Say What You Need To Say ~ Always

Say what you need to say

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” ~Henry David Thoreau

About a year ago, my dad died.

He’d been battling cancer for a decade and we’d all been lulled into a false sense that he’d just keep on beating it. So I never said the important things I wanted to say because I’d been embarrassed/angry/afraid, and I kept telling myself that I’d do it some other time. Well, he went downhill quickly and by the time I got to the hospital, he was gone. I sat there for a long time next to his bed, holding his hand, which had gone cold by then, and hoping, with the same wild hope of a kid waiting on Santa, that he would come back.

Over the next two days, I barely came out of my writing room at all. I spent all that time writing in my journal and when that got filled, I grabbed whatever was nearby (scrap paper, Post-It Notes, a couple spiral notebooks, two yellow legal pads). I said everything on my mind, asked every question I’d wanted an answer to, most of them starting with: Why? I demanded apologies and I gave some. I told him things he never knew about me. I clarified some things and offered my opinion that had never been voiced and gave long, detailed accounts of how I saw things. It was raw, sometimes painful stuff. It was also the most uncensored I’ve ever been. I didn’t edit anything or even care how it sounded. I just wrote longhand until my hand cramped and then I stretched it out and popped some aspirin and wrote some more.

During those two days, too, is when I decided I was done waiting for what I wanted from my life, when I decided that I was going to make it happen.

Anyway, I’m writing this to save you some grief, yes, but maybe some time, too. I’m sure you know all this, right? You’ve heard it a thousand times. Maybe you’re rolling your eyes and flapping your hand at me and saying, “Jeez, I know, I know.” Right, you know. Now, I’m telling you to do it. Here’s a newsflash that’s not shocking: You don’t have an infinite amount of time either. One day, maybe tomorrow or maybe a few decades from now, you’ll just be a memory, too. But here’s the kicker: you don’t know when. The words inside you need to come out.

That includes the novel/poem/play/script/memoir inside you, too. Or maybe it’s not words. Maybe it’s the picture you always wanted to paint, the career path you wish you would’ve taken, the dream you still ponder but don’t follow. So get working. Get writing, painting, following, whatever it is. Right now. Don’t be one of the mass that, like Thoreau said, leads a life of quiet desperation.

What aren’t you saying or doing that you wish you were? What are you waiting for? Please feel free to share your thoughts & experiences in the comment box below.

21 thoughts on “Say What You Need To Say ~ Always”

  1. You write such good articles, Shelli. I’m very sorry about your dad. We think they’ll be there for us for as long as we need them, only we always need them…because we never stop needing them. After eight and a half years, I still miss mine (and I HATE cancer even more than I did then!).

    You are right though. We need to say and do the things that need to be said and done before it’s too late. If we don’t, we will live to regret it. Been there, done that with my grandpa, my oldest daughter, and to a point, even my dad. But with him, we did have thirteen months. We knew he wasn’t going to beat it and that time was short. And even knowing that, there are still things I wish I’d said, things siblings and others thought would be too hurtful. Not bad things, but words that would make him sadder than he already was…and their goal was to distract him and take his mind off it as much as possible (like THAT was ever going to happen).

    Anyway, there are so many things in life I regret, and I’ve learned some hard lessons. Now I try to remember every minute of every day what’s important.

    1. Hi Kristy! Thanks so much for the compliment & the condolences. Cancer sucks. I’m sorry about your dad, too, and your grandfather & daughter. Yes, sadly, I’ve learned things the hard way; this was one of those hard lessons. I know sometimes we think we’re doing someone a favor by not talking, but what about what we need to say? That’s a hard one. Thanks for the support, my friend. 🙂

  2. Shelli,

    Thank you for sharing such a heartfelt post. I’m so sorry for your loss. And, I completely understand where you are coming from. Life is precious and we must live it. Every day.

    I lost my Dad to cancer ten years ago this past January. And, it’s still hard. He IS the reason that I finally chose to allow myself to write full-time. I dedicated my debut novel, Seeing Julia, to him because of what he meant to me and represented in my life.

