Question

Question

A few times, over the past weeks, I have had people approach me and ask the same question. “I want to buy your book for someone that has recently lost a child, I was wondering do you think it will make them sad?” This really made me stop and think for a moment before I answered them. To the best of my fifty four year old memory this was my response. “There is nothing in this entire world that can bring more sadness into your life than the loss of a child. Will my book make them sadder, probably, but it will also let them know they are not alone. It may help them understand there is no right or wrong way to grieve. It will hopefully show them that you can take the worst tragedy that could happen to a parent and somehow, someway turn it into a triumph. Turn their nightmare into hope for someone else.” My book is a year of blogs that tell about Lindsay’s accident, the week we spent in the hospital and how I have dealt with the grief that still enters my life everyday. I honestly do not know if it will make another parent that has lost a child sadder than they already are, I can only hope it will help.

Switching gears a little. It’s coming soon, the most loved, hated, bittersweet day of the year for a parent that has lost a child. The day that spreads joy to the world and decks the halls with boughs of holly. The day we celebrate the birth of Christ, the day we join together as a family and reminisce over the past year. This day that brings back smiles and tears. I thank God that I have the family I have, a family that gathers at my home and mentions Lindsay’s name. The worst thing for a parent is for a holiday, a birthday or any special day to pass and no one mention their child’s name. No parent ever wants to think their child has been forgotten. I see all the posts on social media of Christmas trees being put up and decorated so beautifully and I begin to dread putting ours up. It was Lindsay’s favorite thing to do this time of year. I ride down the street in our neighborhood and see all the yard decorations and it reminds me of a time when I loved doing the same. Now I have no desire to put out any yard decorations, it is an internal emotional tug of war that has happened for the past two years on what to do and what not to do. It all boils down to the fact I just cant do it, yet. I hope there comes a day when I am excited about decorating again because I know Lindsay is shaking the heavens stomping her feet screaming down, “Get that tree put up.”

 

A Visit

A Visit

Sometimes I have a strong feeling, a feeling of needing to visit Lindsay.  A pulling to spend time with her, a time of solitude, a time of quietness, a time I can spend with her memory, just me and her. It is a feeling that does not go away until I stop and take the time for a visit.

I have come to realize over the past two years I don’t have to be by her side to do this. I don’t have to sit on her granite memorial bench and look at her bronze marker to be close to her. I know in my heart that the only thing I am visiting is her earthly shell, her earthly body and that is not what made Lindsay, Lindsay. What made Lindsay who she was, was her heart and soul, her attitude, her spirit, her presence, her commanding personality, none of that will ever be locked in a grave. I can walk out on the dock behind the house, where she and I hung lights for Christmas, and say, “Hello girl, I miss ya.” I can stand on top of Grandfather Mountain and remember when her and Jarrett would run across the bridge and I would say, “Be careful, stay together,” because I was too scared to cross that mile high swinger. If I needed to, I could stand in the middle of ten thousand people massed together in Time Square or sit in the quaint little restaurant called Bea at 403 W. 43rd Street and say, “Remember when? Remember when we were here? I sure wish you were here with me again.” I can sit in Magnolia’s Restaurant in Charleston, SC and hear someone order a grilled meatloaf sandwich or stand on Main Street USA in front of Cinderella’s Castle and remember the enchantment that filled a little girls eyes. From the boardwalk and jetty rocks of Long Beach NY to the boardwalk and jetty rocks of Carolina Beach NC she left a memory for me to treasure. So many memories buried like priceless pirates jewels on the shores of Long Beach NY to the Outer Banks, Wrightsville and Carolina Beaches, to the sandy shores of Holden and Myrtle Beach. From the North Carolina and Tennessee mountain tops to the streets of Disney, Brooklyn and home sweet home she left so many memories. She left so many places for me to visit her, so many places for me to feel her by my side, so many places for me to smile, so many thoughts to ponder. Where I feel closest to my Lindsay Lou is where ever I am. Wherever I am standing, wherever I am sitting, riding, flying. walking or driving. I know in my heart, she will always be with me just as I had planned to be with her, when I was gone from this earth, and she was fifty four years old planning a short, quiet, visit with her dad.

