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COVID-19 deaths with hidden pain and sorrow

Posted December. 31, 2020 07:36,   

Updated December. 31, 2020 07:36


The death toll in South Korea due to COVID-19 amounts to 859 as of Tuesday, while 333 lost their lives this month. The deceased had to suffer not only from the disease but also from solitary deaths, and their loved ones suffered from the sadness as well as social stigma.  

Most people who lost their lives due to COVID-19 pass away without saying goodbye to their families and loved ones. Only one or two family members are permitted to stay by the deathbed, in protective clothing, but even this measure has become discouraged at many hospitals. Death announcements are also made in numbers: “Confirmed case No. *** died.” A number, instead of the person’s name, is used to mark the last goodbye.  

Funerals are conducted differently as well, based on the funeral guidelines on COVID-19 deaths issued by the Ministry of Health and Welfare. Usually, the body is cremated after the funeral, but COVID-19 deaths are required to undergo cremation first. Body garments are not permitted but wrapped in a medical vinyl case. Bereaved families find it difficult to seek a funeral home or share news of the death. The burial process for COVID-19 deaths take place late in the afternoon, after non-COVID-19 burials are completed. Meanwhile, many funeral homes and charnel houses shun away COVID-19 deaths, claiming that viruses may still remain on the corpses and give a bad reputation.  

A late patient in her late 80s that had passed away was able to meet her family only after her death. The family felt devastated because she had been infected by her beloved grandchild. It was a moment when the pandemic had become personal, not a fact on the news. Family members suffered from great sadness and guilt from not being able to visit the patient at the hospital. Unfortunately, those who lost their loved ones at nursing homes also suffer from great loss and grief. Their suffering can be worsened by social stigma, whispering neighbors and even public workers who did not hide their fear of the victims.  

No one is safe from COVID-19, and everyone is equally at risk in the face of the pandemic. COVID-19 deaths occur at our families and neighbors, and their deaths should be treated with dignity. We need to grieve the deaths of those who lost their lives to COVID-19 and give our condolences to bereaved families.

Sun-Mi Kim kimsunmi@donga.com