Death's Double Grief In Our Age Of Contagion

Workers in protective suits are shoveling earth at a funeral in Mexico, Tijuana.
Workers in protective suits are shoveling earth at a funeral in Mexico, Tijuana.
Omar Martü­Nez/DPA/ZUMA
Bertrand Hauger

We talk about how the COVID-19 pandemic is upending so many aspects of our lives, yet it is foremost a story about death. Every day in this strange new normal, death counts close to home and around the world are updated, displayed, analyzed; figures are given, curves are drawn, graphs are made, allowing all of us to visualize, understand and hopefully help contain the spread of the lethal virus. Death, not to put too fine a point on it, is everywhere.

And yet, at the same time we feel its omnipresence, death itself is somehow being altered by the virus: For sanitary reasons, bodies of loved ones are carried away before they can be mourned, while social distancing measures limit the extent of funerals. Mourners around the world lament the difficulty of burying their dead, one of the key rites that define us as humans, and that intrinsically requires proximity, comforting, and general displays of affection — all very much incompatible with the current health guidelines and restrictions.

The French call this a double peine, meaning both "double punishment" and "double sorrow," as bereavement becomes an even lonelier affair. Where to add to the pain of losing someone, survivors also have to accept when undertakers tell them that the only thing they can do is "drop the body at the cemetery," as U.S. writer and editor Nicole Chung recounts in Wired.

To adapt the grieving process to our new solitary standards, technology has come to the rescue, with funeral homes offering to stream ceremonies via Zoom, drive-in interments, or grief therapists sending customized texts twice a week for a year. These adjustments, superficial as they may seem, all aim at bringing some measure of comfort back into funerary customs which, as Irish public broadcaster RTÉ reminds us, have evolved through the ages.

But with the world at a standstill, and billions of individuals mourning other less permanent losses (be it their income or their freedoms), there may be some solace in knowing that more than ever, people can deeply relate and truly commiserate. This collective grief at least provides some sense of community for all impacted, at different levels, by the coronavirus crisis, a we're-all-in-this-togetherness, albeit from a distance.

This may add another layer of injustice for a less visible, although very much still present, kind of mourner: those who have lost someone during the pandemic — but not to the pandemic. Because yes, people are still dying from other causes; and mourning them when death is all around, has become a near impossible task, as journalist Ola Salem experienced recently:

My aunt died last night in Egypt. She didn't have covid (that we know of), but because of covid she died alone. No one could visit her. Her children are stuck overseas. They didn't even get to say goodbye. My heart breaks for them and everyone else who doesn't get to say goodbye.

For those mourners, the peine, then, is triple. Not only have they lost someone, not only are they not able to mourn them properly — they have to find a way to process their "regular" loss amid a collective grieving for something else. It's a strange new normal indeed, when we are left longing not just for simpler lives, but simpler deaths.

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New Delhi, India: Fumigation Against Dengue Fever In New Delhi

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 வணக்கம்*

Welcome to Thursday, where America's top general reacts to China's test of a hypersonic weapon system, Russia is forced to reimpose lockdown measures and Venice's historic gondola race is hit by a doping scandal. French daily Les Echos also offers a cautionary tale of fraud in the crypto economy.

[*Vaṇakkam, Tamil - India, Sri Lanka, Singapore]


Top U.S. general says Chinese weapon nearly a "Sputnik moment": China recently conducted a "very concerning" test of a hypersonic weapon system as part of its push to expand space and military technologies, Gen. Mark Milley, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bloomberg News. America's top military officer said that this was akin to the Soviet Union's stunning launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, 1957, which sparked the Cold War space race. Milley also called the test of the weapon "a very significant technological event" that is just one element of China's military capabilities.

Brexit: France seizes British trawler: A British trawler has been seized by France while fishing in French waters without a license, amid escalating conflict over post-Brexit fishing rights. France's Minister for Europe said it will adopt a zero-tolerance attitude towards Britain and block access to virtually all of its boats until it awards licenses to French fishermen.

COVID update: Russia confirmed a new record of coronavirus deaths, forcing officials to reimpose some lockdown measures, including a nationwide workplace shutdown in the first week of November. Germany also saw its numbers spike, with more than 28,000 new infections yesterday, adding to worries about restrictions this winter there and elsewhere in Europe. Singapore, meanwhile, reported the biggest surge in the city-state since the coronavirus pandemic began. Positive news on the vaccine front, as U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck granted royalty-free license for a COVID-19 antiviral pill to help protect people in the developing world.

Iran nuclear talks to resume: Iran's top nuclear negotiator said multilateral talks in Vienna with world powers about its nuclear development program will resume before the end of November. The announcement comes after the U.S. warned efforts to revive the deal were in "critical phase."

First U.S. passport with "X" gender marker: The U.S. State Department has issued its first American passport with an "X" gender marker. It is designed to give nonbinary, intersex and gender-nonconforming people a marker other than male or female on their travel document. Several other countries, including Canada, Argentina and Nepal, already offer the same option.

China limits construction of super skyscrapers: China has restricted smaller cities in the country from building extremely tall skyscrapers, as part of a larger bid to crack down on wasteful vanity projects by local governments. Earlier this year the country issued a ban on "ugly architecture."

Doping scandal hits Venice's gondola race: For the first time in the history of the Venice Historical Regatta, a participant has tested positive to marijuana in a doping test: Gondolier Renato Busetto, who finished the race in second place, will be suspended for 13 months.


"End of the ice age," titles German-language Luxembourgish daily Luxemburger Wort, writing about how the ice melting in the Arctic opens up new economic opportunities with a new passage for countries like Russia and China but with potentially devastating effects for the environment. The issue of the Arctic is one of the topics that will be discussed at the COP26 Climate Change Conference which kicks off in Glasgow on Sunday.


$87 billion

A new United Nations report found that extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, floods and droughts have caused India an average annual loss of about $87 billion in 2020. India is among the countries which suffered the most from weather hazards this year along with China and Japan.


Air Next: How a crypto scam collapsed on a single spelling mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy from Laurence Boisseau in Paris-based daily Les Echos.

📲 The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system. Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation.

📝 On Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, the CEO admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

⚠️ What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond". Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"A weapon was handed to Mr. Baldwin. The weapon is functional, and fired a live round."

— Following the Oct. 21 on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Sante Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza told a press conference that the "facts are clear" about the final moments before Hutchins was shot. The investigation continues to determine what led up to that moment, and any possible criminal responsibility related to how the "prop" gun that actor Alec Baldwin fired was loaded.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Share with us your favorite gondola memories or worst crypto scams — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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