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
Life and Death Quotes in If I Stay
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.
And that’s how I know. Teddy. He’s gone, too.
When Teddy slid out, he was head up, facing the ceiling, so that the first thing he saw was me.
“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.”
Dad was wrong. It’s true you might not get to control your funeral, but sometimes you do get to choose your death.
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.
“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.”
“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?”
“I can lose you like that if I don’t lose you today. I’ll let you go. If you 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.