03/27/2013 01:10 pm ET Updated May 27, 2013

Letting Go Of The Rope

I grew up the youngest of three girls. Naturally, we share our family memories, often differently, and when I'm with my sisters, long forgotten remembrances will crop up: My mother hanging the bunch of bananas on a string in her kitchen because when you hang the bananas, they don't bruise as easily. Or the yellow and brown Yuban coffee can filled with bacon grease under the kitchen sink, saved for seasoning when cooking (never refrigerated). Or the indelible two-car caravan we all survived every summer so we could spend a month at the lake, both cars so full we didn't need seatbelts, which was good because we didn't have any.

My dog and I were stuffed way in the back of the Pontiac station wagon. Our collie should have ridden up front because he got carsick, but since no one was else was bothered, he stayed with me. He and I rested uncomfortably on a bright, canary yellow inflatable kayak that my middle sister couldn't live without.

I resented that kayak more than I can say. We owned a shiny new speedboat for water skiing, which we were pulling, slowly, on a trailer, for hundreds of miles. Why did she need that kayak? Not to mention the very sharp, long, paddles. Deep down I knew I was never, ever, gonna get to ride in that kayak. Never. I was way too low on the totem pole.

No matter. I had no worries. My father had bought this beautiful Chris-Craft boat, all wood, varnished and polished with a huge motor hanging off the back. That boat made a wake that churned the navy blue water to white foam. I could sit for hours looking backwards and watching where we had been.

We were all going to learn to water ski. Life jackets, propeller safety, deciding on the
type of ski bar we'd use. My sisters could wear the ski belts my parents had bought but I was too small, so I would still wear my life jacket. We had only fun to look forward to.

Strong swimmers and divers all of us, we loved the water. One after another,
my father put us in the lake with our skis and tow ropes, climbed back in the boat and gently, with my mother driving, the boat would pull us up and the skis would let us skim on the top of the water. My sisters were so beautiful. Graceful and flitting about like Tinkerbells.

I could get up, I just couldn't stay up. Recently, when my middle sister and I
were having a "sister-sister session," (if you have a sister, you know exactly what that means) summer memories came flooding back to me. Excuse the pun. The incredibly clear sound of my father's voice screaming, "Neesey! Let go of the rope!" But, I couldn't let go. My skis were gone. They were miles behind me, yet I was positively sure that at any minute, I'd be able to get back up. Somehow.

I was tired and beat up; slapped by dead fishes by the time my mother would just stop the boat. And my rope would go slack and I'd just be floating. And my father is yelling, "Put your arm up!" in the hopes no other boats would hit me. A skier in the water is supposed to hold up a ski, but I didn't have that option.

I just couldn't let go of the rope. And when my father asked me why, I said, "Daddy, I had to try!"

Last fall, my 5-year-old Bouvier, precious Leo, got sick. The prognosis wasn't good from the start, but I wasn't about to give up. My husband and I did everything we could to learn about the disease. The beautiful, younger women that work with me even jumped in to the "Help Me Save My Dog Parade" that I was leading. As he got thinner and sicker, and the months passed, I still could not give up.

And then in one early morning episode of vomiting and coughing, and me cradling my baby, my dog, out of the darkness came my dear husband's voice, "Neesey, let go of the rope."'

And I finally did.

Denise Vivaldo is the author of eight cookbooks. She is turning her "allegedly" libelous memoir into a novel. And it ain't easy.