Thanksgiving Reunion.

Thanksgiving Reunion.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. I hope your day was filled with family, friends and good food. As this long weekend winds down I have had time to reflect and remember the many Thanksgiving’s past. I have been so fortunate to have spent every Thanksgiving, as far back as I can remember, with family and friends. Although, throughout the many Thanksgivings I have been a part of, the faces have changed several times. As I do, most Thanksgiving mornings, I wake up thinking, “What do I have to be thankful for?” This year, for some reason, I thought about the recipients of Lindsay’s organs. I thought, “Do they ever wonder who the donor was that gave them the ultimate gift. Are they thankful for her sacrifice and generosity. Do they find, just a moment in all the chaos, to look up and say thank you to someone they never meet. Are they thankful for all the Thanksgiving’s yet to come. All the Thanksgivings they will get to spend with family and friends all because a seventeen year old girl, unbeknownst to her, was thinking about them.”

No matter how hard you try to put the grief and sadness on the back burner for just one day, it always creeps in. Every time you start counting how many chairs or plates you are going to need, it is always there. Whether it is a family picture taken before everyone starts to go their separate ways. A picture you look at later and smile but in the same moment think, “Lindsay would have been standing right there.” A family breakfast with everyone sitting around a table full of smiles and laughter and think, “Lindsay would have loved this.” I see all the family pictures on social media, I see all the smiles, I see all the love and I think, “Why me, why us, why Lindsay?” It happens every year around this time and it lasts for months. I want to be so happy, but a part of me is gray, is sad, is heavy and burdened. I feel selfish, and in my head I feel I have every right to be, but in my heart I know I shouldn’t be. Life after losing a child is never easy, but the holidays always seem to be the hardest. Below is a posting I placed on social media my first Thanksgiving without Lindsay. 

“As I woke up this morning my first thought was, “What do I have to be thankful for?” A very hard question for a father that has recently lost a child to answer. As I began to really think about it there are so many things I am thankful for. The 17 years, 10 months and 28 days I was the father of two of the most wonderful people I know, my children. Today is the second of many firsts to come. My first Thanksgiving without my daughter, Lindsay. I am thankful for the 17 Thanksgivings we did have together, and I am thankful for many Thanksgivings yet to come with Jarrett. I am thankful for all the memories, pictures and stories the past years have provided. As this day begins, I know it is not going to be easy, but with the love and support of family and friends I will make it.
My wife, Kelli, what can I say. She is the most supportive, loving, caring, giving person I know. She is my other half, my partner, my best friend, my everything and I love her with everything in me. Without her there is no me.
Jarrett, it makes me happy inside just to see his face. He is my dose of joy every time I see him. He is who he is and I love him for it. I am thankful for the man he is growing into. I love you son.
My grandparents who gave me my parents, without them me or my brother would not be here. I am thankful my parents raised us to be strong, caring and most importantly honest men. My brother, what a great friend, husband and father he has been to his family. My in laws, Kathy and Charlie, without them I would not be the happy man I am today, they gave me Kelli. Ron and Linda, without them I would have never had Jarrett and Lindsay. Jarrett and Lindsay’s mom, Kellie, for bringing them into this world and the job we did raising them. For Kellie’s husband Brett for being a good man and stepfather.
Lindsay’s cousins, friends, and teachers, I am so thankful for all of you. You were there for Lindsay and continue to be there for me and the rest of my family throughout this most difficult time. I am thankful for your love, support and caring.
I could go on forever for the many blessings I have had and continue to have in my life, but the fact remains my Lindsay Lou will not be here. She blessed my life in so many ways, she made me laugh, cry and be a better father. She knew what buttons to push and when she had met her match. She was my girl and I miss her dearly. I am thankful I was lucky enough to be her dad.
The one thing I am most thankful for is that one day I know I will see those steely eyes again, watch that long flowing hair move with the breeze again, hear that room shattering laugh again, and hold the hand of my daughter once again. I am a very thankful father, husband, son, brother, uncle, and friend.” 

