Thursday, October 1, 2020

How we bury our dead during a pandemic

Funerals, burials and other ways of communally commemorating those who have died have always been part of human history. The need for social distancing has upended these psychologically important rituals and fostered creative alternatives.

Stephanie Parker
Knowable Magazine

Covid-19 has affected the world in practically every arena, from health and the economy to travel and entertainment. It has also had a dramatic impact on death, not just in terms of the number of people who have died — approaching 980,000 as of September 24 — but in how family and friends can honor them.

Faced with social distancing, many have turned to creative solutions such as virtual gatherings for group mourning. But although services via Zoom can bring people together, they miss the in-person experience that can be regarded as vital to giving someone a “good” sendoff, says Matthew Engelke, an anthropologist in the department of Religion at Columbia University.

In 2019, before any of us had heard of Covid-19, Engelke wrote about death rituals in the Annual Review of Anthropology, looking at the ways people and communities deal with their dead. Much of what he discussed, such as the tensions between public health and death rituals in African countries struggling with Ebola, resonates strongly today.  Read more >>