If I Stay

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Themes and Colors
Sacrifice and Choice Theme Icon
Music and Harmony  Theme Icon
Love, Family, and Relationships  Theme Icon
Life and Death  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in If I Stay, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Life and Death  Theme Icon

At its core, If I Stay is predicated on one decision: whether, after the car accident that kills her parents and brother and puts her in a coma, Mia decides to stay alive, or whether she decides to die. She is able to make this decision while in an out-of-body experience, in which she can see everything that is happening around her regarding her care in the hospital, but cannot interact with anyone or anything. It is in this state that she reflects on her past life experiences, and how they have influenced her as a person and brought her to this moment.

Mia vacillates between wanting to stay behind, and wanting to move on into death along with her Mom, Dad, and brother Teddy. Leaving the world of the living would mean that she would be with her parents, and would not have to live with the grief of their deaths. It would also mean that she would not have to face the inevitable tough decisions of life, such as whether or not to pursue cello in New York City, away from her boyfriend Adam. However, if she stays alive, she will be able to continue to cherish the memories she shared with her family, and these experiences will forever shape her future.

Ultimately, Mia makes the decision to stay behind, and to come to terms with the sacrifices and rewards of continuing to live and be the sole survivor of the car crash. Mia’s choice is a metaphor for the fact that making difficult decisions is a part of life and a part of having agency over one’s own life. Conversely, part of taking agency and making these tough decisions is understanding when it is time to make the choice to let something go. While Mia is tragically forced to make a life-or-death decision at a younger age than most, her choice is a response to the universal question everyone must face at some point: how to experience the joys in life, while coping with the sorrows that inevitably accompany them, and how to carry the memories of what has been lost along the way while continuing to move forward.

Life and Death ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Life and Death appears in each chapter of If I Stay. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Life and Death Quotes in If I Stay

Below you will find the important quotes in If I Stay related to the theme of Life and Death .
9:23 AM Quotes

Am I dead? I actually have to ask myself this.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker)
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:
When a truck collides with the family car due to ice on the road, Mia's parents die upon impact, and Teddy is mortally wounded. Mia, critically injured but still alive, has an out-of-body, quasi-religious experience for the majority of the novel. In this quote, Mia is able to see the crash and her physical, injured body in the car as external from what she perceives to be the body that she uses to presently move and think. She is invisible to everyone else. Seeing the trauma the crash caused to her body, she is unsure if this out-of-body experience is what happens to someone when they die. However, she cannot see the deceased members of her family, and realizes she must be existing in some kind of limbo between life and death. It's never made clear just why Mia is chosen for this state of limbo, but it is the conceit that drives the rest of the book. 

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4:47 PM Quotes

I didn’t mind. I was excited about a baby. And I knew that Carnegie Hall wasn’t going anywhere. I’d get there someday.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Teddy Hall
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

When Mia's mother finds out that she is pregnant with Teddy, the family cancels an impending trip to New York City. Mia's parents have always been very open about the fact that neither Mia nor Teddy were planned pregnancies, a hallmark of their easygoing and spontaneous attitudes. This quote is representative of how important Teddy has always been in Mia's life, even before she was born. Though she was very excited to visit Carnegie Hall (a famous concert hall, and thus a dream for the ambitious, cello-playing Mia) and see New York City for the first time, her excitement and understanding about missing the trip due to the prospect of having a sibling trumped any feelings of disappointment. Despite her love of the cello, Mia's deep love of family has always come first. 

9:06 PM Quotes

And that’s how I know. Teddy. He’s gone, too.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Teddy Hall
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:

Though Mia is happy to see Willow stick up for Adam and Kim, she is struck by the realization that Willow's presence in the hospital means that she no longer needs to be at the hospital where she works as a nurse. Mia had been certain that Willow was there taking care of Teddy. If she no longer needs to be at the hospital, Mia realizes, this means that Teddy has died. While Mia could tell that her parents had died upon the impact of the crash, she held onto the hope that Teddy would survive. Now, Mia knows that her entire immediate family has died in the crash—knowledge that will make her decision whether to stay or to leave very difficult. If she were to remain alive, she would have to deal with the grief of losing her entire family. If she were to leave, she would sacrifice her entire future with the cello, Adam, Kim, and her grandparents, but could at least be on the "other side" with Teddy, Mom, and Dad. As Teddy's older sister, she has always been very protective of him, and so she is distraught by the prospect of him scared and dying alone. She hopes that wherever he is, he is being comforted by Mom, Dad, and other relatives that have passed away. 

