Now Let Go


Dad’s Story Part 5

About eight years ago I went with my church to a weekend retreat in the mountains with a bunch of friends.  Dad and Debbie were also there.  It was a weekend of fun, relaxation, and growth.  We attended services with speakers who spiritually encouraged us and spent most of our free time laughing with our friends.  There were many activities to choose from too.  A girlfriend and I decided we were brave enough to attempt the ropes course.  For those unfamiliar with this, a ropes course is a series of physical challenges where you are harnessed and attached to ropes on pulleys, to keep you safe, as you climb up different obstacles.  We did a rock wall first, it was pretty easy considering my lack of athletic abilities.  Another test was a ledge you just ran towards and jumped off…of course I avoided splatting on the ground because I was attached to the ropes and had someone on the other end making sure I was safe.  I chose to go off backwards. Big mistake.  I felt like Scar from the Lion King as he fell to his death near the end of the movie.  I was a bit shaken, but still felt a bit empowered…mainly because I was braver than some of the other people watching who decided to only observe.  One of those people was my  dad.  I’m not sure when he showed up and how much he had already taken in…he did this often while I was growing up. He’d show up at school on a day that wasn’t his “day” (7th grade attitude ended this little tradition…another story for another time.) or he’d just appear in the wee hours of the morning  to see me off at the airport as I was about to embark on another adventure.  I loved, loved, loved this.  {Well, with the exception of that junior high parent  faux pas.} I loved this because it was his way of giving me my wings.  It was his way of showing me he was there to watch me go…to support me In these small steps towards the different types of independence that I craved.  This particular day, up in the mountain tops of California, my dad was there to watch me and push me towards the ability to have faith, to trust and to let go.

The final obstacle in the ropes course was called “The Pamper Pole”…I’m guessing because there might have been the need for Pampers for few sad souls.  {Thank goodness I put on my big-girl-panties that morning.}  The Pamper Pole: a wooden telephone pole that’s  10 inches in diameter and 87 feet high {seemingly…in reality it was about 25 feet}.  It’s a four-part challenge.

#1. Climb up the pole…like a monkey climbing a coconut tree.  To make things easier some sweet island native put little pegs on it to grasp on to.

#2. Pull yourself up to a standing position once you reach the top.  This is not as easy as it sounds.  Basically you’re squeezing your feet onto a dinner plate without holding on to anything…going from a squatting position as you balance and force yourself into the standing position.

Don’t look down.

#3. Now that you’ve got your footing and are perched on top of a perfectly safe and sturdy 10 inch diameter /25 foot tall telephone pole those bastards holding the ropes have the nerve to invite you to jump and grasp a trapeze hanging from heaven.  Yeah.  Go for it.

And finally,

#4.  If you’re talented enough to make it this far and are swinging from the treetops,like Tarzan at church camp, you have one last death-defying act to perform…LET GO.

Looking at the top of the pole as the instructor buckled me into the safety harness I thought to myself,

“I’ll just climb up to the top {like a monkey…I love monkeys.} , take in the view of the mountains spread out in front of me then shimmy  back on down.”

Well, that instructor {coughcoughbitchcough} wouldn’t have it.  See, she had control.  I was rigged up with ropes and pulleys…kind of like a puppet. She was the master.  As soon as I said, “ OK, I’m climbing down now.” She tightened the rope. I couldn’t move.


This is not funny.

I’m coming down. I cant do this.”  I raised my voice. {Never had any intention of actually standing on the top of the pole let alone jump to the trapeze.} “Nope. Everyone has to finish.” Dead serious. No emotion.  There was never any mention of having to complete an obstacle when I signed up.  I was pretty sure the bitch was making it up as she went along. {Alright, in all reality, she was not even close to being a bitch.  At the time, in my head though, I was hoping one of those woodpeckers I could hear in the distance would come and peck her eyes out.}


Well, I wasn’t going anywhere so I figured I should at least try to stand on the damn pole.

As I struggled to pull my skinny butt up into a standing position I heard a familiar voice. “Come on J-…You can do it.  Don’t look down though!”  Eighty seven feet below was my dad.  Smirking at me.

I get a lump in my throat now thinking about it.  I got that same feeling in the core of me that I did when he told me I looked nice that day in the hospital.  I couldn’t help but be aware of the confidence he had in me.  Yeah…I know…it was just a silly ropes course activity at a family mountain retreat…and I was 29 years old…big deal right?  Yeah. It was.  As I stood up suddenly I was 92 feet 3 inches tall.  I was queen of the world! My dad was beaming.  Woooohooo!


{that’s how you spell that noise a record makes when it’s abruptly stopped}

“Now jump to the trapeze, Janelle.” Non-emotional rope holding instructor said.

“No. Its OK. I’ll just climb down.”

I tried.

The rope tightened.  Once again I was ensnared. Sigh.

I must have stood up there in the pine trees for a good 10 minutes.  Every one below trying to get me to jump out to the trapeze swing hanging 31 feet away…..But I only heard my dad.  He knew what to say. “Hey, J! Jump like you’re jumping out of a plane with a parachute on.  Keaton {my oldest son who was obsessed with skydiving}  will be so impressed by his mama!!!”

And off I went. I actually surprised everyone,including myself, and found myself dangling like a circus act high above the nets. But without the nets.  My grip was so tight I could feel blisters forming.

Swinging from the trapeze, I could hear my dad laughing…..

“Hahahahah! NOW LET GO!!!”