Only a parent that has lost a child can understand the tug of war you deal with during the holidays. Grief pulling in one direction and happiness pulling in the other. I read this several times a year to remind myself how thankful I should be, how lucky I am to have such a loving and supportive family, and to remind myself of a very special Thanksgiving reunion yet to come.  

One More Time

One More Time

The Lindsay M. Benton Volleyball Tournament Round Two was a great success!!! Thank you to everyone that came out to start the day in sweatshirts and ended the day in T-shirts and shorts. It was a beautiful day to enjoy family and friends. As always the entire staff at Captn’ Bill’s Backyard Grill were the most gracious hosts. Thank you John and Erin and your incredible team for always making us feel like family, for your attentiveness, your infectious smiles and the best hugs ever. Thank you for running both tournaments to perfection and thank you for always making us feel like we know what we are doing. We are already looking forward to next year. Please take a moment and enjoy the slide show (with pictures from both events) below.

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 The foundation works very hard to get sponsors, donations, raffle prizes, t-shirts, swag bags and teams to come out and play. Our tournament in September was a success as far as the raffle, 50/50 tickets sales and donations went. A lot of money was raised for the charities we support, but not a lot of teams showed up to play in the actual tournament. You see, it was one week after one of the worst hurricanes to ever cross the shores of the Atlantic spiked our corner of the world. Volleyball, as you could imagine, was not priority one for a lot of people in our area. Once again Capt’n Bills came through in the clutch, stepped up and gave us Round Two. The generosity that comes from Capt’n Bills is amazing. Our main goal for this tournament is the same for all foundations, to raise funds and awareness, but it is also our goal to provide a fun filled day for everyone. We want to provide an atmosphere that will make each person that attends want to come back the next year. To have a day that promotes family, fun and unity. It makes my heart happy when people come up to me, shake my hand and tell me,”Thank you for a great day!” “Thank you for having this tournament, we had a blast!” “We will be back next year.” As a foundation we will be winding down for the holidays, but will be back in full swing January 2019. Thank you to every sponsor, every person that donated, every person that volunteered, every person that said a prayer, every person that played, and everyone that supports the Lindsay M. Benton Foundation. See you at Capt’n Bills in September 2019.

On another topic, my book, “A Father’s Grief, A year of Healing” is doing well. It will never make the New York Times Best Seller List, nor will it ever make a million dollars, but it is doing what it was intended to do, help people. This book has been a bittersweet journey for me and that is just what I tell people when they say, “It is hard for me to say this to you, but I truly enjoyed your book.” The tears I have seen when a mother or father that has lost a child hugs my neck and tells me “Thank you.” When a wife of many years loses her best friend, her husband, tells me how the book taught her that all grief is different. That she now knows that there are different levels of grief. That you don’t have to lose a child to appreciated the book. When a husband reads the book and hands it to his wife and says, “This will change the way you look at time and make you aware of how precious every moment is.” When parents that have not lost a child tell you they have healed relationships, broken down walls and have a new outlook on life. A line, from the books forward, written by Dr. Huffmon reads, I wish the two of us had gone through our lives blissfully never knowing each other. If we had never met, this book would have never been written and Brad would have his beloved Lindsay Lou.” That line says it all for me, I wish this blog, the book, the foundation, the fundraiser, the book signings, the speaking engagements, the scholarship, the funds at Lindsay’s school never existed. Because if they were not here, Lindsay would be. For the past two years this has been so hard for me to say, everything happens for a reason, when in my heart there is no reason. I have to believe that everything that has come from Lindsay passing, has been for just that, a reason. Since changing the past is not a possibility, THIS is what I, we, must do to continue to honor Lindsay and to be able to move forward without allowing the grief to consume our lives. Thank you for helping us move forward.  I would give it all up, give it all back and give it all away just to hear her say one more time, “Love ya Dad.” 

