How Not to Say Thanks

02.27.2012 | 4:19 pm

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.


  1. Comment by Darien | 02.27.2012 | 4:32 pm

    So sorry.

  2. Comment by Mike C. | 02.27.2012 | 4:43 pm

    Thanks so much for your candidness in telling this story. i wasn’t aware of your blog years ago when you where going through all of this. Personally, I’m honored to watch you relive the experience as you write these entries now.

    The blog didn’t exist until months after Susan finished chemo, so I’m telling this part of the story for the first time. – FC

  3. Comment by ScottR | 02.27.2012 | 4:54 pm

    This hits amazingly close to home with things I’ve gone through in the last year with my vent dependent son. (He turns 1 on 3/18)

  4. Comment by Clydesteve | 02.27.2012 | 4:58 pm

    Fatty, I appreciate you the most when you are searingly honest – Don’t let it go to your head! – Even though you are more entertaining when you are being silly and making stuff up.

    I guess I am saying I appreciate you more as a person in spite of the fact that you have just ambushed my emotions.

  5. Comment by AKChick55 | 02.27.2012 | 5:19 pm

    I wonder how many others there are out there who have been caregivers that have felt the same things? I’ll bet you were not alone and I’ll bet there are others struggling like this. I know I recently spent 2 months caring for my mom (NOTHING like this, not even close) as she went through a nearly fatal case of aspiration pneumonia and her long recover process (she is only 65 but is considered a senior and she also has mental health issues that complicated her recovery). I felt alone and stressed and tired. We made a few ER visits. I missed out on all kinds of fun outdoor activities for Oct/Nov/Dec and part of Jan. I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I survived it. I can’t begin to imagine what it is like for someone whose loved one is diagnosed with cancer and has to care for them AND work. I do have an appreciation for some of it though. I had a great support network between my husband, my uncle, a long term care coordinator, and a few others. They kept me sane long enough for us to get personal care attendant hours for my mom. I did thank people but felt insanely guilty when after two months, I spent a weekend at my mother-in-law’s cabin – I had one entire day off (heaven!) and felt bad having my aunt and uncle caretake. I thanked them all the time. I would have never given it a second thought until reading your post. “Knowing” you now, it’s hard to believe that you didn’t thank people. I really love your posts and I’m grateful you are sharing bits and pieces before the book comes out. I can’t wait to read it!

  6. Comment by Cat_Rancher | 02.27.2012 | 5:34 pm

    I think it’s very admirable that you are being so honest. There isn’t enough of that around, I think. So many people think that it’s all sunshine and roses when you have such an amazing support system, and it is an amazing thing to have- but yes, there is the very human emotion of being overwhelmed. Feeling that way doesn’t make us horrible people- it just makes us people. This is going to be an unbelievably powerful book!

  7. Comment by Jenni | 02.27.2012 | 5:37 pm

    Good stuff. Very good stuff.

  8. Comment by RodNeeds2Ride | 02.27.2012 | 5:37 pm

    Amazing…thanks for sharing!

  9. Comment by Scot | 02.27.2012 | 5:54 pm

    I know the guilt feeling. When my mom’s cancer returned a year and a half ago I had her move in with us so she could get better care, and I could help her out. As she worsened, I became the home nurse, chauffer, etc. all while working 40 hours a week. This put a strain on the marriage for sure as I felt guilty if my wife and I went out for a dinner or a movie- felt as though I was abandoning my mom. Felt bad that we were trying to be normal even though the situation around us was far from it. I was bitter in that I felt I was losing out on time with my family and time on my bike- trying to train for Leadville but cutting rides short to go home and make sure everything was ok. Now I realize how selfish that was. I still have plenty of time to spend with my wife and daughter, (and bike), but the time I had helping my mom was in hindsight very rewarding.

  10. Comment by Mike Z. | 02.27.2012 | 5:59 pm

    #occupy Fatty’s house! I knew it all started in Utah.

  11. Comment by Jeff R | 02.27.2012 | 5:59 pm

    I’ve been following your blog since just before Susan passed away. I’ve loved it all: the camaraderie of Team Fatty, the fundraisers for Livestrong and other worthy causes, the contests, the fake news articles, and the cycling related posts, but it was Susan’s story that drew me here and kept me here as a regular reader. I too lost my first wife to cancer when we were both in our early thirties, and although our stories are different we went through a lot of the same things, including a job move to a differnt city away from family and support. I remember also feeling intruded upon by those who were trying to help us, feeling like I never had any time alone with my wife, wondering if I was being an adequate husband and caregiver, and feeling guilty about enjoying some downtime to myself when I had it. Most of all, I remember feeling so alone with all of these feelings, so seeing you express your ideas and emotions through these experiences makes me feel better and less alone, even more than 15 years later. So glad you are sharing all of this with us and I’m certain that your experiences and lessons learned will make it easier for others in similar situations to understand and cope. Jeff R

  12. Comment by Spiff | 02.27.2012 | 6:07 pm

    Reading stories like that will make it easier for me to not be perfect when my time comes.
    Thank you.

  13. Comment by Nurse Betsy | 02.27.2012 | 6:30 pm

    Fatty, if it makes you feel any better….I’m sure all the people who were helping out, were happy to do so. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you say thanks, they just want to help. You were under a lot of stress and strain. It was a lot to deal with. I say this as an oncology nurse. I see it everyday. Deep breath and let it go……..They know they were appreciated.

  14. Comment by cece | 02.27.2012 | 6:55 pm

    Very poignant! Thank you for your honesty!

  15. Comment by Tracy Wilkins | 02.27.2012 | 7:34 pm

    Learning to accept and even seek help is something that doesn’t come easy to any of us, especially us guys. It’s a real sign of strength when we get to the point we can do that.

