Below is a video of an interview I was a part of for HonorBridge. This will be on their website starting 12/06/2022. It is a part of trying to share the donor family’s perspective of organ donation. I was honored that they asked me to share a small part of Lindsay’s story. It has been six years since Lindsay left us, but her legacy is still going strong. Please feel free to watch and share with anyone that may need to hear it. Thank you, Brad,
The very second a love one passes away a pilgrimage begins, a journey, a path, a path known as grief. This is a path of solitude, because no two people grieve the same therefore no path can be shared. This path is yours alone and the direction is yours to choose, but know this, it will fight you, it will beat you, and it will use all of its power to take over of the range of emotions you never knew existed. This path will have its mountain tops but, the majority of the journey will be traveled in the deepest, darkest parts of the valley. There may be days when two paths, by chance, may cross. At this uncommon intersection you take the opportunity to tell your story of loss and grief to someone who, in some unimaginable way, understand the steps you take every day. Steps, that some days seem to take every ounce of energy just to put one foot in front of the other. The opportunity to unload your heart and mind of grief and any regret you have carried thus far. A chance thru human interaction to try and fill that hole that now lives in your heart. A chance to try and help another that is being pulled into the mire of depression or even worse, self-destruction. This path is not a dead end, it does not have a destination, it is an infinite passage of grief. This path does have its sparkles, its glimmers of light in the darkness. These lights are our family, they seem to shine the brightest when we are at our lowest. Although they cannot share this path with us, they cannot shoulder the same grief we bare. They are there with uplifting rays of support, and a love that breaks the shackles that bind our heart, soul and mind from every thinking we will live the life we once did.
Every holiday, every birthday, every special occasion, the path leads in the same direction, your undisturbed footprints are visible from the year before, because like I said, this path is your alone. The same signs are unmistakable every year. Signs put up by people that are unaware of the path being traveled. Signs that are in no way intended to hurt or offend but never the less they are always there. These signs illuminate the path like the ever-glowing neon gas that ignite the streets of Vegas. Signs such as, “I missed you so much”, “So glad we got to see everyone”, “I am so glad we were all able to get together.” “I can’t wait until you get here.” These signs burn through the retina of your eyes and take a direct path to that hole that had healed minutely since the last observance. They begin to eat away at the healing scare tissue to keep that hole, like the path, infinite. When someone makes that statement that ignites the penetrating neon gas, I have to remember that they are traveling a different path. Everyone has the right to miss someone, no matter the path. My son is a young man now living on his own and walking his own path, and I miss him. My wife has three grown children and a grandchild that live in different parts of the country, she misses them. The difference, we can take a path to my son today, we can take a path to my wife’s children today and that feeling of missing that person is subsided for a while. Love your children no matter their age. Miss your loves one no matter the distance. Take the time, make the sacrifice, put forth the effort because you never know when you will have to take that first step on your path.
There will be days on this path when all you want to do is forget. Your brain will be spinning out of control with memories you so badly want to let go. You will want to forget everything about the that day, that moment, the time leading up to when your loved one passed away. You will want to forget the pain, the injury, the agony, the disease, whatever the form of death, that took the life, of the one you loved and care for so dearly. The memories of this day will tear through your brain like a tornado ripping apart your ability to separate the sanity of it all. Time is the one thing the path provides for you, as we all know there is no time limit on grief. Time to realize you do want to forget the why but not the who. No matter the path, the storm, the depth of the valley the memory of the who will always be there. On my personal path I have had to learn to separate the why from the who. I have had to put all of the why in a file and desperately try to delete it while keeping the who alive in my mind’s eye. Time can also be your worst enemy on the path. With every passing moment and every step, time starts to erase the sounds, the sound of laughter, a voice that once filled a room, singing that was never quite in tune. As hard as you try to keep it, the path and time are taking it away. On my personal path time has all but taken the sounds, but the visions are still very clear. I hold dearly to my memories and fight the path every day to keep them. I know that there may come a day when the path and time will win, by taking the last fleeing memories I have left. But there is one place that time and this God forsaken path will never touch, my heart. My heart will always be filled with the love and memories of the one I walk this path for.
