Sunday, June 15, 2014

Spiritual paperwork

When a person dies, there are so many things to manage that relatives get up to their knees in paperwork. Some is normal - the certificate of death, the will etc. Some is extra. The saddest thing I remember is how my mother, about 20 minutes after she heard about my brother's sudden death, composed herself enough to tell my father that he urgently needs a visa to attend the funeral.

However, one thinks that the deceased at least has no more worries about paperwork.

Well, he does not do anything more himself, but in most cultures it is thought that something must be done for his soul, or it will have suboptimal fate. In Orthodox Christianity, the religion of my ancestors, it is believed that the soul roams in and close to this world for 40 days after death. On the 40th day, God decides where it will reside permanently: in Paradise or in Hell. On that very day, family members must hold a memorial service - as one priest wrote (unfortunately, I cannot find the quote right now), to try to influence God's decision and lean it to the wished direction.

After my brother's death, I did not care about any churches and services. And because it was known that my family was "that sort of people", a Christian friend of my father's reportedly ordered a service.

After my mother's death, however, I knew that friends and colleagues would like to gather together and remember her at the 40th day. And because there is secular funeral ceremony but no secular 40-day memorial service, I invited them to a church on Friday.

I could actually invite them to the cemetery and offer some food without calling a priest. However, I think that the cemetery is land of the dead and the living should avoid going there. Especially if they are elderly people that would just look at each other and wonder who the next would be. So I prefered a small church not far from my mother's home.

I have many times criticized the church and the clergy, and I surely will do it again in the future... so let me now state that I am thankful. I admit the church was there when I needed it, and although I have surely done some things wrong, nobody made me feel uncomfortable.

Update: A Christian friend of mine who had been guest at my mother's home wrote to me that she has taken care for my mother's name to be mentioned during the church services for 40 days. I was really moved by this.


Bill said...


What a beautiful story or remberance. The native people here in Southeast Alaska are called the Tlingit. They too have 40 day ceremony for the dearly departed.

Thanks for sharing. Bill

Maya M said...

Thank you! I was wondering about where the 40 days tradition originated from, and whether other cultures had it also.