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A matter of trust: Covering a remarkable funeral in the midst of the pandemic

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Thousands upon thousands of funerals, many not related to COVID-19, are being held during the global pandemic. Washington photographer Jacquelyn Martin provided a very personal look at one of them. But first, she had to gain the trust of the family whose mother had died.

She spent weeks getting to know the woman’s son, who shared with Martin intimate details about his mother’s life – and how the family wanted to honor her in death. But their plans to bury Joanne Paylor, who had died of what appeared to be a heart attack on March 8, were interrupted by the pandemic. First the funeral home canceled; then they tried waiting out social-distancing rules so the 300 people they expected could attend. Finally, as Mother’s Day approached, the funeral home said it was time. Martin was there, poised with her camera and notebook, given extraordinary access to a family’s very private moment.

“Beautiful images shown with so much dignity,” one person wrote to her on Instagram. In a moving story to accompany the photos, Martin also captured the essence of the funeral and the family’s grief – and its celebration of a life:

Many women wore tiaras,and men sported crisp white suits. There were turquoise face masks reading “Joanne.” And the voice of Joanne herself echoed over the loudspeakers: “I love y’all,” a remnant of a voicemail she once left her son.

Among the emails that Martin received was this one: “What a rare look into a family’s most private moments. The quality I see most is trust. You made a connection with the Paylor clan and they gave you themselves.”

Martin has been providing extensive coverage of the coronavirus’s impact on people and neighborhoods that aren’t often reported on. One source has led to another,one story to the next,fostered by her empathy with her sources and subjects. In this case,she was put in contact with the family and realized by the end of their first meeting that there was a really special story here and that she wanted to photograph it – and write it.

For her heartfelt account and elegant images, Jacquelyn Martin receives AP’s Best of the Week honors.

For AP’s complete coverage of the coronavirus:

AP’s hub for 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.

Lives Lost: stories behind the victims of COVID-19.

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