    Thank you for sharing your story. You ARE an inspiration, a truly talented writer, and a gift to all of us. Know that.

    Katherine Owen

    1. Hi Katherine! Thank you, lovely lady, for all the fabulous compliments & the condolences. I’m so sorry about your dad. I am glad that he spurred you to write full-time, that his death helped you make a decision to have the life you wanted. Thank you for all the support. You are a talented, lovely woman & I’m glad we met on Twitter. Big *hugs* for you. 🙂

  3. Wow, Shelli,

    It’s funny how you have experiences you think no one else would understand, much less know first hand. I lost my dad to leukemia six years ago after he’d battled it for thirteen years. We too were lulled into a false sense of security, until the day it became apparent the treatment available was no longer enough.

    I never felt like there were things left unsaid when he left, but God, I would love to tell him I love him one more time, or maybe step into his arms in an impromptu dance around the kitchen, the way he was wont to do. However, after he left, I didn’t write a word for five years. It seemed the muse had wandered away with him. Then I was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer.

    To stay sane, in the midst of mastectomies and chemo, I began writing a journal, in the format of letters to Dad. Long story short, one morning, after I had pondered my inability to write anymore, his voice came to me as clearly as if he were sitting across the table.

    “What are you waiting for?” he seemed to ask.

    I live my life by different standards these days, with thrilling results. I’m about to be published with my second title just now under contract. Life is short. Although Dad lived to 75, his life was too short for those of us who miss him desperately.

    And with his help, I learned that living like you are dying is the only way to go.


    1. Hi Mac! I’m so sorry about your dad but am glad to hear that you didn’t have things left unsaid. I wrote after he died because I didn’t know what else to do. I’m sorry that you didn’t for so long & that it took your own cancer (I’m sorry to hear that it hit you, too. Cancer sucks!) to get you writing again. Amen to this: “I live my life by different standards these days, with thrilling results.” Congrats on your books!! Makes me smile to hear it. 🙂 I especially love this: “And with his help, I learned that living like you are dying is the only way to go.”

  4. Shelli, I really love this post!

    I had a similar situation that happen to me. My mother and I, although we loved one another dearly, we didn’t have the best relationship. It was more me than her that had the problem though. I would have the hardest time getting past some of the choices she made concerning her life, and most, if not all of them affected me growing up and crossed over into my adulthood.

    Well, in 2008 she was diagnosed with cancer too. Yet still, the only thing that stood out to me was what she did and didn’t do concerning me and my two younger brothers when we were younger.

    Fast forward to June 2010… Life began to get real for me. I begin to see that she was slipping away and that she wouldn’t be here much longer. I would go up to North Carolina and spend two weeks with her in the hospital. And in the two weeks while I was there, we were able to talk about a lot of things that had went unsaid between us for years. I left there understanding her more… To be honest with you, more than I had ever known her in my entire life. By you sharing your experience with your father, I realize that I was definitely lucky to have had that time to heal. Less than three months later after those two weeks, she was gone.

    Her passing and those two weeks helped me to begin working on my book. Some days I get so overwhelmed about the experience that I choose not write anything.

    However, this post has reminded me this evening why I want to complete the book… why I will complete it. For I truly know the importance of saying what needs to be said.

    Thank you for this encouraging message. You are such a gem for sharing your personal experience with us. Blessings to you.

    1. Hi Deeone! I’m sorry you lost your mom. Cancer sucks! I am so happy, though, (I can’t even tell you how HAPPY! :D) that you had those two weeks and that you spent all that time talking, that there was healing for you. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It’s so much easier in hindsight to see what I should have done, the choices I should’ve made; sadly, I can’t go back and fix any of it. I am so happy, too, that you’re writing a book and that you WILL complete it. Don’t doubt. I know you will finish it.

      1. Thank you for those encouraging words, Shelli! You are an awesome young lady, and I’m so incredibly grateful to have cyberly met you. Blessings. 🙂

  5. This blog post brought back memories of a friend’s death back in 1981. We shared the same birthday, love of scrabble, and obsession with houseplants. He was one of the first people to die of AIDS, back when we really didn’t understand what it was.

