The Pressure to Thank Everyone

When I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, fibrosarcoma, the outpouring of support from family, dear friends, friends-of-friends, and even complete strangers was overwhelming.

The Challenge to Thank Everyone

I so genuinely wanted to express my appreciation for each gesture.  And yet the juggle of daily cancer treatment, a 7-month-old baby, and two careers (all while living out-of-state for medical care), left me without time or energy to pen individual notes to each thoughtful person.

I think people would be surprised to know how much anxiety exists around the topic of “thank you” notes in times of suffering.  While well-wishers have sincerest intentions when delivering flowers or a meal, sometimes that very gesture, in fact, creates another perceived “task” for the ill or grieving.

Easing the Pressure

The turning point in my own cancer treatment came when I designed a set of pre-printed acknowledgement cards onto which I could quickly pen a single, personal line like, “The flowers are gorgeous!”  I no longer fretted about my ever-growing list of notes to write and I stopped staring at mounds of blank stationery wondering how I could possibly gear up to write about the cancer again.  It was a game-changer.

Ways to Help

These days, I give pre-printed acknowledgement cards instead of casseroles.  Here are some other ways to help someone balance social graces with the burden of a health crisis:

  • Create a list of the gifts that someone has received. Just as you’d help a bride or mother-to-be by recording her gifts at a shower, scan the house or hospital room to get names from floral arrangements and other gifts onto a list.  Even if the family doesn’t have the capacity to write notes, they’ll appreciate having a record.
  • Help a loved one think of alternative ways to acknowledge gifts – for example, draft an email template that can be easily personalized and sent repeatedly. Or have the CaringBridge author include grateful “shout outs” in journal updates such as “Mary was delighted today with the delicious meal provided by the Thomas family and the gorgeous flowers from the Jones family.”
  • Give gifts with a thank you note “pass.” I like to tape a note to my gift that says something along the lines of, “I already know you appreciate this.  Please get another 30 minutes of sleep instead of writing me a thank you note.”
  • Deliver meals in disposable containers or ones labeled, “no need to return.” Not having to clean a dish and return it, is one less task to do.
  • Give stationery and stamps as a gift. Petite, flat cards (vs. foldovers) allow for shorter notes.  And for higher volumes, pre-printed acknowledgement cards can be a lifesaver.

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Yalonda Kirkland Nov 26, 2014 11:07am
I'm finding myself in this very position. I attribute my survival, good spirits and recovery to the amazing support and uplifting gestures of kindness from my support network. However, the task of trying to thank each and every person is overwhelming. Isn't that something, I'm overwhelmed by love and support? It seems so inappropriate to articulate that thanking everyone, returning every phone call, accepting every visit can be exhausting. Yet, it's so good to be loved.