As you know, almost all of the songs we write tell stories. We want to share those stories with you. Just as we did for our first two records (see the stories behind the songs on our first CD 13 and the songs on our second CD Again), we’ll post the story behind each song on our new CD now more than ever here for you to read. The plan is to feature one song each week for the next few weeks.
Here is the story behind When we Let Go as related by Allen Kitselman.
The song “When We Let Go”
I’m told I write a lot of songs about death. I have to admit that the people who say this are correct. When We Let Go is the song that started the whole death-song kick.
In 1999, as my Father, Henry Allen Kitselman, Jr., was dying in the Alzheimer’s wing in Winchester, I took a couple weeks off work to be with him as he made his way out of this world. By that time, he was completely unresponsive, so I sat in his room just to be with him.
During those days, I did a lot of thinking about mortality, the arc of our lives, and where our spirits might end up after death. I guess you might say that my mind was drawn to “the big questions.” After a lot of self-reflection and examination of my own beliefs and my life experiences, I came to believe that our spark, or our soul, or whatever you want to call it, persists after death and returns to the Source. Of course, this is an idea incorporated into many religions and given many names.
For my father’s sake, I wished this “return to the Source” to be true. My father was a lifelong Christian, and the idea of salvation was very important to him. He lived a long and productive life. He went through war, suffered tragedy, saw triumph, raised a family, and served his beloved country—a very full life indeed. As he lay there hanging on to the last threads of his mortal life, I decided to tell him directly, “I love you, Dad. I’m very proud of you and all you’ve done for your country and your family. It’s okay to just let go.”
I believe my dad heard me, because at that very moment he opened his eyes, drew in a last breath, and died. That was a moment I will never forget. It is lodged in permanent video somewhere deep in my consciousness. Considered in the rear-view mirror, this was one of the hardest moments of my life, yet I am grateful that I had the opportunity to live it.
I had my guitar with me as I waited with my dad, and over the time I sat with him, a little musical figure appeared out of the ether and began to grow. I was thinking about what I wished for my father as he was dying, and the lyrics started to come—simple but powerful and somehow universal ideas reflecting what I wished for him.
The song came together in that room. It was a gift from the experience of life confronted by the death of a dear, dear loved one.
I played the song for the first time at my father’s memorial service. Since then, I’ve performed it with my oldest friend, Mike Jewell, at about seven or eight other services for friends and loved ones.
When We Let Go has finally made it onto a record. While we were in the studio, we invited Mike to sing his sweet harmony with us, and he obliged.
I hope this song gives solace to many others in their own times of sadness.
As I pen these words, I want the story of this song to honor and memorialize Evie Hansbarger, Clark’s mom who passed away a few short days ago. All of us in the band had the pleasure of getting to know and love Evie who was a pistol and a powerful presence at many of our earliest shows. Evie was a wonderful, loving, matter-of-fact dynamo of a person and will be missed very much by very many.
Our Bitter Liberals love to all of the Hansbargers and other friends of Evie. We feel your loss and are with you.
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