Your NPR news source

Let Go of the Wheel

SHARE Let Go of the Wheel

When I was 16, with my learner's permit in my pocket, my father took me out for a spin on a frosty Cleveland day.

Proudly perched behind the wheel of our 1976 silver Ford Granada, I delivered us all the way to the Methodist Church parking lot behind our house, just as my father instructed. I wanted to go further. But my dad put his foot down…on the gas pedal, in fact, flooring it, and sending the car into a tailspin. As we whipped past telephone poles and parked cars, I panicked.

"What do I do! What do I do!" I screamed.


"Just take your hands off the wheel, and everything will be alright," he said. I did, and it was. Our car was fine, Old Lady Doremus' car was fine, and the telephone poles were still erect.

"You have to let go, especially when things seem out of control," Dad said. "Fighting what's coming will only make things worse." My father's take on auto safety seemed clear, but maybe I didn't entirely understand it.

Twenty-three years later, I was driving my 6-year-old son, Nick, from our house in Chicago back home to Ohio. It was a snowy Christmas Eve, and Santa had made an early deposit in my station wagon. Cars filled with kids and presents jammed the lanes around me. I hit a patch of ice and spun out. The panic returned.

What do I do? What do I do?

I let go. As we whirled past SUVs and mini-vans, I screamed. Nick laughed. We crashed. Timing, it turns out, is everything. The car took some damage, but overall, Nick and I were fine. Still, my father drove halfway to Toledo to escort us home. Seems he was holding on tight.

Two years ago, the doctor ordered hospice for my husband, dying from a rare disease. No one knew how much longer we‘d have him--weeks, months. My head spinning, I rested on my father's chest. How much longer? How much more suffering? What do I do? What do I do.

"You can't make it not come, and you can't make it come quicker," my Dad said. "Let go of the wheel. He'll take us when he's ready, when we're ready. Trust Doug."


The odd calm of acceptance came over the six months until Doug determined it was time. After a beautiful love scene with our son, Doug took his last breath as I sang to him on a grey November day. From Doug, I saw how letting go takes so much more strength than holding on.

This letting go business is hard. So, my father had to teach me one more lesson.

Dad couldn't make it to Doug's memorial service. He'd just started chemo. But his goal was to be with us when we followed Doug's wishes to scatter ashes then go to a Cubs game. As winter melted into spring, we realized dad was too weak to make it.

In Ohio on that May morning, dad asked my sister Bev what day it was. "It's game day, Dad."

In Chicago that afternoon, just before Nick and I headed to Wrigley Field, Bev called. "Dad's changed. Come soon."

After my flight, after the game, after Doug's ashes, Dad opened his eyes, smiled, and waved, just for me. And the next morning, he was gone.

So, maybe now, I kinda get it. To let go, you must trust in the timing that comes from love … and everything, everyone will be alright.

More From This Show