When Teddy slid out, he was head up, facing the ceiling, so that the first thing he saw was me.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Teddy Hall
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:

In a flashback, Mia recalls the day that Teddy is born. Mia accompanies her mother to the birthing clinic and is present in the room at the moment Mom gives birth. In this quote, Mia remembers that when Teddy first opened his eyes, she was the one he was looking at. Ever since then, she and Teddy have been exceptionally close, to the point that her parents joked that he "imprinted" on her. This memory makes the trauma of Teddy's passing even harder on Mia, as she was always very protective of her younger brother. Teddy's death also makes Mia's decision to stay or leave even more difficult: If she were to decide to stay, she would have to go through life without the support of her immediate family. 

10:40 PM Quotes

“In my ideal scenario, my bighearted pushover husband and I die quickly and simultaneously when we’re ninety-two years old…Mia plays at our funeral. If, that is, we can tear her away from the New York Philharmonic.”

Related Characters: Kat Hall (Mom) (speaker), Mia Hall, Denny Hall (Dad)
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

In the car on the way home from a funeral, Mia's family begins to discuss what kind of funerals they hope to have one day. In this quote, Mom notes that she hopes to die at the same time as Dad, and to have Mia play for the funeral. This quote is one of morbid foreshadowing to the crash that is to happen years later: Mom and Dad do die at the same time, and if Mia decides to stay, there is a possibility that she would play at the funeral. This particular memory highlights the often dark irony of life—Mom will perhaps get her wish for her funeral, though several decades prior to when she hoped she would die. Mia recalls this conversation as she weighs the pros and cons of staying or leaving, because it represents how fleeting life can be—someone as vivacious as Mom can be here one moment, and gone in the blink of an eye. 

Dad was wrong. It’s true you might not get to control your funeral, but sometimes you do get to choose your death.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Denny Hall (Dad)
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:
While in the car on the way back from a family friend's funeral, Mom is furious about the sentimental and religious nature of the service. She believes that the friend, who was an atheist, would have been very upset at the funeral his family set up for him. Dad gently counters Mom and points out that no one gets to choose how their funeral goes, since it only happens after they are gone. In this quote, Mia recalls Dad's words in the course of her decision whether to stay or to leave the world of the living. Once she realizes the terms of her coma—it is her choice whether she will join her parents in death, or to wake up and continue living—she thinks about the humorous, if morbid, conversation in which she and her family discussed their funerals. For all their talk of death, Mia never thought that she would have any say about when or how she would die. In remembering an instance when she realized her father was wrong about the terms of life and death, Mia further realizes how this choice is entirely her decision—a moment of growth, and separation, from the world in which she relied on the advice of her parents. 
2:48 AM Quotes

Sleep without dreams. I’ve heard people talk about the sleep of the dead. Is that what death would feel like? The nicest, warmest, heaviest never-ending nap? If that’s what it’s like, I wouldn’t mind. If that’s what dying is like, I wouldn’t mind at all.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker)
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

As the hours in which she is in a coma wear on, Mia, even in her out-of-body state, begins to become very tired. She longs to fall asleep, but does not succumb to her fatigue because she has not yet decided whether to stay or to leave. In this quote, she wonders if dying would be like one very long nap, albeit one without dreams. Here, she longs for a sleep without any memories of her life—good or bad—in order to forget the trauma of the day, and to not miss the good times she enjoyed with her now-deceased family members. In this instance, the weariness that she feels from the events of the day and the emotional stress of her impending decision make her want to give up and give in to the never-ending sleep of death. However, while she has heard people speak of death as a long sleep, she cannot be sure, thus revealing her current preference for leaving, though with reservations. 

“It’s okay,” he tells me. “If you want to go. Everyone wants you to stay. I want you to stay more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life…But that’s what I want and I could see why it might not be what you want. So I just wanted to tell you that I understand if you go. It’s okay if you have to leave us. It’s okay if you want to stop fighting.”

