years than i had ever before.

  4. God Bless you , your Mom and the family. I am sure your Mom feels like she has lost part of herself after being married that many years. But, yes, we go on because we know we have to. There are others that still need us. Our children may be all grown and living their own lives, but we still do our best to go on for their sakes. Time helps some, but even though it will be 4 yrs next month, I still have my bad days. Having a caring daughter like you will be some comfort for your Mother.

  5. Thank you Dot. I'll tell my mother. We have tried to get her to start a blog. But her poor eyesight has been a problem. But she still manages to read large print books. So she gets by. She is 89 and can't walk properly cos of a broken hip.

  6. Hello, it`s just me Dot back again wondering how your Mom is doing.
    My mom also went thru a broken hip. They operated and the bone wasn`t strong enough so she ended up having a hip replacement. She was your Mom`s age at the time. I had nurses training, so I went down every morning and helped take care of her and finally got her up walking with a walker. She did good till my younger bro died from a heart attack. I think losing a son took too much out of her. We lost her 4 days before her 91st birthday, just 1 yr 4 mo after my bro. I hope your Mom finds something she enjoys doing. For me, keeping busy has helped me the most. All my computer friends have helped me much more than they could ever know.
    Does your Mom ever use the computer?

  7. Yes my mom uses the computer quite a lot. She is slowly learning to blog. The computer is a big escape for her. Anyway at present my eldest brother from the US has come to stay for 6 weeks. So she has company.
    Thanks for your enquiries.


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