A quote from Braveheart has been running through my head since my step-MIL passed away yesterday: “Every man dies. Not every man really lives.”
Jan had been fighting HPV-related throat cancer for about six years, and when I say “fighting,” I mean throwing that sucker to the mat and keeping her foot on its chest. She and my father-in-law threw everything they had at the cancer, seeking out new drugs and clinical trials and research. They never gave up. She never gave up.
And through it all, she kept on living.
There is, of course, no one right way to live. My personal belief is that life is an active, and not a passive enterprise, meant to be squeezed and wrung for every last damn drop. I’ve written before how I dislike the expression, “live like you’re dying” because the threat of death shouldn’t be the sole reason we enjoy life. We all die eventually — that’s a given. We all know it’s coming, sooner or later. For Jan it was heartbreakingly sooner.
Instead of living like she was dying, she chose to live like she was, well, living. She and my FIL traveled to family events throughout the country, even when it entailed dragging along medical equipment. She still played (and won) golf. She organized a week-long family gathering of children and grandchildren. She and my FIL vacationed with friends. In short, she did the things she planned to do before cancer reared its ugly head. She didn’t give in. She didn’t lie down. She didn’t die before her death.
Today is Jan’s birthday, and she left behind so many gifts for us, her friends and family who loved her. The memories, the love, the many games of Hearts and Uno. The trips to Vic’s through rain and snow. But more than that, I’m eternally grateful for the example she — their Grammy Jan — set for my own kids by living with death’s presence as if it wasn’t there at all. As if she wasn’t dying, but living. Because she truly was. And it was inspiring beyond words.