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A casket at El Angel cemetery in Lima, Peru, contains the body of a person thought to have to have died of covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

Marble urns sit on a workbench in a funeral home workshop in Lima. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

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.


With a Bible in hand, Rolando Yarleque prays in Lima near the marble urn containing the cremated remains of his wife, Maria Carmen, whose death is thought to have been caused by the novel coronavirus. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

A wooden box containing the cremated remains of Marco Martinez, who died of covid-19, sits on a shelf as his wife, Maria Alvarez, watches a soap opera in Lima. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

Omar Escobedo holds the marble urn containing the remains of his father, Orlando Escobedo. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

A marble urn containing the ashes of Gregorio Flores occupies a makeshift altar in his home in Lima. “I am happy to have my father’s ashes here at home. I feel him close. He always accompanies me when I am here. There are relatives who want to take him to the cemetery when the pandemic ends, but I want him to stay here at home with us. Every week we change the flowers on his altar that we made for him in the living room, that way we take care of him, too,” said his 41-year-old daughter Wendy Flores. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

Victoria Flores kisses the urn containing the cremated remains of her husband, Gregorio Flores. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

A marble urn containing the cremated remains of Marco Bendezu sits below his portrait on a shelf in the living room of the home where he lived with his wife and two sons in Lima. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

Maritza Lujan, standing before a mural on a warehouse featuring an Inca princess and condor, caresses the marble urn containing the cremated remains of her father, Hugo Lujan. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

Juan Luis Cabrera takes a break from digging a grave for a suspected victim of covid-19 at Lima’s Nueva Esperanza cemetery. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

Briana Vilcherrez climbs a cross marking the grave of her father during a family visit to the Martires 19 de Julio cemetery on the outskirts of Lima. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

An urn containing the cremated remains of Raul Quezada sits on a chest of drawers in his sister’s bedroom. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

Luis Sierralta places a lighted candle in front of an urn containing the remains of his mother, Zoila Norma, at his home in Lima. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

An urn containing the cremated remains of Miguel Laynez, who died of the coronavirus, sits next to the urn containing the remains of his mother who died years ago, in Lima. Laynez’s son, who lives in Italy, asked a neighbor to keep the remains of his father and grandmother until he is able to retrieve them. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

A technician in the crematorium at Lima’s El Angel cemetery prepares to cremate the body of a person who is thought to have died of covid-19. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

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