Dying Is Not Losing : There Are Many Ways to Win

March 27, 2024 ◊ By Elisa Everts ◊

Dying Is Not Losing : There Are Many Ways to Win

As I watched my cherished friend, Diane, die at the tender age of thirty, I shook my head helplessly. Who could blame the child for being unprepared? She wanted to live! And she thought she could do so by sheer force of will. She fought like a honey badger, but they discovered her cancer too late. By the time she realized she was dying, she had very little mental clarity left. And she died a very messy, unfinished death. We didn't know what we were doing.

​Naïve positivity vs. Realistic Positivity​

I think Diane was a victim of American positivity culture, of the toxic variety. Now don't get me wrong, if you know me, you know I am passionate about being positive. But there is naïve positivity and there is realistic positivity. Naïve positivity can lead you to false conclusions. I would call that a kind of false positivity (even though doctors would look down their noses at me for the misuse of a term). On the other hand, there is plenty of research that shows that anticipating resistance and making a plan to surmount it sets you up for greater success.

Diane grew up in Belgium, but it turns out she was American to the core. Generally, Americans want to win above all else. (This trait is hilariously highlighted by Melody Moezzi in The Rumi Prescription when she describes discovering that, in America, competitive yoga is a thing!) And nothing illustrates this thirst to win more than the epic battle of hand-to-hand combat with cancer. It's not just that whoever dies with the least toys loses, as the bumper sticker goes. The unstated attitude seems to be that whoever dies loses!

Death really cramps the American style. I mean, how can you maintain your "I am the master of my own damned destiny" myth if you can't even dictate the number of your days? It seems that we have just one gear: in it to win it.

Planning for Your Eventual Transition is Not Giving Up​

It is as if many people think that planning for both possible eventualities (living and dying) means you have already given up. If you don't plan your funeral, the thinking seems to be, you won't have to go to it. In my case, I'd rather be prepared and have a hand in planning my funeral and everything I can surrounding my final transition. Diane didn't know. She was a victim of the variety of blind American optimism that refuses to acknowledge that we cannot control all outcomes. This can be disastrous.

When I was given a year to live I realized that if my life comes to an "early" end, it does not mean death won and I lost. I can "win" and still come to the completion of my life sooner than we had wanted. You don't win by extending or determining the number of your days. You win by not letting the number of your days determine how you live and by savoring and appreciating each one.

How You Win When You Have Terminal Cancer ​

You win by making sure everyone you love knows in their bones how deeply you love them before you go. You win by weaseling your way into the hearts of those souls you adore and dwelling within them long after you are gone.
You can win the fight by how you spend your life and how lovingly, beautifully, peacefully you die. Death is part of life; it is not to be feared. And if you live it meaningfully throughout, you are less likely to die feeling your life is unfinished.

This hope is also beautiful and does not depend on a particular outcome. It's a hope you can manage.

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About the author

Dr. Elisa Everts is the founder of Evertree Hope Management and is a dynamic public speaker, author and trainer. Dr Everts is passionate about helping cancer patients and bereaved people in their quest to survive and live a full life during and after cancer and grief. She has the personal experience of surviving Stage IV cancer and the loss of many loved ones. She understands the challenges inherent in these experiences and the importance of cultivating hope through the stories we tell others, and even more importantly, to ourselves.

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2 thoughts on “Dying Is Not Losing : There Are Many Ways to Win”

  1. What a brilliant read, Elisa! Preparing for the end and living meaningfully is a huge win. Never thought of it quite like that, but I am the all-in-to-win-it kind.

    We make decisions based on incomplete information. The key is remaining unattached to the outcome.

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Elisa Everts, phd

Speaker | Author | Educator

Finding Hope in Cancer & Grief

Elisa Everts, phd

Speaker | Author | Educator

Finding Hope in Cancer & Grief

I speak to medical professionals and patients, helping them provide hope when there seems to be none. If you or your organization need someone to help process the difficult topics of cancer and grief, let's set up a complimentary call, 703-656-6691, ee@elisaeverts.com.

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