I know my path will continue, I know the journey I have before me, I know the love and support I have from my family will sustain me. I also know that one day my path will turn and I will finally see the end, I will see the light that will guide me through the last steps of this grief odyssey. I will see the one thing that has cause me to keep the faith as I climbed every mountain and stumbled through every valley, Lindsay.
It is a fine line we walk as parents who have lost a child, but, are still so blessed, to have children with us. The feeling of a tight rope artist, struggling to hold the balancing pole with equal weight on both ends. Some days, the love for the one you grieve weighs heavy on your heart and pulls you to one side, almost causing you to topple over. While, on that very same day, the love and joy we share with our living child seems to always balance us out. The love and grief for the child lost will never dissipate just like the love and joy for the living child will never dwindle. It seems, there are days, as if the ring master has used his deep bellowing voice to announce your balancing act, and the spotlight of life whirls around landing directly on us. The light blinds our eyes, as does the grief we deal with every day. As we take that first step of faith, blinded with grief, sliding our foot so cautiously out onto the unknown, we feel the pain, the loneliness, and the grief.
Siblings hurt, just as we do. Some feel pain, regret, and guilt that they are here, and their sibling is gone. They possibly feel, if it were them, the parents would not hurt as much. They need to know the hurt would be no different, the grief would not be easier, and the loss would be just as devastating. They have memories, some I am sure, we, as parents know nothing about. They do not need to be reminded when their sister or brother’s birthday was, they do not need to be reminded of the anniversary of their siblings passing. They don’t need to be reminded that this Christmas will be the, ever how many years, since their sibling was here with us. They feel the pain everyday, they know all the special days, they have their own memories, they live everyday with a hole in their heart, just as we do. When we walk that high wire and we feel alone or as if no one else hurts like we do, just turn around, I can almost guarantee you, that sibling will be right behind you, trying to balancing the same grief.
I never realized what an impact these two words would have on my life after Lindsay passed away. I wrestled with them on a daily basis for many months and it is still a daily battle. Two words that are put at the beginning of a sentence to ask a question about something that once was. Before Lindsay passed away people would ask, “Are you Jarrett and Lindsay father?” My response would always be, very proudly, “Yes I am.” After losing Lindsay many people would ask me,”Were you Lindsay’s father?” At that moment it hit me, how do I answer this question? If I say, “Yes I was” it makes it past tense, I was her father yesterday but not today. Almost as if I had sold a car or a house, I was the owner yesterday, but not today. That word makes it all in the past, never to be again, history. I was her father the day she was born and I will be her father until the end of everything that will ever be. Just because she is gone will never change the fact that I am her father. So many times, after a parent looses a child, the words people use mean so much but, they have a totally different meaning when you are grieving. Words spoken that were never meant to cause harm, never meant to be unloving, never meant to offend now hit you like a 10 pound sledgehammer. Most of the time you take the pounding and just smile, because you know in your heart that there was no ill will meant by the person speaking to you. As I have said before a parent that has lost a child lives in different world. They walk in a different lane, they hear with different ears, and their heart will always be sensitive to certain words and phrases, that before their child passed away, meant nothing.
The one thing I have come to realize, I am the proud father of a son who worked very hard to complete his collegiate career and continues to make me proud to be his father. I am also the father of a daughter who left this world way to soon and walks the clouds of heaven with grace and flare. Knowing that I have two children, and will always have two children makes it easy to answer that question with, “Yes I am.”
Thank you son.
Ever since October 28, 1996 there has been a young my man my life, one that I love more than life itself. Over the past five years he has walked across a stage three times and three times he has been acknowledged as a graduate. Someone who has put in the work and has completed all that was required of him that make those walks. He has crossed the finish line victoriously each time, all with a smile on his face. He completed all of this while his parents went through a divorce, his father remarried, his mother remarried, he moved twice and he suffered the tragic loss of his younger sister. I know there are, and will be, students that have been through so much more, but I know all that this young man has gone through. This young man is my son, Jarrett. After fourteen years at Wilmington Christian Academy, two years at Cape Fear Community College and two years at UNCW he is done, finished, ready to take on the world. I know he will do well in the vast array of opportunities available to him because of his education. His bachelor degree is in Liberal Fine Arts Theater Performance. I guess you could say the world is now his stage. He has a tattoo on his arm that says it all, “First Wilmington, then the World.” Am I worried, sure I am, what parent is not worried when their child leaves the safety of the classroom for the millions of uncertainty of the work place especially if that work place happens to become far from home. No matter where the road of life takes him the one thing I hopes he knows, he can always come home.
