That we live in uncertain times is a statement widely shared by many authors and thinkers of modernity (Beck, 2001; Giddens, 1991). The Covid-19 pandemic, which since the end of 2019 has been spreading throughout the world, confirms that we are engaged in “irreversible ecological and sustainable change” (Latour, 2020). In fact, the Covid-19 virus suddenly sends us back to the finiteness of our existence in a striking way: despite everything that the human species is capable of, we violently realize that we cannot control everything. Above all, we cannot have complete mastery of biology: our bodies reveal themselves in their naked, pure and simple, killable and unspeakable lives (Agamben, 1997). Individuals who lose their lives on a daily basis after being infected by Covid-19 share a vulnerability common to all human beings. They also share the right to be mourned and the right to receive a dignified burial. This article acknowledges the vulnerability of humans while highlighting how basic rights are being denied to certain people by social and economic inequalities combined with disparities in treatment.
Several testimonies from relatives of the deceased speak of the immeasurable suffering caused by the uncertainty surrounding the loss of a loved one who died without being accompanied on his or her final journey. In Italy, for example, where funerals have been banned, families are left without answers. How did he or she die? Where was the place of death? Will we be able to see him or her one last time? These questions haunt the relatives of the deceased and make the experience of the event extremely traumatic. The changes in the management of death and funerals in the Covid-19 era thus offer us Westerners the possibility of questioning the importance of knowing the context of a person’s death and being able to celebrate funeral rites: when these two conditions are not fulfilled, uncertainty grows and profoundly disturbs mourning. This state of affairs is reminiscent of the anguish that grips the family members of individuals who disappear or die at country borders, after having undertaken the journey to Europe without the necessary documents to enter the Schengen area. Here and elsewhere, as soon as migration is made illegal and leads to the disappearance of family members, the impossibility of mourning relatives, and doubts about their fate, prevails over everything else. Continuer la lecture de In the shadow of the pandemic. Dying and disappearing at the borders Sofia Stimmatini, anthropologist, & Constance De Gourcy, sociologist