Johanna Benthal at NYU Langone Sept. 3, as the remnants of Hurricane Ida lashed the city. Courtesy photo: Eileen Benthal

Let go and let God.

I had to Google that sentence and my name to be sure that I haven’t written too much about this in the past nine years since I’ve been writing this column for RiverheadLOCAL.

I believe this will be the third time I’ve written on the topic and I’m hoping it’s the charm.

Maybe now that I’m just about two years shy of the 60-year mark, I have finally found the secret to following this sage advice?

Probably. Not.

Letting go and letting God has been a recurrent theme in my life for a very long time — maybe even as long as I can remember.

The church was the first place I learned to grow closer to God by listening to His word and experiencing a personal presence in the silence.

Still, one of the most profound experiences of God’s presence as a child happened on “mystery rides” with my Dad.

When Dad announced we were going on a mystery ride, my sisters and I would excitedly pile into the car.

The rides were usually on Sundays and always involved some kind of drive to see something beautiful in nature — like one of the local parks covered with daffodils in full bloom. We always ended the drives with a treat like ice cream or a candy bar.

But the one mystery ride that best lived up to the essence of the title was when Dad would take us to a little brick chapel hidden away in the woods in Guilford, Connecticut, just north of the Long Island Sound.

The chapel is home to a group of cloistered nuns who have given their lives to God through prayer and work, in the monastic tradition. The community and the monastery are still active today (

We visited the monastery fairly often. While the promise of ice cream at the end of the mystery ride may have been what got me into the car with Dad, it was the mystery of God’s presence at the monastery and in the sisters’ lives of prayer which indelibly marked my soul for God.

An intangible mystery of God became tangible in the prayerful silence of that monastery.

Years later, I returned to the monastery on silent retreat to celebrate my 21st birthday and to share my news with the sisters that I was recently engaged to be married.

I was so drawn to the sisters’ life of prayer that I wanted to be sure marriage was the right choice for me.

While there were no lightning bolt moments of revelation and no Reverend Mother singing to me to “climb every mountain,” I left the monastery assured that the presence of God would go with me into marriage and motherhood.

I had to let go and let God lead me in the full life ahead.

There is nothing quite like family life to teach us that we can’t control others — we only can control our response and learn to “let go and let God.”

While experiences of marriage and family these past 35 years have been a laboratory of love to discover the art of letting go, none has been more heart-wrenching and life-altering than raising a child with special needs.

Last month, Jo turned 25 years old. It was a milestone for all of us.

Twenty-five years ago when my husband and I first kissed our newborn baby on the head as she was being wheeled into the operating room for her first brain surgery, if I knew I would be doing the same thing — only different — 25 years later, I think I would have become frozen in fear.

But the thing about letting go of life as we planned and letting God work His plan in our lives is that all our trials and difficulties can be used for good.

Only two weeks past Jo’s quarter-century milestone, we were back where we started in a hospital room preparing for another brain surgery.

As I sat for hours in MRIs and diagnostic tests, memories of the past 25 years came flooding back like they were yesterday.

My brain seemed to open this catalogue of memories — bringing them to the forefront of my consciousness and asking me to let them go and let God heal and strengthen me for the days ahead.

All these memories kept coming up and as they did I had a choice: to hold onto them or let them go and surrender it all into the Lord’s hands.

The night before Jo’s last surgery, we were on the 17th floor of the new hospital at NYU in Manhattan when all of a sudden, everyone’s phones went off on alerts.

The NWS was alerting us to tornadoes and flooding in the area as the residual effects of Hurricane Ida hit NYC.

As one of my friend’s wrote on social media, only in 2021 could you get a PSA telling you to get to high ground and hide in your basement all in the same message.

I looked out at the nurse’s station and down the hall. No one was evacuating the hospital.

We were certainly high enough to avoid the floods and because the hospital is a new building in Manhattan, I assumed it had a high wind rating.

Still, I gathered a few things and put them in my daughter’s wheelchair in case we had to evacuate quickly.

The storm raged on as I watched waves appear on the Hudson River and cars on the FDR struggling to drive through pelting winds and torrential rains.

Then a moth caught my eye.

The moth was clinging to our window outside. As the high winds and torrential rains tugged at its wings, her feet remained planted on our window.

I wondered what this moth thought of the sudden squall and if it missed instinctive warnings to take cover.

I put my hand up on the window to try and comfort the insect and she became my focus for the next 10 minutes of this crazy storm.

As Jo slept in her hospital bed, and cars were stopped in the wind and rain on the FDR, I focused my attention on this little moth that was hanging on the side of high rise building in Midtown Manhattan.

Subways were flooding and some streets in Manhattan became rivers. And here was this moth, clinging to our hospital room window while the storm raged on.

With my hand on the window, I imagined that I was touching the poor moth’s wings as I whispered, “You have to let go and let God take care of you in this storm.”

Within moments, almost as if she felt my touch and heard my whisper, my winged friend released her grip and was carried off by the wind.

For the next few moments I wondered where she would go and how an insect survives in a hurricane.

Sadly, 13 people lost their lives that night in NYC trying to battle this historic storm. Did God abandon them? I believe He brought them into an eternal life full of hope.

Jo slept all night until the nurse came in at 6 a.m. to wake us, announcing the early arrival of the operating room transfer team.

I made them all wait outside the door while I helped Jo wash up and get changed.

Years ago I would have hurried Jo in a panic. But the wisdom of years and respect for my daughter and her special needs had taught me that advocating for the little things, like privacy and time, make a big difference.

Finally, as I kissed Jo goodbye and placed the sign of the cross on her uneven head, I heard my advice to my moth friend whispering in my head.

“You have to let go and let God take care of you in this storm.”

Unlike the poor people who lost their lives in that storm, Jo made it through another surgery and just the other day we traveled back to Manhattan to have the staples in her head removed.

We weathered another storm — much like the ones we got through 25 years ago.

When the surgeries reached 100, I stopped counting the number because at this point it really doesn’t matter except for one thing: to let go and let God.

He will get us through the storms.

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.

Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen