A Note from Fatty: This is the latest post in my effort to tell the story of Susan’s fight with cancer. Eventually, this will be part of my next book, Fight Like Susan.
When Susan came home from the hospital, she needed rest. The problem was, our home was not exactly a restful place. We had four children: 10 and 8 year-old boys, twin two-year-old girls. I had an old job I was wrapping up, along with a new job to get ready for.
We needed to get the house ready to sell. We needed to start looking for a new home. We needed to find an oncologist in Washington, so Susan could start chemo pretty much as soon as we got there.
Luckily for us, we had good neighbors — people who were ready, willing, and able to jump in and help.
Unluckily for these good neighbors, I was an unappreciative jerk.
There were always friends of Susan at our house. One would be taking care of Susan. One would be helping with the twins. One would be making or bringing food over.
I would avoid them all, hiding in my office. Pretending that I had other stuff to do. Pretending I was working, even after I had pretty much transferred my duties over to the guy who’d be taking over for me.
Not meeting people’s eyes when I saw them in the house.
And not thanking people for taking the time to come over and help.
What Is My Problem?
I knew our family needed help; we had too much going on for me to take care of alone — and Susan couldn’t / shouldn’t do much. But I felt so many negative things about the people who were there, helping.
I felt ashamed for making Susan move away from friends and family, when she clearly needed that help and support.
I felt embarrassed for the state of the house: it wasn’t just messy; it was dirty. I remember one person chasing dust bunnies across the floor as she tried to get the floor in order, and how humiliated I felt that there was cleaning up of this magnitude to do. Having neighbors clean up after my family’s mess felt like an indictment of my parenting and partnering skills.
I felt intruded upon; with neighbors constantly in the house and around Susan, I felt like I hardly ever had time to talk with her in private.
And I was scared. Scared to move. Scared that I wasn’t ready or good enough for the responsibility I was taking at a new company.
And to be honest, I was so wrapped up in my own anxiety and selfishness and embarrassment, I didn’t even wonder how Susan was feeling about this time.
Like most people, I don’t see usually see myself as the villain in my own personal story. But on the day the moving van arrived and the professional movers broke down, packaged, and loaded everything we owned over an afternoon, I felt like I was the bad guy, pure and simple. Susan sick and weak and about to embark on a difficult course of treatment. The boys both crying, about to leave the only house they had any memory of.
And me, the cause of it all, not able or willing to express gratitude to the people who were helping us.
I was miserable. Perfectly.
Then I left them all. In order to save money, I drove one of the cars out to Washington, with my friend Kenny driving the other. Susan and the kids would fly over the next day, with my sister Lori helping.
I remember climbing into the car to start the long drive, leaving Susan and the kids to themselves for their last day at home.
I remember feeling so relieved to know that I would have a whole day to myself. Just driving, alone with my thoughts.
I remember feeling ashamed to be grateful for this time alone.
I look back now to how I felt then, and my now-self feels sorry for my then-self. I was a young (early thirties!) guy in a ridiculously difficult situation. I’m actually pretty impressed that I held up at all, under the circumstances.
Eventually, I would learn to accept kindness and help whenever it was offered, by whomever offered it. Eventually, I would even learn to ask for help.
But not yet.