Over the past few months, many of us have been touched by the novel coronavirus. We’ve had family and friends who have contracted it — some coming out on the other side relatively unscathed, others not. In many ways, it is inevitable with the growing number of cases worldwide. As of this writing, Johns Hopkins University reports more than 30 million confirmed cases of coronavirus infections globally and more than 1 million deaths globally linked to covid-19, the illness the virus causes. With numbers like that, it’s not surprising that the pandemic has become a raw reality for many of us.
While the United States has the most confirmed cases of infections and deaths, we are far from being the only country dealing with the pandemic. Despite that record, as a public, Americans are relatively shielded. We have laws that protect our privacy. And we probably are more likely than are people in other countries to be more private about our grief.
In other countries, death is a more public affair. Growing up in Macao and going to boarding school in Taiwan gave me a different experience. I’ll never forget, for example, one of the first funerals I went to as a young boy. The setting was sparse, and the deceased lay on a gurney covered only by a single white sheet. Death was presented in a very raw form. On the way out of the service, we were given candy — something sweet to remember.
In Taiwan, I played tennis on my high school team. We practiced on public courts, right next to a crematorium, the smell of the ovens punctuating every lob, volley, backhand and serve. Then there were the very public displays. I remember trucks with an organist and a woman singing, followed by buses full of mourners dressed in white.
Death is one thing we all have in common, but we commemorate it in so many ways. The pandemic has fundamentally changed even this, as these photos from Peru show.
Rodrigo Abd is no stranger to death. The Argentine photographer, who is on staff with the Associated Press, has worked in Afghanistan, Haiti, Venezuela, Syria and Libya. Often, that has meant staring death in the face. Now based in Lima, Peru, he has again seen death, but this time because of the pandemic.
The Associated Press reports that because of the pandemic, people in Lima have turned to cremating the dead, “to prevent infection and save space in the capital’s overstretched cemeteries.” This has signaled a stepping away from burying the dead, “a tradition for both Peru’s indigenous Inca culture and the Spanish who colonized the country … fundamentally changing the rites and traditions that surround death.”
The pandemic, which once seemed like something that would be gone within a relatively short time, continues to fundamentally shift how people across the globe live their lives as well as commemorate lives lost. Abd’s photos are a grim reminder of that. But they also show that people can adapt, even in the face of what seems to be hopeless.
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