Tuesday, November 2, 2010

49 Days

Halloween was especially on the periphery this year because of my mom's passing.  Last weekend marked a milestone in the mourning process: 49 days.  We -- my family, my aunt, my cousins -- had been going to the gravesite and then the temple for the past six Sundays.  On the 49th day extended family and friends are invited to come to the temple and join in the ceremony and a vegetarian meal afterwards. 

The first 49 days is believed by Buddhists to be an important period, during which time the deceased is reincarnated and makes their transition to the new life.  Prayers are offered to guide and support the spirit.

Because of my personal religious beliefs -- but moreover because I know my mom didn't believe in reincarnation -- I don't put much stock in the meaning of the ritual (had to find out about it online).  I attended more for the cultural aspect of the mourning process, which establishes certain intervals at which the family comes together to grieve and also celebrate the deceased:  we went back to the grave three days after the burial, then once a week for seven weeks; the extended family will come together again at 100 days, and again at the year.  The increased intervals are meant to "ease" the presence of the deceased out of daily life.  I like that we're not expected to jump back into our regular schedules right after the funeral or after the bereavement leave allocated by work.  I like that it's a yearlong process, and that we will continue to meet each year on my mom's death anniversary.  And always on her birthday, and Mother's Day.

[family at 49]

To me, the larger gatherings are more for the "outer" circles of family and friends, where I am not so much mourning or remembering but simply "showing face."  For me and for my immediate family, it's not, "See ya!" until 100 days.  We continue to grieve, both as a unit and individually.  I do so by allowing the laughs and tears to come as they may, and by (re)turning to words -- self-help books, memoirs, articles, and yes, even my own.


  1. I'm familiar with some of these practices, since my maternal grandmother was a very devout Buddhist. I went to her funeral in Taiwan with my mom but was there only for a week; I heard about the gatherings at other intervals but did not participate in them because they happened long after I returned to the USA. I remember thinking, though, that I liked how the extended timeline gave family and friends lots of time to transition into the loss and to remember their loved one together.

  2. [...] addition to the collective cultural mourning customs, I am finding comfort in going back to some of my solitary rituals. Though I’m generally not [...]

  3. [...] death. We went to the cemetery as usual and then to
    the temple, as we’d done up until 49 days. This time we
    stayed afterwards for a short ceremony to officially end wearing
    traditional mourning [...]