    The last time I saw him, I spent the entire time joking about when he’d get out of the hospital and the stupid things we’d do to celebrate his recovery. I was in complete denial about the person who lay dying right in front of me.

    Thirty-one years later, I still regret not speaking from the heart.

    Thanks for this post.

    1. Hi Denise! I’m so sorry about your friend & that you didn’t say the things you needed to say. I remember the last time I saw my dad, too, and we talked about tiling my bathroom, of all things. I was doing it myself & needed advice. I think, scratch that, I know I was in denial, too; I see that from this vantage point a year later. Thanks for sharing your story. 🙂

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this, Shelli. It couldn’t have come easy. And even some of us reading your words think we get it, but we don’t, having never gone through what you have gone through; and know what you know. A friend of mine who I went to school with and currently work with just buried his 18 year old daughter who had respiratory issues her entire life, and was bitten by a spider, apparently. I blog about it this week. I bet he knows exactly what you mean…


    1. Hi Jimmy! It didn’t come easy, made me cry actually. But that was the hardest lesson I ever had to learn, to speak now because you just never know how long you’re going to have with someone. I’m so sorry for your friend; I can’t imagine having to bury my child. Thank you for sharing your thoughts & your blog. 🙂

  7. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday 03-01-2012 « The Author Chronicles

  8. Shelli, I came across this article today, so forgive me for my late condolences on your loss. Last summer I lost my mother, and it was devastating to me. I had been the “lost son” for years and had not kept in contact very much with my parents or my family (I have 9 brothers and sisters). I was off to work one day and the phone rang. In my experience, when the phone rings that early in the morning, it’s never good. I knew in my heart that either my mother or father had passed. Sure enough, one of my brothers called and gave me the bad news. I was in total shock. Of course I went to the funeral, but I was like a stranger to everyone there. Being the youngest of 10 children, it was difficult for me. I had been caught up in my troubles for years. I missed birthdays, Christmases, family reunions … milestone after milestone. You name it, I wasn’t there. I always figured there would be time. There isn’t. There’s *never* enough time. My father is still alive, and while I called often for weeks after the funeral, I have fallen into the habit again of thinking “There’s lots of time.” I could never be more wrong, and your article drove that point home. I will call my father right away. An author myself, I am currently getting off my duff and getting things moving. We simply don’t have the time, and it’s only growing shorter by the day. Thanks for sharing this experience with us. God bless.

    1. Hi David! Thank you for the condolences. I’m sorry you lost your mother and I’m sorry, too, that there was no reconciliation for you before she passed. I am glad, though, that you’re going to call you dad and that you’re going to get working on your next book. Thanks so much for sharing your story. 🙂

  9. How true! I wish we would be aware of the fact that life is short and unpredictable and that we should not have any regrets. My dad too went suddenly and to this date I wish I had talked to him more often. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Hi Rimly! I’m so sorry about your dad. I agree about the regrets, too; they serve no purpose, IMO, other than to steer us to better choices going forward. 🙂

  10. “I decided I was done waiting for what I wanted from my life, when I decided that I was going to make it happen.”
    Can I borrow that Shelli?
    My deepest sympathy for the loss. Life is a constant change…the only thing we can hope for is that we are changing for the best!
    I admire your outlook and perspective…just recently I had affirmed to myself somewhat similar to what you had made yourself to be aware. I had always believed in the healing process of writing…I paint and I write on my Visual Journal, it is a laboratory of my personal experiences where I put all my sentiments.
    It is nice to be reminded, thanks to this article. I will push forward now, since I believe this is heavenly sent to continue what I have been tweaking inside my head these past days.

    1. Hi Fher! Sure you can borrow it. 🙂 Thank you for asking & also for the condolences. You are very right that life is a constant change. I’m so glad you believe in the healing process of writing ~ that’s one of the things I know for sure, writing can heal you, at least it did and does me. I’m so glad, too, that you’re pushing forward. Cheers!

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