Virtual grieving and actual grief

Justin Ward
4 min readMay 14, 2021
(Yuliya Ward)

Content warning: Death, descriptions of a dead body

I didn’t get to attend my brother’s funeral. He was teaching in Kazakhstan when he contracted COVID and died last month at the age of 41. The service took place only a few days after he passed, so there was no time to travel there and with all the restrictions in place, I wasn’t sure I could’ve anyhow. So, I had to watch my brother laid to rest on a Youtube video. It was only 11 minutes long. The video started with his wife Yuliya going to the hospital morgue to identify his body before it was transported to the cemetery. I’m not sure if that’s normal in Kazakhstan or if they did things this way due to the pandemic.

The video, shot from Yuliya’s perspective, showed her walking into a dimly lit room. The casket was up against the wall. She walked up to it and tilted the camera downward.

There he was. My one and only brother.

People always say these cliché things at funerals — “he looks peaceful” or “it’s like he’s sleeping” — to comfort themselves. He didn’t look peaceful to me. He looked dead.

A photo of my brother at a hostel in Cappadocia, Turkey. My father and I visited Andy while he was teaching in Istanbul in 2012 (Justin Ward)



Justin Ward

Journalist and activist. Founder and co-chair of DivestSPD. Bylines at SPLC, The Baffler, GEN, USA Today. Follow on Twitter: @justwardoctrine, @DivestSPD