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The freedom of the acceptance of death

The social distancing we are all learning to navigate and adapt to has left the world unmoored. For those with a lot left to lose, or who haven't ever really stopped to consider their own mortality, the pandemic has raised anxiety, paranoia, and fear about contracting the virus and regrets about the things they previously took for granted or things on their bucket list they never made happen. What has been particularly fascinating for me is the response of the elderly and the already infirm.

Garden centers have been deemed "essential businesses" which has allowed them to remain open in the midst of sheltering-in-place. This has been a saving grace for me as the weather in Chapel Hill has been GLORIOUS and perfect for my favorite past-time. While at Southern States in Carrboro recently, the parking lot was packed. I couldn't help but notice how many of the customers were elderly. Many were moving quite slowly and several senior couples were tag-teaming, having one get out of the car while the other parked, then splitting up, one to look at shrubs and the other at perennials. The cashiers inside had set up tape lines on the floor 6 feet apart so that folks waiting to check out would be standing at safe distance. No one was wearing masks at this time, and people were being mindful of their space. One man who looked to be in his 80s with lots of scars from skin cancers and past injuries was calmly and deliberately enjoying himself, going about his garden planning as if no pandemic was happening. He'd probably lived through worse and wasn't willing to deny himself a good time. It was better to be at the garden center and get Coronavirus than sit inside and watch the paint dry. Planting things and watching them grow make life worth living.

I have been out in my yard most days planting seeds, weeding, mulching, and dead-heading annuals to keep things looking fresh. There is a man in my neighborhood with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis who has been on the wait list for a double-lung transplant for years but has had trouble finding a match because he has a rare blood type. He moved to Chapel Hill six months ago to increase his odds of finding a donor to our community at either Duke or UNC medical centers. The call came for him 8 weeks ago and he underwent a successful surgery, spending weeks in the hospital before being released to home for recuperation. There are still yellow ribbons tied around all the trees in his front yard, celebrating his homecoming. This week, he has been taking laps around the block multiple times a day, wearing a mask that is not an N95 mask but he is doing it, taking small steps one by one, with his wife and their little dog, stopping to chat with me and admire my flowers.

I am so fortunate to be able to say that both of my birth parents and all of my step-parents are still alive and well, going about their lives while practicing social distancing. My two step-mothers are painting. My step-dad is reading and walking (had to give up golfing because they closed the course). My dad is gardening and reading (stopped going into the hospital to read radiology cases because the workload is down). My mom was still riding her horse daily until they closed the barn but is still able to jog daily and work in her own yard. I have had conversations with each of them about what they are feeling now, facing the prospect of their own death should they contract COVID-19 and all of them are doing what they can to be safe and smart but still live each day to the fullest. They have each made choices all along to take care of themselves, their own health and emotional well-being. These lifelong habits are now rewarding them with strong immune systems and ways to entertain themselves.

The point of this post is that, when you are already living the life that you really want, without regrets, and can live in the present, live each day to the fullest, you don't sit at home and live in fear of your own death. You accept it and this acceptance leaves you free to be vulnerable: to face the future's uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposures head on.

Live without regrets. Love without regrets.

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