Writing Group – Letting Go, Holding On

Most of my writing time the last couple of weeks has been dedicated to my poetry class, but I did manage to write a piece for the monthly church writing group. This month’s prompt was “Letting Go, Holding on.” Interesting topic for us older types. Here’s what I shared:

Note: These events occurred more than a decade ago as I actively avoided discussing my current life.

Letting Go, Holding On and The Struggle Between The Two – In Three Parts

It was on the Kaweah river when I had three seconds to choose.  White water wasn’t new to me.  I’d done many rafting trips and this was just another class IV+ river to conquer, another picture to hang on my office wall.  We had put on all the safety gear – wetsuit, helmet, life jacket.  The safety talk told us that on this trip we had safety kayakers who would run the rapid before us and wait in the calm water to pickup anyone who might fall out of a raft. 

My place was always left middle, right behind John in the front left and next to Dave on the right.  Pat rounded out our team on front right. We were strong, knew each other’s moves and felt invincible.  The river was frothy, rocky and cold as our guide said, “12 hours ago this was snow – you do the math.”

We pushed off from the bank and were in the rapids in seconds.  A short time later, four, maybe five minutes in we were pushed left, the guide called “hard left, back right” and I leaned forward to paddle.  Instead I found myself pushed into the air and my paddle didn’t find water.  A second that seemed like an hour passed and I realized I was on my back in the water with just my right leg holding onto the raft.  The pressure of the current forced my head under water as pain started to build in my knee.

It’s amazing to me how fast you can make a decision when the need arises.  The math in my head calculated that I had a better chance swimming than trying to pull my body back into the raft with one knee.  I let go.

The world shrank to the sound of water, the push of current and deep cold as my mostly dry wetsuit filled with ice water.  Self rescue instructions fill my head – face downstream, keep your legs up, hold on to your paddle, swim to an eddy …  I couldn’t do any of them.  The current was too strong and I couldn’t turn my body.  The white water made it hard to get a breath. I just hoped I’d make it to the pool they said was at the end of this stretch. 

Cold, hypothermia, does strange things to the brain and body.  You lose any sense of time, get tunnel vision and have trouble moving your arms and legs.  There comes a point when you just don’t fight anymore.  That was the moment when a kayak appeared in front of me and I heard someone yell, “Grab the kayak.”  I think I did, I don’t really know because the next thing I was aware of was being on my back in a raft and looking up at a blue sky.

My friends tell me that I was in the water for three or four minutes and after they had lifted me into the raft, the guide asked me if I was okay.  Apparently I answered, “No.”

I only rafted a couple of times after that, eventually deciding not to do another trip.  I’d had my fun, and my body was showing signs of not keeping up with the action.  It was time to let go.

— — —

It had been a stressful day and now the surgeon pulled me into a hallway to discuss my father’s condition.  Father called me earlier saying he was having abdominal pains and could I take him to the urgent care clinic.  At the VA, a nurse-practitioner examined him, ordered tests and called for a resident.  When the resident doctor arrived, father threw up.  Housekeeping was called and as the nurses cleaned dad up, a young, tired and overworked surgeon pulled my into the hall and said, “I need to talk to you.”

The situation didn’t look good.  The tests showed that his gallbladder was inflamed and had to come out, but …

Father wasn’t in good health then, his medical condition would take me many minutes to recite: Heart bypass surgery, high blood pressure, stokes, many strokes.  Due to the cognitive losses of the strokes, it was my name on his advanced directive as decision maker.

The surgeon suspected bad things, more than just a gallbladder and they wouldn’t normally give a stoke patient general anesthesia because … well, the surgeon said there was only a 50/50 chance he’d live and a high possibility they’d trigger another stroke.  The doctor held the copy of the advanced directive I’d given the nurse and basically said, “So what do you think? Do I operate or should we talk about the options?”

I asked a few clarifying questions and fought with myself, constantly asking myself, “How do you make that choice.”

Finally I asked, “Are you ready to operate now?”

The surgeon was and his team was setting up the operating room.  I took the directive from his hand.  I don’t recall my words, but it was something like, “He’ll take 50/50.  Where’s the waiting room?”

Surgery lasted five hours. Father was in intensive care for a week and in a ward for two more weeks before I could drive him home.  He and I held on to another good four years of life and Saturday lunches.


My mother was 79 when the oncologist called me to say, “pancreatic cancer and it’s spread to the liver.”  He also introduced me to the term, “palliative care.”

Immediately my brothers and I stopped thinking about her 80th birthday.  We were told she had a few months so we started to grab at other things – we could take her to Santa Cruz one last time, there was a nice garden where we could take her to at the hospice – we’d hold onto what life remained.

I should mention here that my mother was a devout lifelong Christian.  There were no doubts in her mind. She knew where she was going.  It turned out that she didn’t have months, but rather weeks.  I had to let go of plans for last outings or even pushing her in a wheelchair to the garden.

She was in pain and the drugs didn’t do enough.  One day I was standing by her bed as she slept.  She woke a bit and clearly was in pain so I asked, “What can I do?”

Her reply, “Send me to Jesus.”

A few days later, I got the call that she’d let go of this life and I knew that strength of her belief had transported her to whatever is beyond this life.

About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I worked in the high tech world doing software release engineering and am now retired. Then I got prostate cancer. Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
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18 Responses to Writing Group – Letting Go, Holding On

  1. Franknbean says:

    Agreed, you’ve become a good writer Mr Andrew.
    Making medical decisions on behalf of your parents is not an enviable predicament. The class 4 rapids episode and ensuing change in your practice of Christian faith was interesting. Injuries close calls to death is a wake-up call for many. Mine was an automobile roll/flip over accident at age 22 (46 years ago). It makes us consider our Salvation indeed.

    You have lived some journeys my virtual friend. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful writing. I loved it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Andrew, I have to agree with one of your commenters — this is one of the best written posts you’ve shared with us. The most important aspect for any storyteller is to tell the story in such a way that the listeners or readers feel like they are right there with you. And you succeeded for sure! Whether we’re holding on or letting go – we have to make the right decision. You made the right one in writing these examples.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Dave says:

    I was glued to your every word about the rafting adventure. I thought your split-second decision would be a more pedestrian “go this way or that?” Whew – I don’t blame you for giving rafting a rest. I imagine you made a bargain with God somewhere in the midst, whether you remember it or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • At some point while I was in the water I remember thinking, “If I die, at least they can say I die while I was doing something I loved.” and my church attendance did become more regular after the trip.


  5. jfwknifton says:

    That’s the best writing you’ve ever done, in my opinion. Beautiful and you should be proud.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Both holding on and letting go can be heart-rending decisions. Well-written, Andrew. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Did you visit some of this in your book of poems? Writing down details helps work through them.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. SusanR says:

    Difficult decisions, for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Poignant. Perfect for your church group.

    Liked by 1 person

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