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.”

 

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 Why Day

The Why Day

Mark Twain once said “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”  

I believe we can all say we have the first day nailed down, the day we were born was very important, not only in our lives, but in the lives of our parents. The day we were born truly was the first day of the rest of our life. It was a day that set in motion a vast, infinite amount of paths that have lead us right were we are today. Now, where we are  has been a result of decisions, circumstances and conclusions that have had many forks in the road and it has been up to us to choose which way to go. All of these paths should have led us to the second part of Twain’s statement, “…the day you find out why.”  I am not sure about you, but after fifty three years I am still looking for that flashing neon sign that says, “Today is the day you find out why.”

After I read Twain’s quote, for what I believe, was the very first time, I began to think long and hard about “the why day.” Was it the day I was born? Was Twain insinuating that both days were actually the same day. I know the minute I arrived in this world I had no true thought process, although, I am sure I was tired from the move and I have no doubt I was hungry. But was that day in October many years ago my day to know why? It could have been for my parents, because like all parents, we feel the day our children are born is the greatest day of our lives. We feel like that is why we are put on this earth. to keep the human race moving forward by bringing new life into existence, but is that wonderful day a “why” day? Or could the “why” day be a day you, through no conscious effort, change the life of someone you did not even know? A simple act of emptying the change from your car into the hands of a hungry person who has been down on their luck. Could it be a loving word of encouragement that brings someone back from depression and the darkest thoughts of suicide. Could your day have been yesterday when you showed a random act of kindness and an anonymous onlooker with the hardest of hearts began to soften and realize the joy of compassion. Could your day have unknowingly already passed or is it still waiting to arrive? How do we find out what day our why day is? A question so many will spend a life time asking and may never get the answer.

A life time. To many, this statement means longevity, years of living, years of experiences, years of family and years of love. To me, so far, it has been fifty three years. To others it was only a few hours, a few days, a few months or seventeen years. To the ones that only made it a few days, a few months or seventeen years, I feel they are looking down and know beyond a shadow of a doubt what their “why day” was, it was the day, if they were organ donors, they became a hero. It was the newborn that passed away in their mothers arms. It was the toddler that fought the most courageous fight against a disease they never heard of. It was the father of two that worked every day to save lives running into burning buildings. The mom that said an oath to protect and serve so we could all sleep in peace. It was a beautiful seventeen year old young woman, it was my daughter. It has been every organ donor that has been a hero and a life saver. Lindsay, my daughter, lived a lifetime in seventeen years. She was the one giving her change to a down and out person, she was the one sitting and listening to a friend and bringing them back from a very dark place, she was the one showing a random act of kindness to those who felt unwanted, unliked, or shunned by the popular crowd. She was a leader, she was a sister, she was a friend and she was an organ donor. In my heart and mind she had many days that I thought were her “why day,” but I am almost positive, the lives that she saved would think differently. I have accomplished a lot in my life, and because of Lindsay I have accomplished so much more. I have stood behind a podium many times in front of hospital CEO’s, surgeons, doctors, nurses and family members of other organ donors and told Lindsay’s story. I have become the President of a foundation that we, her four parents, started to continue her legacy and to support the charities Lindsay was involved with. I started a blog for my own therapy and to help other grieving parents. I have become a published author, to help share how I, a father, handled and am still handling the loss of a child, and to hopefully help the next father understand he is not alone. But my “why day” is still yet to come, my day will come with the same sadness and grief that is shared by so many everyday. My “why day” will be my last, when I close my eyes for the last time and know in the depths of my soul, “why.” My day will also bring joy to random strangers and their families as they know their love ones now have a fighting chance. Strangers that in the mist of their joy, morn for the donor and their family. My day will come when I am standing beside Lindsay and we both know our two most important days and why.

Please, if you have not registered to be an organ donor,

let today be the day

you know your

why.

 

 

Out of Order

Out of Order

I have thought about this topic many times over the past two years, and the sensitivity of discussing it. I briefly touched on this subject in my second blog “Take a Minute Before you Speak to a Grieving Parent.” I may lose a few readers over this, but I have to get it out of my brain.

How grief effects us all so differently and takes us down the many different paths of emotion. How to some, losing a parent is the same as losing a child. I know I may offend some people, I may step on some toes, but the one thing you have to remember is this blog is written by a father who has lost his daughter, not a man who has lost a parent. The pain of loss can never be taken away nor can it be compared to any other pain, but the level of pain and grief, in my opinion, when you lose a child is beyond comprehension by anyone that has not lived through it. 

There are so many levels of grief, so many stages of pain, and many ways it effects each person differently. There are as many ways to handle grief as there are days you have left to walk this earth. When you lose a loved one it hurts, no matter if the relationship was good, bad or indifferent they were once a part of your life, but to lose a child, I believe, puts you in a entire different category of grief. When you lose a parent you have lost your past. The person that laid the foundation for everything you are today. The person that taught you how to be a parent. Does that make it any easier, absolutely not. It still hurts. When you lose a child you have lost your future. You have lost all the dreams you had for that child, no matter the age. You have lost all the hope you had for their happiness, for their joy and for their future. The very foundation that your parents laid is now starting to crack. You have lost a part of yourself. It is almost like losing an arm or leg because in your mind you will never be whole again. I remember reading once that, “Losing a child is like putting a period at the beginning of a sentence.” In other words their life has come to an end before the story ever really began.