After all was said and done on Saturday December 14, 2019 and the tassels made their way from on side of the mortar board to the other, it was over, Jarrett was now a college graduate. All the classes, all the studying, all the stress was now over. Not quite sure how he felt but I was one very proud father. As we made our way outside there was a sea of people all looking for the same cap and gown, just different faces. We stood on the steps to gain an advantage in our search, we scanned the mass of people looking for Jarrett. I finally spotted it, the cap and gown I was looking for. He was standing there talking to a good friend of his, Myron. Now, spotting him and getting to him were to totally different acts. I started moving in the direction I last saw him and like Moses parting the Red Sea the people just split. When I got to him I gave him a big hug and said, You did it! and his response will echo in my memory forever. He so humbly and simply said, “Thank you dad.” With those words the emotion sweep over me like a tidal wave, and it was all I could do to reply , “No sir, thank you.” This young man has a heart bigger than Texas. He never ask for anything and is always so appreciative for everything. He has a dream to be a performer, and I hope his dreams come true. He knows this world is not a friendly place and it can continually beat you down, but I know in my heart he will not abandon the dream.
It was Jarrett’s day, his day to shine and he did but the thought is always in the back of your mind, Lindsay. She would have been so proud of her big brother. So happy to see him smile and know what he had accomplished. In my heart I know she was there with us to celebrate Jarrett’s commencement. I remember her telling him, “You need to get a life plan, you need to get it together.” Well Lindsay Lou he did it and I know you are leading the choir in a heavenly hallelujah.
Son, I am your dad and I can only tell you so many times how much I love you and how proud I am of you. No matter how many times you fail, or how high you may climb I will always be here for you. The one thing I never want you to forget, is how privileged I am to be your father . I can never say enough, for all the joy you have brought into my life, “Thank you son.”
Last night, I went to a wedding. Since Lindsay passed away weddings have been, well let’s just say, not easy. They bring up so many, never going to happen, never going to see, never going to do moments. It is always hard for me to watch the bride walk in with her father, arm in arm, with smiles gleaming from the joy of the day. This walk they take encompasses her entire life from the first time her father held her until today, when he will answer that question with, “Her mother and I.” When the music starts and those doors swing open everyone has all eyes on the bride and mine where no different. As beautiful as she was and as happy as I was for her, I had already witnessed the walk I was there to see, her mother.
The ceremony was very sweet, it always is when you see two young people in love and starting their happily ever after. We were able to have a wonderful time talking to all the friends and family of the bride, and the food was great. After we ate and visited with everyone the music picked up and the dancing began. As we sat and watched all the fancy dance moves, I could just imagine Lindsay leading everyone in whatever the latest dance craze was. It was by far the most bitter sweet wedding I have attended to date. If you noticed, earlier I said I was not only there for the bride but for the mother of the bride. You see, when the bride’s mother walked down that aisle, so did Lindsay. When I was able to dance with the bride’s mother, I danced with Lindsay. This mother of the bride was the recipient of one of Lindsay’s kidneys. She will always and forever carry my girl with her. What a blessing to see Laura and Elliot exchange vows, to watch Eric walk his daughter down the isle and to watch Jill and Eric’s son, Matt, walk Jill and Lindsay down the aisle. Last night I was as close as I will ever be to seeing Lindsay walk down a wedding aisle and as close as I will ever be to having our dance.
My dance with Jill.
My dance with Lindsay.
Thank you, Eric, Jill, Laura, Elliot and Matt, for allowing us to be a part of this joyous day.
As I was leaving, I was talking to Eric, the bride’s father, and he introduced me to his mother. He told her, “This is Brad Benton, without him, and his daughter, Jill would not be here.” Could not ask for a better way to end the evening, remembering Lindsay during this beautiful wedding.
