Earlier that week I remembered walking out of the waiting room and there stood a young lady with tears rolling down her checks, her mother was standing behind her. The young ladies hands where shaking and her voice was trembling. She stood there until I said “Hello Sweetie, are you okay?” She looked at me and said “Are you Lindsay’s dad?” and of course I said, “Yes, I am.” She began to cry so I just hugged her and told her everything was going to be okay. When she caught her breath, she said “My name is Annarose and I am a friend of Lindsay’s.” She continued to speak as the tears kept flowing. “Lindsay and I were really close a year ago and then something happened, gossip, girls being girls and we grew apart. This year we talked it all out and began to be close friends again, but things were still not the same.” Her eyes were filled with such sorrow and regret, too young to be going through such heart wrenching emotions. I tried to be strong and hold back my own tears to tell her “Thank you so much for coming by to see us and to tell me your story.” I could see her mother as I gave Annarose another hug, tears were filling her eyes, as she was hurting for her daughter, as we were for Lindsay. Annarose stood back and asked me “Would you please tell Lindsay I was here and I love her.” I told her that I told Lindsay every time a friend came by, but I would be sure to say a special hello for her. That put a small smile on her face, she said “Thank you so much Mr. Benton, we will be praying for Lindsay and your family.” As Annarose and her mother, Eileen, slowly walked away arm in arm, I thought what a sweet young lady and how lucky I was that she was one of Lindsay’s friends.
Saturday August 27, 2016, our today, started like every day we had spent in the hospital that week. We woke up and thanked God Lindsay had made it one more day. Just like every morning, we went in to visit Lindsay before going to the cafeteria to try and eat something. I always felt guilty every time I ate while Lindsay laid in her room unable to. After we buzzed the desk and said the password “Beyoncé” we headed back to see our girl. In case you were wondering why Beyoncé, she was Lindsay’s favorite singer so the password could really be nothing else. We walked in her room and were expecting the same uplifting words and smiles from her nurses we had seen and heard all week, but they weren’t there. Elizabeth had a very serious look on her face and tears in her eyes. I asked her what was wrong and she would not look at me, so I asked her again. You have to understand, we had developed a very special relationship with all of Lindsay nurses and they had become part of our family, and they still are today. When Elizabeth looked up I knew it was not going to be good news. With tears running down her checks she began to explain what was going on. After she finished telling us about how Lindsay’s condition had changed I said to her, “So, Lindsay is telling us it is time.” You see Lindsay had to have to last word in every situation, and she knew that me and her mother would never be able to make that most devastating decision, so she did it for us. Lindsay’s broken body was letting go, and she was telling us the only way she could, that it was time. After our visit with Lindsay and some time with immediate family, we met Rodney with Carolina Donor Services. All week, God had been with us and placed every person that was caring for Lindsay right where they needed to be and Rodney was no different. Rodney was, and is, an amazing man of compassion and faith. He helped us to understand every step of the donor process and he did it with such a caring heart. You see, our daughter was going to fulfill her dream of saving lives, because she had the foresight at the age of sixteen to become an organ donor. I have never been prouder of Lindsay for choosing to do that one small selfless act, she checked the box. The rest of that day we spent time with Lindsay and our family. We reminisced, told stories, we laughed and we cried, I cried more than I ever have in my entire life.
We made our way, through the hospital, along with a few friends, doctors and nurses to the flag pole at the front of the Hospital. The group quickly grew as Rodney led a beautiful flag raising ceremony to honor Lindsay and her choice to be an Organ Donor. The Donate Life flag flew high for twenty-four hours letting everyone know there was a donor saving lives. Such an emotional and heartbreaking moment, but a very proud moment for me. She was giving life, hope and happiness to complete strangers through her own tragedy. As that long day of living through every human emotion you could possibly fathom came to an end, we told Lindsay Lou good night for the last time. There were very few words spoken as we all tried to sleep. I can’t speak for every one spending the night but for me it was a horrifying night. When I did close my eyes all I saw in my mind was Jarrett and Lindsay at a much younger age. The age when a parent begins dreaming of what life has in store for their children. The age of innocence, and the age of dreams. This was the longest, yet shortest night of my life.