In the ICU, my dad was hooked up to monitors  and machines.   When I saw my dad after the first surgery I couldn’t believe how much older he suddenly appeared. But this day…the first time I saw him following the second surgery knocked my socks off  {had I been actually wearing them.  It was, after all August and 109*}  I think his hair turned grayer.  He seemed to have shrunk down to his high school weight.  His once Coppertone tan had faded.

There was a tube down his throat.

He had his own nurse. There was  a continuous parade of doctors and respiratory therapists.   The window ledge was filled with plants,balloons and cards sent by well wishers.  We all struggled with these.  We knew that he was much-loved by his fans but we also knew that he would never be getting well.

Everything in the ICU is calm.  The lights seemed dimmer.  Unlike the recovery floor, there was little hustle and bustle.  It was all very quiet. So much is said in the eyes of those who are there…and not a word need be spoken.  It was a place where the strings of hope are held on to tightly.

There was a two visitor rule in the intensive care unit.  We would take turns seeing Dad, each with a partner while the others remained in the hallway staring at each other. Pretending we were OK.  Eventually they gave us a special family lounge that we all crammed into.

Dad came in and out of consciousness.  Heavy pain meds and sedatives were given to him to keep him  in a dreamlike state. Something he fought.  The nurses said he should have been completely knocked out.  But he wasn’t   He knew what was going on around him.  His eyes gave him away.  He still had that twinkle.  Although he was not able to speak because of the tube he used his non verbal  skills to show us he was happy to see us, that he loved us, that he was in pain, that he needed something. It was an all day game of charades.  He did try writing messages to us with a pen and paper but he had lost most of his fine motor skills and only became agitated at his inability to form letters.  It looked like the writings of a preschooler.

There was a moment he made direct eye contact with me and I knew he was not just in pain from the cancer, his heart was breaking.  In that split second I knew that him watching his children, his wife, his mother, was unbelievably worse than the physical pain of the intruder lurking in his gut.  He was completely helpless. Suddenly, it was him on that 87 foot tall Pamper Pole and it was me looking up telling him, without a word but only a look, that he could do this.  Everything would be OK. He taught us well……….Now let go.


Unless you’ve been through a trauma like this its really hard to fathom what happened in that moment.  I wanted my dad to be miraculously healed.  I’m wanted him to jump up and yell, “Psych!!! Gottcha!”  That wasn’t reality though.  Reality was my dad was about to die.  He was suffering mainly because we were suffering.  The physical and emotional pain was unbearable.  It was time to unwrap our fingers from that trapeze swing and trust that someone would be there to catch us.  Or at least break the fall.


One afternoon, just a day or so after being contained on the ICU floor, my step-mom and I were waiting our turn to go in and hang out with dad.  Mike, my brother, was in there by himself.  Mike, nearly ten years my junior reminds me so much of our father.  Their voices, their sense of humor, their tenderness.  They had an upfront and unfiltered way of communicating.  It was no surprise that it was Mike  our dad told his final wishes to.

Deb and I stood in the hall chatting about some of the technical and practical aspects of having a terminally ill family member  when Mike literally flew out of the ICU door.  Although he was wearing a button up and tie he looked completely disheveled.  He had only been in there 10 minutes or so.  But within those minutes it all took a mighty sharp turn.  As tears streamed down his face, Mike told us what Dad had just communicated to him.

And I wasn’t a bit surprised.

A few minutes after entering the room, and some small talk….or talk from Mike to Dad to fill the empty silence…Dad looked up at my brother and tugged on the tube connected to the ventilator.  At first Mike was a little confused.  As Dad tugged more on it Mike began to understand. “You want that out, Dad?” Dad nodded his head.  “Are you sure?” Dad nodded his head. “You know what will happen if it’s taken out, right?” Dad nodded. “ You know you will die, right?” Dad nodded.

“ OK, Dad.  I will take care of it.”

Now, don’t quote me on all of this word for word…as I’m not quoting my brother word for word.  This is just my interpretation of what I can remember in those intensely emotional moments.  I may be a bit off but I’m pretty sure I got the main points of the conversation down.  My dad, as well as my brother, had no problem being straight out…to the point.  They didn’t mess around.  It wasn’t shocking or questionable that Mike asked our dad if he knew removing the ventilator would kill him.

This is exactly why Dad picked Mike to take on this burden. This burden of telling us what he wanted.  This burden of making that choice that Dad was really no longer allowed to make.  This burden of following through.

Because he knew Mike would.


As soon as we all pulled ourselves together we made phone calls and alerted doctors.  We knew that it wouldn’t be and issue of IF…just WHEN.  A bunch of us decided we needed to find a place other than the hospital hallway to discuss this, so of course, we chose Denny’s.  Before heading over I popped in to see my dad who was peacefully sleeping. I kissed him and told him that we were all going to go to dinner.  I whispered in his ear that I would return no matter the time to tell him good night.  His eyes fluttered a bit, but he didn’t wake.

It was very late when I returned.  Almost midnight.  The hospital had an eerie silence to it. When I entered his room Dad was awake.  He was waiting for me.  He motioned for the pad and paper .  As he struggled to write something on the blank page I patiently waited.  Not much ink made it to the paper, just mostly on his other hand.  So childlike.  So sweet.  I told him not to worry, I knew that he loved us and that we loved him.  {I was assuming he was trying to write I love you for some reason.} He dropped the pen and looked right at me.  I could see in his eyes that he was extremely serious.  A different kind of twinkle.  One he wishes he didn’t have to show me but he knew that he needed to….That I needed to know from him what he wanted…..Looking up at me he lifted his right hand up….making the motion of scissors…..then he took the scissors to the ventilator tube.

My dad fell into a deep serene sleep before I could even begin to wrap my mind around what he just asked me to do.

Now let go.



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