40 days

In my musings of late about the solitary and/or anonymous life so many of us lead, compared to the community/familial tight circle so apparent here in Algeria, I've often thought of a good example of this to be the importance of 40 days to both birth and death rituals.

After delivery, a mother traditionally remains home with the baby for 40 days, during which time she is constantly surrounded by women who take care of both her and her baby's needs. She is pampered, fed nourishing foods, offered advice and care on how to deal with her own health issues as well as those of her child. During this period she is allowed to get used to her new baby while being supported emotionally by other women. While I haven't done any research into this, I would venture to say that post-partum depression rates are far lower here than in the U.S., where a mother is sent packing from the hospital often within 24 hours after birth, returning home to deal with both the physical and emotional needs of herself and her child, as well as the logistical needs of the family (shopping, cooking, cleaning) alone or with her also overwhelmed spouse. I would also venture to say (and I will research this and the prior claim I made earlier re: post-partum depression) that women have more success with nursing here than in the U.S., where breast-feeding support is either non-existent or brief in the hospital, and where the stress of dealing with any breast-feeding issues (usually easily resolved with the help of a midwife, lactation consulant, or experienced mother) alone often leads to the decision to abandon efforts and pick up the easily accessible formula (even though according to nearly all studies breastmilk provides far more benefits, both short and long-term, for both mother and baby).

Clearly the period immediately following birth is critical for both mother and child, especially in the past when mortality rates from birth and childbirth were much higher. Both mother and baby were considered to be on the threshold of death during this period, and it was only after the 40 days that she would resume her normal activities.

The 40 days also exists in death rituals. It is believed that the soul of the person who has died is hovering over the threshold of the home and will return after 40 days. The cemetery is visited on the 3rd and the 40th day after death. During this period the grieving family is constantly surrounded by family and friends. They are offered companionship and constant care, fed and nurtured during this difficult period. As with the birth of a child to a family member or close friend, after the death of same it is considered obligatory to visit, and often the visit lasts hours or even days, not just popping into the funeral home, signing the book and heading home. How many times I've seen grieving widowers or widows in the U.S. left alone soon after the funeral, overwhelmed by their sadness and incapable of functioning normally.

The beauty of a traditional society often lies in the fact of its humanity, and its acceptance of life and death and the importance of the rituals that surround these. As a child I often questioned or rejected the need for such rituals, but as time goes on I respect their importance, even today in this modern world, in helping us deal with life and love, joy and sorrow.

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