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Only on AP: The delicate subject of funerals, now held at a distance

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When a South Carolina Army veteran died last month, his family decided to invite The Associated Press to take one of the few spots the funeral home would allow for people at the service. His loved ones knew this funeral and their mourning would look different from the usual rituals, and they wanted to share that with other families faced with grief in the coronavirus outbreak. North Carolina-based journalist Sarah Blake Morgan took on the delicate task. She joined a handful of family members and funeral staff, making sure no more than nine people were present.

Morgan was sensitive to the circumstances. She made photos and took video from an appropriate social distance,not only to stay safe but out of respectt to the family. In her images and words,she painted a picture of a ritual that once brought comfort, but now brings new tension and challenges. How does a family choose who can attend? How does the livestream of a funeral work and look? Morgan’s story showed this lonely,sterile environment through the widow who couldn’t be hugged,the son who couldn’t bring his wife and kids to say farewell, the white roses on chairs and the abbreviated outdoor military honors.

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Eric Coleman sits in front of his father’s casket during his funeral, in Lexington, S.C., April 3, 2020. J. Robert Coleman’s widow and three sons were spaced apart at the Army veteran’s funeral, observing social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus outbreak. – AP Photo / Sarah Blake Morgan
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A white rose is pinned to an empty chair during J. Robert Coleman’s funeral in Lexington, S.C., April 3, 2020. Thompson Funeral Homes added the flowers to represent the loved ones who couldn’t attend in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. – AP Photo / Sarah Blake Morgan

Deputy Managing Editor Noreen Gillespie called out Morgan’s beautiful work and said “Hearing that a funeral is going to be livestreamed,but then actually seeing what that looks like on an iPad platform is totally different and inherently so much sadder.” And Marjorie Miller,vice president for global news and enterprise,said Morgan’s piece showed how “it is such a lonely time for so many people … and then saying goodbye in such lonely ways.”

For delivering a moving Only on AP multiformat package on a human angle of the virus outbreak, Sarah Blake Morgan wins this week’s Best of the States award.

For AP’s complete coverage of the coronavirus:

Comprehensive all-formats coverage of the virus outbreak.

Understanding the Outbreak: stories explaining the new coronavirus.

One Good Thing: daily stories of hope and humanity amid the crisis.

Ground Game: Inside the Outbreak: AP’s podcast series.

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