Shauna Niequist is my favorite author for a myriad of reasons. I love that she counts good food and travel amongst her top pleasures, that she viciously protects the time she has to spend with her family and friends, that she’s a voracious reader who gives out tons of excellent book recommendations. I love the way she writes about all of these things, and I love how she puts ideas and thoughts on paper in such an eloquent, impactful way. So many times when I’m reading her books, I lurch straight up in my chair or my bed and think, “You feel this way too? I thought I was the only one!” Shauna captures so many emotions I’ve experienced in such a concise, communicable way, striking through the very core of me.
Of all of the chapters in all of her books, “Say Something” (from Bittersweet) is the one that struck me the most profoundly. I could go on and on about everything I loved about the chapter, but instead, I’d rather share Shauna’s powerful words with you directly from the source:
“When something bad happens, people say the wrong things so often. They say weird, hurtful things when they’re trying to be nice. They say things that don’t hurt until later, and then when they do begin to hurt, you can’t get the words out of your mind. It’s like a horror movie: everywhere you turn, those awful words are scrawled on every wall.”
“Some people [don’t] know what to say, and they [say] just that. ‘I heard what happened, and I don’t know what to say.’ That is, I’m finding, a very good response. Because there was another group of friends who said nothing. I love them, and I know they love me, and the point is not what they did or didn’t do, exactly. The point is that they taught me something, and it’s this: say something. Always say something. Now when a friend loses a job or when a heart is broken or when the test results are bad, even when I don’t know what to say, I say something.”
“I know we’re busy. I know we forget sometimes. More than anything, I think, we so desperately don’t want to say the wrong thing. It’s impolite, we’ve been told, to bring up nasty topics like loss and sadness. But if we don’t bring it up, what are we left with? We talk about the easy things, the happy things, the weather, and then we leave one another totally alone with the diagnosis or the divorce papers.”
“I learned to say something. And I offer my apologies for all the times I didn’t say something. I’m really sorry about that. For a whole bunch of not very good reasons, I didn’t know better then. But I know better know. So when there’s bad news or scary news or something falls apart, say something. Send a note. Send a text. Send flowers. And if you don’t know what to say, try this: ‘I heard what happened, and I don’t know what to say.'”
Though I really took this advice to heart when I first read the book several years ago, implementing it whenever possible, I’m understanding the lesson so much more acutely since Callie’s terminal diagnosis a few weeks ago. Our family and friends have been unbelievably supportive during this trying time, and equally as heartwarming as their outreach and care has been is the response from people that we know through friends of friends or church or social media. They contacted us through text or email or in person, and they said something. They didn’t say something complicated or mind-blowing or other-worldy; instead, they said something that was simple and comforting. And those words meant, and continue to mean, the world to us. We are so grateful for everyone in our lives – ranging from our parents, our siblings, our best friends, and our small group to our coworkers, neighbors, parents of friends, workout instructors, and mailman (yes, our mailman!) – who has taken the time to acknowledge what we are going through, to say something. It means more than they know, and it has inspired us to continue to do the same to the people in our lives who are going through difficult seasons.