Hey Lindsay Girl
Hey Lindsay Girl,
Here we go again, year number three of the day before tomorrow. The day before I watched you laugh like no one was watching, the day before you made laugh the same way. The day before we spent some valuable father/daughter time together, which was a rarity, due to your busy social life. The day you made fun of my old man gang signs, even though I thought, they were somewhat awesome. The day you made my heart so happy when you said, “I am not going to date until I am thirty-five.” The day you lied about all the people at the pool and I didn’t even care. The day I could not believe I was so blessed to have you and Jarrett in my life. Tomorrow, the day I heard your laugh for the last time. The day we spent our last moments together as father and daughter. The day that smile would never be seen again, the day your hair flowed in the wind one last time. The day I heard you say, “Love you too dad” for the final time here on this earth. The day my world came crashing down. The day I walked into an emergency room and felt like I was in a movie, because I could not believe this was happening. The day your mother and I stood in front of a surgeon and listened to him tell us the next 48 hours were crucial to your survival. The day I walked into STICU room number nine and saw all your dreams, all your plans, all your tomorrows fading away.
Tomorrow is a pretty tough day for me Lindsay Lou. I need to hear your laugh, I need to see your smile, I need you to finish teaching me how to “Nea Nea.” I still can’t believe you said I had no rhythm. I need you. So tomorrow, if I talk to you a little more than usual, please don’t roll your eyes, like I have seen so many times before. Cut the old man a break. Tomorrow, I will go to work and I will spend a little more time at that stop sign, I will drive a little slower as I pass that spot, and I will try to make it through the day. When I head home I will turn in to our neighborhood, stop at the entrance and sit in the lanai for a while. I will sit there and go over all the scenario’s that would have prevented my tomorrow from happening. A tomorrow that started a week that crushed my soul. Tomorrow I will think about the next seven days that ended with the worst day of my life, the day you left me. I know not willingly, but so peacefully and a hero to so many.
You will always be my princess without a crown, my cheerleader without monograms, and my little girl sucking her thumb dragging that raggedy pink baby around. As much as I hate tomorrow, tomorrows are all I have to look forward to. Tomorrows gives me one more day with Kelli, one more day to be Jarrett’s dad, one more day to be a son, a brother, a stepdad, and a uncle. All the things that help heal the wound, but will never fill the hole in my heart. Tomorrow puts me one day closer to seeing you one again. Tomorrow, I hope you take a look down and wrap your arms around all of us to ease the heartache of our tomorrow.
Love you girl,
Faith in Faith
When you have lost a child you tend to be drawn to other parents sharing the same heartbreak, and they in return, are drawn to you. You learn quickly to lean on each other for support, guidance, and a understanding ear. Their heart is the only heart that can truly understand what you are going through and the pain of grief you live with everyday. The what if’s, the why’s, the thousands of questions that fill your brain and some days turn it into mush. There are days you begin to doubt your faith. You begin to wonder, “Is what we have here, on earth, all we will ever have?” Days that you think the last time you saw your child’s face will be the last time. I was asked this question today, through Kelli, from a parent that lost her son. “Does Brad ever waiver from his faith that he will see Lindsay again?” I was raised Baptist and to believe that there is a heaven, there is a loving and forgiving God, there is a home waiting for me when my soul leaves this temporary earthly vessel. Now, I am friends with people of many different religions. My wife was raised Catholic, I have friends that are Mormon, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Holiness and nondenominational. We all go to different buildings, we all worship in different ways, we all sing different songs in so many different ways, we all travel a different path. We all have different opinions and different interpretations of what faith means. What I have learned over my many years here on this earth and through the vastly diverse group of people I am honored to call my friends, is that no matter what path of faith we travel, they all lead to the same God.
There is not one soul living on this earth today that can tell me anything different. No one that has died, left this world and came back to say, “It’s not true, don’t believe it, there is nothing after death.” There is only one man that ever walked this earth, that died, was placed in a sealed tomb and three days later arose to live again. The words he spoke are what keep my faith strong, even in the darkest days of grief.