If you have lost a mother, father or grandparent, with all due respect you only know what its like to lose a mother, father or grandparent. You can only understand what another person that has lost the same feels. You only know the pain and grief that comes with the loss of an older loved one. Please understand in no way am I trying to disparage  the pain and grief that comes with the loss of a parent, or sibling. I can, as of now, say I do not know how you feel because I have never walked your path of grief, the grief you are feeling for your parent. That being said, no one can imagine what a person that has lost a child feels, what they are going through, or the depths of pain that ravage their heart, mind and soul without having lost a child of your own. 

I have lost all of my grandparents, Frank and Maylor Gore and Rockfellow and Ethel Benton, but I am still lucky enough to have both of my parents and my brother. My mom just turned seventy five. My dad is seventy eight, and can still out work me any day of the week. I don’t know the grief and pain of losing a parent, I don’t know how it feels to be without the people that raised me and taught me to be the man I am today. I don’t know what it is like to have your “go to” person gone from your life. There is one thing I do know for sure, and I pray it does not happen any time soon, but I hope one day I do know  what it is like to lose a parent. You see, I never want my parents to know what it is like to lose a child. I never want my parents to know the pain that almost cripples your body, paralyze’s your heart and empties your soul. I never want them to see their child laid to rest in a small plot of land with marble and bronze markers to remind people who now resides there. I don’t want my parents to live through the emotional nightmare of losing a child. I don’t want my parents to see what is left of my future vanish before their eyes. I don’t want my parents to wonder about what could have been. In this cycle we call life, our parents are suppose to bury our grandparents, we are suppose to bury our parents and our children are supposed to bury us. Your cycle of life is broken by the death of a child, the natural order of life has been disturbed by attending their funeral, and your world seems to end as you solemnly stand at their graveside. This is not supposed to happen, and that is why it’s different.

“At least they had a good life, they lived a long and full life, they are in a better place” are things, I would assume, someone who has lost a parent hates hearing as much as a parents that has lost a child hates hears hearing “I know how you feel” from someone who has never lost a child. There will always be loss, there will always be pain and there will always be grief in the lives of those left behind. But we should never compare one person’s grief to another. We should never claim to know how they feel unless we have been in their shoes and walked the same road of heartache. We should never, ever claim to know how they feel, because no matter the age of the loved one lost, no matter the relationship, no matter the cause of our grief, we all have our own journey of grief that can only be traveled alone. 

 

Pain Level, 10 Plus

Pain Level, 10 Plus

Pain as defined in the Merriam – Webster dictionary; a usually localized physical suffering associated with bodily disorder (such as a disease or an injury) also a basic bodily sensation induced by a noxious stimulus, received by naked nerve endings, characterized by physical discomfort (such as pricking, throbbing, or aching), and typically leading to evasive action. b acute mental or emotional distress or suffering 

Pain is registered in many levels and comes from many varied sources. Pain can come from all different directions and hit you when you least expect it. In some cases it can be bad enough to knock you to your knees. There is physical pain, such as a broken ankle, having a kidney stone or a toothache. Mental pain that comes from stress, the pressures of life or some sort of phobia. Pain from life experience’s such as a broken heart from an ended relationship. A doctors or nurse may ask, “How is your pain level from one to ten?” They may prescribe a pill to help ease the pain, or physical therapy to restore strength to the effected part of the body. A psychiatrist or therapist may ask you to describe your feelings to determine the underlying reason for your mental pain or anguish. Many people wear their pain on their sleeves for all to see, and some keep it all internal, never wanting others to know they are suffering. 

I have had the broken bones, kidney stones, the toothaches and ended relationships. I have had days I thought my head would explode from stress and pressures of everyday life. I have stood in a hospital room and watched my daughter leave this world. I thought I had been through pretty much every type of pain there was until two years ago today. On September 02, 2016 I walked into a church filled with over 800 people, standing out of respect for Lindsay and my family. As I write this blog, two years today we laid Lindsay’s earthly body to rest. That is a pain that exceeds all others, and like always I tried to keep the pain tucked away so no one can see. This day made it real, it made it final, she was gone, my Lindsay Lou was gone, forever. It does not matter if they are seventeen, twenty seven or ninety seven you still see that little seven year old girl holding out her hand for you, her dad. There are no cures for the pain you feel when you lose a child, there is no pill, no cream, no treatment, no surgery. There is nothing that can ease the pain of your heart breaking, shattering. No cure for the emptiness, the feeling of failure, failing as a father, to protect your child. I remember thinking to myself, “Why was I not there to protect her?.” I know in my heart we, as fathers, do our best to raise our children to make the right decisions, to think before they act, to make wise choices. We do this because we know we will not always be there to ward off the monsters that hide under their bed, or save the princess trapped by the evil queen in the castle tower. We will not always be there to hold their hand as they cross the street. We will not always be there when they are faced with peer pressure and decisions that may affect the remainder of their life. We have to trust we have done our best, we have to believe they did listen some of the time, but most importantly we have to have the courage to let them go. Whether you are letting them go to the movies, letting them go on a date, letting them go in marriage, or letting them go forever

 There are days like today when I will get quiet, I don’t have a lot to contribute to the world around me. I remember, I reminisce, and I reflect. There are times when I will catch myself just staring off into nowhere, looking at nothing, trying to find something.  Days like today when the pain is 10 plus. Days like today when I think of the lyrics by Brendan Graham in a song Josh Groban made famous. Every parent that has lost a child knows the peace and ease of pain when they feel the presence of their child, for awhile.

