And So It Begins

And So It Begins

And so it begins. The countdown. With only days to prepare and rearrange the emotions that have taken up residence in whatever lobe the brain uses to process grief. The internal tug of war that has sadness pulling with all its infinite strength at one end of the rope and at the other end, happiness. This happiness that has been dormant,  hibernating, that is weak and timid, almost afraid to come out of its shell. The happiness that reluctantly places its metaphorical uncalloused hands on what seems to be a rope that is sure to pull it straight into a pit of despair. This is an everyday torment, every time you lean toward being happy the guilty feeling that you need to be sad, creeps in. I know in the deepest part of my heart that Lindsay wants me to be happy, but it is so hard when my heart wants her here.

Kelli and I  have finished with our minimal decor for Christmas. I don’t know if its because the joy is no where near what it used to be or if I am just getting older and really hate taking it all back down. Either way it takes all I have to just put up a tree. Every year we add an angel to our decorations or a butterfly to our tree. It is just the little things that help you get through each day. There will never come a day, week, month or year that I will not think of Lindsay. There will never be a holiday that I will not wish she were here. I hope and pray there never comes a holiday that her name is not mentioned, or a story is told. I never want the memories to die. My son, Jarrett, and wife, Kelli, are the people that keep me going during these holiday seasons. The remainder of my family are like B12 shots, they give me the energy to smile, they give me hope for the future, and they give me the desire to be happy. 

This is quote from the blog, An Unexpected Family Outing. In this blog the author is discussing grief and fathers. “There’s a lot we, as women, can do. We can listen to their stories and to their silence. We can encourage them to share. We can recognize and honor their fatherhood in its many iterations. But, there is something we can’t do for them.  We can’t be fathers.” We cant be father’s. What a powerful statement. As parents that have lost a child we all hurt, we all suffer, we all live with grief. But as a father you lose, you lose as a protector, provider, and proactive leader of this young life that once was your child.

I truly hope that everyone has a very Merry Christmas. If you know someone that has lost a child and you are in their presence this Christmas, please mention their child’s name. Parents remember everyday that their child passed away, so mentioning their name does not remind them of that, it reminds them that their child lived. I could never explain the emotions that stir inside my heart and head during this time of year. So if you see me or any parent sitting quietly, just taking it all in this Christmas, it may not be because we are sad. I believe we have learned a very hard lesson in life. Never take even one second for granted, enjoy the smiles, enjoy the laughs, enjoy the treasured time with family and friends. I know where Lindsay is spending Christmas this year and who she is spending it with. I know there will come a day when we will all be together again. I know she is looking down at our half wall hugging tree again this year, and in the sophisticated southern draw I can hear her telling every one in heaven,” That’s pathetic ya’ll.”

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.