As the dawn broke on what was our tomorrow, I was awake to see the rays of the sun start to ease through the window. All I was thinking about was Lindsay, and Jarrett. Jarrett was heavy on my mind, he was losing his sister and would never have what I have had all these years with my brother. I sat there looking out of the window with the most gut wrenching feeling in the world. Today, through her own loss of life Lindsay would help save and extend the life of others. It was the most vast array of emotions I have ever been through. Sadness, loss, heart break, emptiness, loneliness and the list goes on. We tried to make the day as routine as all the days before, but there was nothing routine about this day. The day started with our morning visit with Lindsay, there were so many tears, so many memories and so many dreams lost. We met with Rodney that morning to discuss the, I hate using this word but there really is no other, itinerary for the day. We met with Dr. Huffmon, Elizabeth, palliative care, and the Chaplin. As the day moved forward like so many days before, my thoughts drifted to the millions of people in this world that had no idea what we were going through, they were carrying on with their lives as if nothing was wrong. If Lindsay was not in the accident, if she was not laying in hospital bed, I would have been doing the same thing. Never thinking that some where in this world a mom and dad was saying good-bye to their child. I stood in Lindsay’s room and looked at all the photo’s of her and her friends that were on the walls, the banner that her school sent signed by all her classmates, the CD player was playing very softly as Queen B sang to her, there was a bible that was so lovingly given to us, a medallion that a friend had been given when his daughter was in the hospital, and the cutest little monkey hanging from an IV stand with the word “Hang In There” printed on its shirt. So many things that showed that so many people loved this young lady. The time had come for Lindsay to be moved from her room in the STICU to the surgical prep room and reality set in, this is it. This will be the last time I take a walk with my daughter. So very different from the walks we would take on the beach looking for shells, and of course, taking pictures. We were surrounded by our hospital family, Lindsay’s doctors, her nurses, and of course Rodney. They were not in front of us or behind us, they were right by our sides like they had been since our first night in the hospital. Their love, support and care for Lindsay went far beyond any job description ever written. Every person that was taking that walk with us had been touched by this beautiful young lady, she had touched their heart and changed their lives forever.
As I held the wrist of my daughter and felt her last heartbeat I knew she was gone. With a soft kiss on the cheek and a loving good-bye we left our girl for the last time. It was now time for her to begin saving and changing lives. I remember thinking as we walked back to the STICU “Look at you now Lindsay Girl, you have on your white coat and it reads “Lindsay M. Benton M.D.” I have never shared that before, and I don’t know why I am sharing it now, but it was my way of visualizing her with no more tubes and no more wires, doing what she had dreamed of doing.
We slowly made our way back to a hall full of friends and family with open arms to comfort and support us. After everyone had shared their love and support and we were standing there I turned to my wife and said “What do I do now, where do I go?” You really don’t know what to do or where to go, you feel lost, you feel empty, you feel so alone. She gave me a hug and very lovingly said ” We go home” as her tears were falling like raindrops. We went back to Lindsay’s room and started taking down all the pictures and gathering all the things that had been so loving given to try and brighten this tragic week. We hugged her nurses, we cried and we went home. I walked in the door of our home exactly one week after I had walked out. I walked out one week before never imagining the heartbreak that was ahead. I walked out as I had walked out hundreds of times before thinking about dinner, about work tomorrow, about how was I going to pay for medical school, but never did the fact that my daughter would never be coming home cross my mind. I walked in knowing Lindsay would never walk through this door again. I would never hear her voice or her laugh. I would never see that door come flying open as if it was about to fly off the hinges. The rest of the night and still to this day I am still waiting for the door to open.
This will be my family’s “Tomorrow.” On August 28, 2016 at 5:42 we lost our Lindsay, we lost a large part of our heart, we lost a hero, we lost a daughter, a sister, a friend and we lost…..our tomorrow.