The Grip of Grief.

The Grip of Grief.

There are not many days like today, but when there is, I feel lost. I feel numb. I feel nothing. Most days start out the same and I make it through with no real problems. Then there are days I hear something, I see something, someone says something and then grief clamps down on my mind, my heart and my soul. It is as if I am driving on a long desolate highway at that time of day when dusk is surrendering its crowing moment of light to the darkness of an endless night. There are no exits, no side roads, no intersections, no escape from grief’s grip. The last road sign that had any direction just told me, “Buckle up, its going to be a long bumpy ride.”

Days when I see other people smile, that smile is like a dagger piercing the deepest recesses of my heart. I hear laughter and it is like an ice pick being shoved slowly into my ear. I see other people happy, and it hurts. I hear other people complain about the minuscule problems that plague their life and it makes me angry. I want to be alone, but tremble at the thought of solitude. When being alone is in the middle of a crowded room because I feel like an outsider, a mutant, I feel like I am the only one. I feel like I am the only one that has ever lost a child, the only one that knows the hurt, the pain, the gut wrenching grief of loss. I feel like there is no life line, no flotation device, no rescue team to pull me out of the clutches of grief. This can last an hour, or sometimes, a day or two. I just want to forget it ever happened, I want to forget the accident, I want to completely erase August 28, 2016 from my memory, but then the guilt sets in. How could I, how could I even entertain the thought of forgetting? What a horrible person, a horrible father for even having these thoughts. Now the other can of worms has been opened, guilt. The other side of the double edge sword of grief. Throw in a little regret and you have the true trifecta of this day. Grief, guilt and regret. Three strikes and you are out. That defeated feeling as you take that walk from home plate back to the dugout, a feeling of failure, a feeling of loneliness, the feeling of not contributing. In the midst of all these feelings I try to smile, I try to be happy, I try to be the guy I am every other day that grief does not have its claws wrapped around my every thought. I try to make a joke, or be sarcastic and the thought of how dare you enjoy life enters my brain. There is nothing that can snap me out of feeling like this, not a word, a gesture, the millions of quotes about grief. This feeling is like a virus that has to run its course and then it is gone. Gone until the next grief season. There is no grief shot, no Z-PAC, no antibiotic for these feelings. There is only time, and time is no real cure. There truly are no words to describe this feeling, no diagram to break down the emotions and no EKG to show the pain in my heart.

What I have come to realize, on these days, when grief has such a strong grip on my heart is I am not thinking about Lindsay. I am not thinking about who she was or what she accomplished. I am not thinking about her laugh, her eyes, or her hair. I am not thinking about that voice that had so many levels. I am not thinking about all the good we are doing through the foundation, all the lives that have been able to touch, all the lives that have been changed because of the legacy of a seventeen year old young woman.  I am thinking she is not upstairs, she is not at her mom’s and will not be home later, she is not at school or cheer practice. She is not at dinner with a friend, she is not at the pool or the gym. She is not, will not, and will never again be here.

What I have to start doing is remembering everyday she will always be in my heart, she will always be in my memories and she will always be there to help me release the grip of grief.

Mane ‘n Tail

Mane ‘n Tail

 It has been more than two years since Lindsay passed away and I miss her more than ever, I guess that will never change. I miss her smile, I miss her laugh and I miss her very opinionated views on life. I miss the silence but knowing she was upstairs, I miss the “Hey ya’ll” before anything important she had to say. I still come home and look up at her bedroom window and say, “Hey girl, I’m home.” There are not many days that pass that I don’t have some sort of conversation with her. I hope that never stops. It still amazes me the random places and things that bring her back to the forefront of my mind, places and things that I would never expect.

This, after two plus years, is a perfect example.