    Thanks for sharing.

  16. Comment by will | 02.27.2012 | 9:23 pm

    As one who has had to deal with a wife fighting and surviving breast cancer; I can totally relate. Let me just say that with all you’re doing now in terms of giving back and charity, one could say that you’re saying “Thanks” in spades. Good on you!!

  17. Comment by Dave T | 02.27.2012 | 9:37 pm

    Fatty, I related to today’s post. After Rob’s car accident, he was in a nearby trauma center for ten days. While still in a coma, he was transferred to ICU in Kaiser. The day he was transferred, several friends and family members stopped by the hospital to check in and cheer us up. They thought it was good news that Rob was stable and they were concerned about the whole family.

    Amy tried to be nice and sit in the lobby with the first visitor. But, we couldn’t focus on anything. We were just trying to get through the next half hour until it was our turn to sit in Rob’s room with him, hoping this time he’d open his eyes. Frankly the stress was so draining that I didn’t want to spend the extra energy to be around even well meaning people.

    When we left Rob’s room and saw familiar people walking towards us, Amy cracked. We got to the lobby and she yelled, “Everyone get out! I can’t take it.” We were trying to survive. We literally had nothing left for anyone else. Not surprisingly, people were understanding and forgiving.

    I think it speaks to the kind of person you are that you regret not thanking people. Because it’s not the person you are under normal circumstances. The question is, if you knew someone now, going through what you went through with Susan, would you expect or want them to thank you for a gesture of kindness?

  18. Comment by TomInCO | 02.27.2012 | 10:46 pm

    Thanks for sharing. It is amazing to see what your true friends will do for you in a time of need. And you will be surprised by how many people care about you and your family. Having been on the other side of the fence so far, I know that I am nothing but glad to help out, and will forgive most any behavior from the recipient. Because to a certain extent we are just thankful it is not us that is in the line of fire. One day it will be my turn, and I know there will be good people lined up to help, no matter how well or poorly I behave.

  19. Comment by Days | 02.28.2012 | 5:03 am

    WOW. That was hard to read, it must have been very hard to right. In my life which clearly has been blessed to date, I have nothing to compare.

    Now, you’re a clever writer… “What Is My Problem”. Were you trying for an acronym there, or did it just happen?

  20. Comment by Cyclin' Missy | 02.28.2012 | 9:51 am

    Thank you for being so honest. So many people go through similar feelings. It will be beyond value to hear from someone who’s been there.

  21. Comment by Fat Monte | 02.28.2012 | 10:47 am

    Honesty Mastermind.

    True stories of faith, regret, hope, despair, appreciation and understanding.

  22. Comment by Doug (Way upstate NY) | 02.28.2012 | 10:52 am

    This post helps me to remember to be kind and patient with people. I have no idea what they may be going through or where they may be at.

  23. Comment by Kari | 02.28.2012 | 10:52 am

    Having been the one in need of such caregivers, a child of a caregiver at other times in my life (my mother did it for my Grandmother and now all of her siblings are jumping in for the Step-Grandmother too) and working as a caregiver now, I understand fully the guilt of not being able to do everything perfect, to do more, to say more, to be more in every way to everybody. Do not beat yourself up over it. Sometimes the things that most need saying are the hardest ones to say. I think the post you wrote about it now will mean much, much more to all of those people who gave so selflessly to you then than any thanks you could possibly have mumbled between rushing back and forth packing, working, taking care of kids and of Susan, and everything else at the time.

  24. Comment by Angie | 02.28.2012 | 12:00 pm

    Thank you for being so honest. It makes me feel like I don’t have to be perfect all the time. I get selfish about things that cut into my riding time and then I feel guilty because what it always boils down to it this: People who care about me want to spend time with me, and I have to make choices about what’s important in life. I have had a couple scares where something serious came along; my Dad’s cancer and my husband’s father’s death and his Mom’s subsequent health problems. Each time, as the reality of the demands on my personal time became apparent, the resentment would build inside me. I couldn’t wait for life to return to normal so I could do what I want to do. I’d keep the feelings to myself because I felt bad for feeling them. It’s good to know that other people have a hard time dealing with life’s difficulties too.

  25. Comment by Leslie | 02.28.2012 | 2:18 pm

    Very powerful, very honest. Most of us do not enjoy asking for or accepting help, even though so many people want–and need–to help during a tough time. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  26. Comment by Skippy | 02.28.2012 | 2:46 pm

    Nurse Betsy says it all ! Those people were enjoying showing their love for your family ! Jeff R ’s story proves that you were acting in a perfectly normal way AND if any of those neighbours read this they will be telling you they had not expected a pat on the back .

    Glad i never had the responsibilities you had to face in the most difficult of circumstances !

  27. Comment by Ronna | 02.28.2012 | 6:17 pm

    This is why it will be so easy to buy the next book. Thank you for making it so real.

  28. Comment by MAUREEN | 02.28.2012 | 7:29 pm

    Thanks for sharing this very difficult situation. It seems cancer and illness have hit my circle of friends quite hard. Your posts are really valuable. I hope I can step up more effectively and more often. My wishes for you are peace and love –for all of your bravery, honesty and courage. Your family is truly blessed with you:)

  29. Comment by Michael | 02.28.2012 | 9:32 pm

    Makes me feel better about being a jerk in his early 30s. You’re a great writer, Elden. Thanks for sharing.

  30. Comment by Rob W | 02.29.2012 | 10:20 am

    Thanks! I have never met you, and yet feel close to you. You are a great writer and really draw people in with your story.


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