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
So to answer the question, no ma’am. Through belief and understanding grows a faith that exceeds all boundaries. Faith has been the only constant in this roller coaster ride of grief. The faith and belief that when I close my tired eyes for the last time, when the last breath of life leaves my body, the first thing I will see is that gleaming smile and the out stretched arms of my Lindsay Lou.
It has been more than two years and I am still taking baby steps. Small actions that mean so little to others are still life shattering to me. I have yet to begin the daunting task of cleaning out Lindsay’s room. The clothes, the cheer medals, the shoes, the small treasures that sit on her dresser and nightstand. The pictures that hang on every wall, and God only knows what might be under her bed. The contents of her desk, her books, her back pack, her laptop. The Tail and Mane shampoo that still sits on the shelf in her shower. It is so hard to even fathom that thought of donating, giving away, or throwing out even one piece of paper much less a single article of clothing. All that being said Lindsay was an organ donor and she gave the ultimate sacrifice to save and extend the lives of total strangers. She had a plan for her life, she had a direction, a goal and it was to help others. So, after a conversation with Kellie, Lindsay’s mom, we agreed to donate a specific item to a very good cause, “I Support the Girls.” This is a non profit organization that that takes donated bras and distributes them to homeless women and women who are less fortunate. I feel Lindsay would not mind and she would be proud of us for this donation. I feel now that a stranger has a part of what once was Lindsay’s she will watch over them and make sure they are doing okay.
I had another situation over the weekend that threw me back a step or two. One of those situations that takes your breath away, and only you know why. My wife Kelli and I, along with another couple, were in the lobby of a restaurant waiting to be seated when around the corner came Heather, who was Lindsay’s best friend. With her was Logan, Amanda and Brianna, three more very good friends of Lindsay’s from high school. After seeing the last one come around the corner I took a glance back, because in that split second I thought maybe, just maybe. It is times like this that makes my heart drop. I don’t know why I looked for her, but I did. I know in my mind, she is never going to come around the corner of a restaurant with her friends ever again, but my heart still looks, and probably always will. It was so nice to see those young ladies, but what made it even more special was they were happy to see us. We hugged all of their necks and quickly caught up on what was going on in their busy lives. As they were leaving we told them to have fun, behave themselves and what I always told Lindsay, “Make wise choices.” Heather was walking toward the door and she turned to us to said, “Love Ya’ll.” I don’t know if she knows how much that truly means to me. Just the fact that she thought to turn and say it. I try to keep in touch with some of Lindsay’s friends. I enjoy seeing them prosper and grow. It’s as if I am looking to them for some kind of clarity, some sort of identity, a small glimpse of what Lindsay would be doing, where she would be. Heather is a special young woman and is very special to everyone in our family.
A weekend of donations to help strangers, a night of seeing what could have been and a lifetime of baby steps.
Until We Meet Again
I wake up everyday with the realization Lindsay is gone, but there are days when it hits me like a ton of bricks, she is not here, she is gone forever. Not many people will understand that statement, but I am sure those that have lost a child will. It is that split millisecond you forget, or the moment when you think, “Today was a pretty good day, but I will never know what it could have been because you were not here.” I have noticed those days are starting to become more common. Grief is not really defined as an emotion, but all the baggage that comes with it covers every emotion imaginable. It has been almost two and a half years since Lindsay left us way to soon. The weight of grief I feel today is much heavier then a year ago, with no explanation as to why. I don’t know if it is the guilt of trying to be happy again, trying to laugh with out hesitation, trying to live my life without the vision of a white Toyota Corolla sitting crippled on the highway, the same highway, the same spot, I travel every time I leave my home. I can’t explain the change, I can’t voice the feelings, and there is nothing I can do to stop it.
With that being said I have decided to stop posting a blog every week. I am not going to stop writing or blogging, I will post when I feel I have something from my heart to share. Writing has been my outlet for all the pain, grief and heartache that comes when your soul is empty and your heart aches daily from the loss of a child. I just feel I need some time to process whatever is going on in my head and heart.
I have some public speaking coming up and I will continue to write, both of which have been the best outlet for me to handle my grief. Just like I told Lindsay the day she passed away, this is not good-bye, it is just until we meet again.