an endless mourning
2021. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Almost half a million deaths by Covid-19.
Nearly half a million families are immersed in grief—families denied the basic right to bid a proper farewell to their departed loved ones. The repercussions of COVID-19 extend beyond the curtailment of rights and have stirred significant social unrest; however, the inability to say goodbye may well sow the seeds for profound psychological disorders in the near future.
Funeral rituals, considered pivotal in the history of mankind and regarded by anthropology as key markers in the evolution from primates to contemporary Homo sapiens, now witness a peculiar regression in our species. There's an unsettling sentiment that we are on the verge of dehumanization, if not already standing at the precipice of complete loss of our humanity.
In a country as diverse as Brazil—multicultural, multireligious, multiethnic—the funeral, despite minor variations in beliefs, emerges as a moment where a collective identity takes precedence. In those moments, we all become Americans. This sense of unity could potentially extend globally, as we all share the common practice of honoring our deceased. The funeral evolves into an acceptance of death, a farewell, an occasion to connect with loved ones, and at times, even a celebration. The coffin, opened for a final touch, a last image, and a farewell, introduces several symbols, with flowers holding a distinct significance. Each flower carries its meaning, contributing to a unique expression from one family to another, or from person to person.
COVID-19 has shattered the age-old tradition of holding wakes over our departed, a practice that has united us since the Middle Ages. The present reality features sealed coffins dropped into containers, left alone in the pouring rain. The last goodbye has been reduced to a fleeting glance at a small display of the coffin to confirm identity. Traditionally lengthy processes now conclude within minutes, leaving no time for reflection, much less to feel. The profound emotional connection with the deceased is abruptly severed by the sounds of hoes striking the earth.
Complicated grief, the term employed by experts, encapsulates the prevailing emotions of those who lose a family member or a close person to COVID-19. It denotes extreme difficulty in accepting the loss, deviations from expected reactions (according to sociocultural norms), or even their absence. The mourning experience intensifies and, in some instances, becomes perpetual. With the alarming surge in cases, Brazil faces the imminent risk of embedding this perpetual state of mourning into its cultural fabric.
In Rio de Janeiro, many funeral chapels and cemeteries are now under private sector concessions, adding a layer of bureaucracy, process, and mechanics to the emotions expressed. The working class, though adapting to a new reality, still adheres to a centuries-old custom.
This photo story seeks to examine the stark contrasts thrust upon us by the pandemic within the secular tradition of funerals. What was once real has now become ephemeral. The visual approach paints a chilly, almost clinical scene—devoid not only of a soul but also warmth. In this realm, mourning seems to be the sole emotion. The narrative, in addition to conveying information, presents images that prompt reflection and contemplation on the collective path we are charting and the potential psychological repercussions of bidding farewell without a proper closure.
April is yet to conclude, and it has already emerged as the deadliest month of the pandemic in Brazil. A sense of collective mourning pervades, hinting at the potential emergence of a mental pandemic.