I have no real idea how it happened, but I found myself in a beauty supply store last night. As Kelli looked for some fantastic super-duper shampoo I was wandering around and scanning the shelves for something that would remotely pique my interest. One thing I know for sure, there is not a lot of product in a beauty supply store that a man just cannot live without. I had traveled the blow dryer and curling iron aisle, made my way down the hair color aisle and was heading to that super-duper shampoo section. As I strolled down and looked at the numerous bottles for dry hair, for damaged hair, for colored hair, for frizzy hair, a very familiar sight caught my eye. It was a large white plastic bottle with blue and yellow colors and two horses running free. It was “Mane ‘n Tail” shampoo. It took me back to the first time I ever saw one of these bottles. It took me back and it made me smile. I could not believe that Lindsay actually spent money on horse shampoo for her hair, her naturally curly hair that she would throw a shout out to every now and then.  I can remember the conversation like it was yesterday and her justifying the purchase. She began to explain how this shampoo would make her hair stronger and fuller, how It would make it shine and never be dry. Being a dad all I could hear was the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher in my ear as she continued to pass on the knowledge she had accrued about how this horse shampoo would enhance her already beautiful hair. My main concern as a dad was how much it cost. I don’t remember the cost of the shampoo the day Lindsay brought it home and I don’t remember what it was last night, but that plastic bottle sitting on the bottom self of a random beauty supply store was priceless as far as I am concerned. Priceless, because of the enduring memory it unknowingly shared with me. What I would not give to buy her an entire case of it today.

 Life is a gift we get to open every day, and every day it is a surprise. The contents of the gift, the surprise of what we unwrap is up to us to decide. We can open today’s gift with the thankfulness and anticipation of happiness or we can open today’s gift with bitterness and animosity, the choice is always ours to make. I choose to do all I can to be happy, to enjoy every moment I can, to help others through my own personal journey of grief, to love my family, to remember Lindsay and keep looking for those memories, keep looking for those random moments in time that make me smile. 

The Right Thing.

The Right Thing.

On Friday, October 19th, a very special event happened at Wilmington Christian Academy. It was one of the triumph’s that have come from our tragedy.  One of those days when you feel good again, a day when you know you are doing the right thing. A day when the tears that fall from your eyes meet the corner of a smile because you can literally see the joy in someone else’s heart for what you have done.