Related Characters: Gramps (speaker), Mia Hall
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

Gramps goes to visit Mia in her hospital bed, this time without Gran. Mia, via her out-of-body experience, can see and hear what Gramps is saying to her comatose body. In this quote, he tells her that he would understand if she made the decision to leave the world of the living, rather than stay. Gramps saying this to Mia is significant because thus far in the hospital, people have been urging Mia to stay alive without acknowledging the pain of loss that she will have to deal with for the rest of her life. This quote is also significant because Gramps, though supportive and loving, is not a man of many words—but when he does speak, such as now, he says exactly what Mia needs to hear. While Gramps' understanding is enormously comforting, it also makes Mia's decision to leave even harder—how could she leave Gramps and Gran behind? Ultimately, when Mia does choose to stay, one major factor in her decision is the knowledge that she will still have a family to support her through the grief of losing Mom, Dad, and Teddy. 

“I’d played that part of my life out. It was time. I didn’t even think twice about it, in spite of what Gramps or Henry might think. Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you. Does that make any sense?”

Related Characters: Denny Hall (Dad) (speaker), Gramps , Henry
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

When Teddy is born, Dad makes the decision to leave the rock band that he has played in for many years. This makes his best friend who is also in the band, Henry, very angry with him. It also makes Gramps, who loved listening to Dad's music, very sad as well. In this quote, Dad responds to Mia's question as to why he made this decision. Dad explains to Mia that for him, it wasn't even a decision—it was simply time for him to move on with his life, and focus on his family and being a good father to Mia and Teddy. In the course of making her decision whether to stay or to leave, Mia recalls this conversation because of Dad's quip that "sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you." Here he means that sometimes in life, we don't have a choice in what happens, and it is up to us to make the most of a bad situation so one situation doesn't change us completely. When Mia decides to stay, it is ultimately because of an outpouring of love that has shown her that she must go on living in order to keep the memories of her family alive, and to see where the future takes her. 

7:16 AM Quotes

“I can lose you like that if I don’t lose you today. I’ll let you go. If you stay.”

Related Characters: Adam Wilde (speaker), Mia Hall
Page Number: 231
Explanation and Analysis:
Adam, who has been crying, comes into Mia's hospital room and collapses next to her bed. Worried that she is about to die, he tells her comatose body that he loves her and that if she survives, he is willing to quit Shooting Star and move to New York with her. In this quote, he also tells Mia that if she survives and decides to leave him when she moves to New York, he will understand her decision. As all of Adam's musical dreams remain in Oregon, this is a huge declaration of love—Adam is willing to give up the band he loves in order to be with the girl that he loves. However, his selflessness also shows in this speech, as he says that as long as Mia is alive, he will also understand if she wants to end the relationship to focus on the cello in New York. It is in this moment that Adam's true devotion to Mia is revealed: as long as she is alive and well, he will be happy, regardless of whether they continue to be in a relationship or not. It is this declaration of sacrifice and selflessness that ultimately convinces Mia to stay. 

Yo-Yo Ma continues to play, and it’s like the piano and cello are being poured into my body, the same way that the IV and blood transfusions are. And the memories of my life as it was, and the flashes of it as it might be, are coming so fast and furious. I feel like I can no longer keep up with them but they keep coming and everything is colliding, until I cannot take it anymore. Until I cannot be like this one second longer.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Cello, Punk Rock and Classical Music
Page Number: 232
Explanation and Analysis:

In a last-ditch effort to rouse Mia out of her coma, Adam puts headphones over Mia's ears. He presses "play" on an iPod, and the music of Yo-Yo Ma (whom they saw in concert for their first date) floods her ears. Despite all of the reminiscing and flashbacks that Mia has thought of during the last few hours since the accident, it is this music that triggers the most emotion. It is this overwhelming feeling of how much she loves music, and how much she loved making and feeling this music with the people around her, that brings Mia to the place where she knows without a doubt that she cannot leave. She knows that to honor the memories of her family, it is her duty to remain alive—this way, she can continue to make music and keep that love alive. Though Teddy, Mom, and Dad are gone, music, combined with the love of the friends and family members who remain alive, will transport her to a place of comfort, even in the face of grief.