Home » Death » What does it mean to be alive?

What does it mean to be alive?

My mother-in-law refused to die. She didn’t seem to get that simply being alive and living were two separate things. Life is more than your heart beating, your blood circulating, your breath coming in and going out like the tide. Life is more than simply existing, simply enduring.

I’m not sure what she was looking for, but I know that she didn’t find it.

The doctors had done all they could, but the cancer had done more. It had won the battle, even the war, but she wasn’t pulling out, wasn’t flying the white flag. She was held hostage to it but wouldn’t admit it. In the end, she was reduced to a sort of half-life, a half existence. A life that was the opposite of full.

She was alive, barely. She had so much pride that she didn’t ask for help even when it came to getting food. After she died, we found frozen dinners in her house and nothing homemade. We found receipts for a personal shopper from Publix. She’d rather ask strangers for help then ask her family. She’d rather hobble along pretending, trying to make do for as long as possible in adverse circumstances.

For some, this was admirable, but not for me. For me it was a sad way to die, a desperate attempt to hold on – but for what? A cure, a miracle? It was as if she thought that she was going to do the healing, that she thought that if she held on just a little longer that she would outlast the disease.

Her death was the same. So much struggle. So much fight. She lasted five days when the nurses thought she would only last five hours. It was an ugly death. It brought no grace or comfort to the family to see her struggle so much.

It had been a year and a half after her diagnosis that she finally died. A year and a half of tests and experiments, a year and a half of pain and struggle. She didn’t plan well. She didn’t budget her time or her energy. She didn’t do anything on her bucket list. She hadn’t even thought about it at all until I asked.

I don’t know if she didn’t know – if she was simply ignorant of the slow decline that cancer brings, of how it steals your abilities and independence bit by bit, piece by piece. Cancer takes all your pieces off the board one by one and doesn’t give them back. Cancer doesn’t play fair. When it got down to the very end she still wouldn’t let go. She was still fighting against this adversary. But she wasn’t fighting death by living. She was just enduring.

We don’t bring ourselves into this world, and we don’t take ourselves out. It is not for us to determine the length of our days. We have some control over how well we will live in terms of taking care of our bodies, but we have little control over how long we will live. Any moment our heart can stop beating. Any moment a blood vessel can break. Any moment we can choke on something and die suddenly, quickly, quietly.

Our lives are not our own.

If God was going to provide a miracle, then God didn’t need her to fight so hard to stay alive in the middle of so much pain, so much suffering. God gave her over seventy years of life and she had little to show for it. God gave her a year and a half after her diagnosis and all she did was hold on, in some desperate appeal for more.

More of what? Life for the sake of being alive?

If someone gives you a gift, they expect you to use it. You aren’t going to get a second gift if you refuse to open and use the first one. You certainly won’t get another if you don’t say thank you for the first one.

Why would God grant more life to someone who has chosen not to live it at all?

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