This day began more than six months ago when the Lindsay M. Benton Foundation was in the planning stages for it’s annual volleyball tournament at Catp’n Bill’s. Little did we know that on the day we planned the volleyball tournament we would have a very unwanted visitor to the coast of North Carolina the weekend prior, hurricane Florence. What could have been a very bad day turned into a very good day for all the charities the foundation is involved with. We only had 6 teams register for the tournament but we had a very good turn out and everyone there bought raffle tickets, 50/50 tickets, LMBF merchandise and just donated because they felt the need to. This year, the tournament was on Lindsay birthday, September 29th, so we knew in our hearts it was going to be a good day no matter what. One of the charities the foundation supports is “Patriots for Pink.” This is usually a week long fundraiser at Wilmington Christian Academy in which the student body adopts someone that has been diagnosed with breast cancer. For an entire week they raise money for the newly adopted member of the Patriot Nation. The school works along side a wonderful organization, Going Beyond the Pink, created by Joy Wade in 2017. Not only does Going Beyond the Pink financially assist throughout the process of treatment, they are there before to educate women and men, and they are there after the war has been won with continued support. The schools week long fund raiser was spoiled by of course, hurricane Florence. A few of the buildings on campus were no match for Florence’s driving winds and rain and sustained quite a bit of damage.  In true WCA fashion, they did not let this set back stop them from doing what the Patriot Nation does, they persevered, they trusted God and they made it happen. Wilmington Christians week of games, T-shirt sales, theme days and candy sales had been condensed into just one day, just a few hours. This relentless student body and staff set out to do all they could to compress one week into a single soccer game. We were invited to present a donation from the Lindsay M. Benton Foundation at halftime for Patriots for Pink. When we arrived it was a sea of pink. There were pink T-shirts, pink hair, pink faces, and of course the familiar pink ribbons. Soon after we arrived we met with Mrs. Bordeaux, from WCA, and with Joy Wade to discuss how and when we would present the check. As we were talking a very young lady began to walk toward us, with her dog by her side. Joy spoke up and said. “This is Kim J and Alex. She is what today is all about.” As we met Kim and began to hear her story I was amazed at her smile, and her attitude toward life and this horrible disease. When we, as a foundation, present a donation we use a large check so we can write out who the donation is going to. Believe me it is very hard to walk around hundreds of people carrying this check and trying to keep the amount hidden. As halftime of the soccer game approached we made our way to sidelines close to mid-field. We continued to talk to Kim about her journey through this disease, I kept noticing one thing, she never stopped smiling. As the game clocked ticked down to zero we made our way onto the field along with 98 very young cheerleaders that had attended cheer camp at WCA that week. Mrs. Bordeaux took the microphone and began to tell everyone in attendance why we were all standing together. She told the large crowd about Kim and her fight and she told everyone about Lindsay and the foundation that bares her name. Next Joy Wade told what Going Beyond the Pink is all about, and then she turned to us to present the donation. As Kellie, Lindsay’s mom, and I turned the check around and held it for everyone to see every face began to light up with surprise. Not only were we there holding that check, but every single person that bought a raffle ticket, every sponsor, everyone that gave their time and money, everyone that bought a LMBF T-shirt or hat was there through their wonderful donations. Because of all the love and support we received this year the Lindsay M. Benton Foundation was able to present a check for $5,000.00 to this amazing young lady through Patriots in Pink. Kim J was still smiling and turned to me to say, “That is wonderful for the foundation and all the other patients.” I replied ” Ma’am this is all for you.” She still looked a little confused and still did not grasp that this entire day was for her. She did not know the check we were presenting, the T-shirt sales, the money taken up at the gate and all the other donations were for her. Joy turned to Kim and told her “All of this is for you Kim. You will not have to worry about paying your rent for a while, you will not have to worry if you have enough money for gas. You don’t have to stress about finances for a while, you can concentrate on healing.” After that statement, it sunk in, Kim J finally realized today was all about her. You could see the joy in her face, you could see the stress leave her body and you could see the tears begin to flow from her eyes. I know in my heart the school made the right choice by picking this humble young woman for its adopted patient this year. God bless you Kim J, continue smiling and continue fighting like a girl. Continue fighting each battle so in the end you can win the war.

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Shanda Bordeaux, Brad Benton, Kellie Ekstrom, Kim James, Joy Wade

 

This did not end the day for me personally. Remember the 98 very young cheerleaders that took the field at halftime? Well, along with these very young ladies were the Lady Patriot Cheer Squad. They, along with Coach Rickard, had been working with these young girls and now they were all on their knees leading these ladies in the cheers they had learned. As I sat watching all the parents, every one of them smiling as they waved to there little one’s, all could see was Lindsay. I could remember watching her sit on her knees leading the little ones. I can remember how she would smile as she worked with these aspiring future Lady Patriots. It brought a smile to my face, but it also brought a tear to my eye. As I sat and watched all the cheerleaders I took a peek to the heavens and gave Lindsay a quick wink because I knew she was right there watching every move they made. I hope she enjoyed watching and I hope she is proud of each of us for carrying on her name and her legacy.

I get asked questions all the time about Lindsay, starting a fund for cheer and art at WCA, starting a scholarship, starting the foundation, writing a blog, and now having a published book. There seems to always be, somewhere in the conversation, this common question, “Do you regret starting any of this? It has to make it difficult keeping Lindsay, and her passing at the forefront of your life on a daily basis?” The answer is always the same, “Absolutely not.” The reason why, because it is truly days like October 19, 2018 that make me know in the deepest part of my heart and soul that we are, doing the right thing.