 When I am down, and, oh, my soul, so weary
When troubles come, and my heart burdened be
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence
Until you come and sit awhile with me”

 

The Spot

The Spot

Everyone has that one special spot, that one place that means the world to them. It may be an old tree boldly standing in solitude shading the wild flowers of a wide-open field. It could be an alluringly crystal-clear stream that flows effortlessly through the smooth cold rocks of a hidden mountain side. A spot or a place where you feel at peace, where your heart and soul are full from the love that comes from family. A spot where the whole world seems to fade into the beautiful sunset and all your problems are a million miles away. A spot where all your childhood memories come flooding back from the deepest part of your subconscious. The place where you met that special someone for the first time. The spot where you went on your first date, your first kiss, or where you fell in love. There are special places and spots that will forever be in your heart and will always bring a smile to your face. I, like everyone else, have some of these spots. The home I grew up in that holds so many good memories of my childhood along with memories of my children playing and climbing the iconic Dogwood tree. The neighborhood that Jarrett and Lindsay’s mother and I brought them home to after they were born. The many different stages where I watched Jarrett and Lindsay perform from their early years up to high school. The beach where Lindsay took one of my favorite pictures of Jarrett and myself. A small log cabin tucked back into the hills of Maggie Valley where I asked Kelli to share the rest of our lives together. Mexico, New York, and, of course, Leland hold such fond and precious memories in my heart.

But to parents that have lost a child there are spots that that do not hold fond memories, they do not bring joy or happiness. These spots hold heartache and despair, they hold grief and sometimes anger. These spots can be as random as the spots that bring joy to other people. For parents that have lost their children at home, I can only imagine the pain and anguish they must live with. The bitterness of the spot or room in which their child passed away and the sweetness of all the memories that cover every inch of that same home. I found myself in the same situation after Lindsay passed away. Lindsay did not pass away in our home, she passed in the hospital. The accident that cause this happened as she was leaving our neighborhood. Do I move to relieve the pain of seeing that spot every day or do I stay to retain the sweet memories we had created in our home? I chose the memories. I did not want to leave our home and lose all the memories I had there with her. I did not want to move to a different house to escape the pain. I did not want to wake up every morning in a different house knowing the reason why I was there. I wanted to stay right where I was to keep what bit of sanity I had left at home. I wanted to remember her and her characteristics. I wanted to look at that door and see her flying out of it with some new story or topic of debate. I wanted to look at the microwave and, in my mind, hear it slam shut at 11:30 at night for a mac-n-cheese snack. I wanted to sit on the couch and look at the floor that she walked across as she made her way to my bathroom for a selfie session. I wanted to be able to stand in the lanai and see her laying on the dock getting her tan on. I want to live in the home with all these memories as long as my mind allows me to remember. That is the one thing that frightens me the most, forgetting. Forgetting her laugh, her voice, her walk. I dread the day I can no longer remember these things. I dread the day I close my eyes and no longer see hers.

I have two of these heartbreaking spots. The first spot is the intersection at the exit of our neighborhood. As much as I try to shut it out of my mind I still, sometimes, get chills when I pull up to the stop sign Lindsay was sitting at before she started to cross the road. I remember coming home from the hospital for the first time after Lindsay passed away and before we turned into Compass Pointe I told Kelli, “I don’t see any skid marks, there are no skid marks, the other driver never had a chance to slow down.” That one thought, that one ride home still haunts me today.  I think all the time,  Did she have any time to react? Did she know what was about to happen?” Those thoughts will always be with me till the day I die. The second spot has no name or title, because it is just a small piece of asphalt on a four-lane highway. This spot is driven over thousands of times a day by motorist that have no idea what happened there. I myself drive next to this spot almost every day.  It is the spot Lindsay’s car came to rest after the accident. That spot that for some time was marked with the very familiar orange squares painted on the grayish asphalt to outline the tires on a car after an accident. Monday thru Friday at around 2:15 a.m. I drive past that spot on my way to work, the very spot I saw Lindsay’s car sitting on August 21, 2016. Every morning I stay in the right-hand lane, no matter what, out of respect for her. Every morning since the day she passed away I tell her good morning when I pass the spot. Every day I ride by with the thoughts of her sitting there. Every day I remember seeing her car sitting there and the damage that was done to it. Every day I wish I had never seen it. Every day is a reminder, every day is a challenge, even with the ominous orange paint faded away, every day I still see the spot.