Updated: Jan 8
I've struggled with what to write for quite some time now. It's been over 2 months since I last posted, and it's because our story isn't pretty and sometimes it's hard to share the ugly, but I think I finally have something to say about where we are at and how Finn continues to show up.
The video I've included was taken by Finn's Aunt Jess on the last day they were over, just 4 short days before The Worst happened. I think Finny and God knew we would need the message in the song, and it often pops into my head. I thought it was fitting for this blog post, because we are STILL standing. Here are all the beautiful "Because of Finn's" that have occured since my last post.
Because of Finn...We were baptized.
Apparently Finn likes to save in 3s (his organ donation saved 3 people). On November 10th, Austin, Joe Bob, and I were all baptized and officially welcomed into the church that God and Finn led us to join. If you aren't familiar with that story, let me share. When Finn was in the hospital and declared brain dead, we knew we would have to plan a service, so I reached out to a friend for help finding a pastor that would truly capture the essence of our brilliant boy. My friend's pastor in Hillsboro was busy, but recommended a pastor out of China Spring, where we live. Pastor Steve didn't hesitate. He came to the hospital to visit our family and then came before Finn's funeral to our home where we visited in Finn's room and shared stories of our perfect boy, so that he was able to know and share all of Finn at his funeral; and that he did. It was the most beautiful, Finny inspired tribute, and I will forever be thankful for his dedication in making it everything it needed to be. We began attending China Spring United Methodist shortly after and have been welcomed so kindly into their family, something we are so incredibly thankful for.
Because of Finn...I started volunteering with Meals on Wheels.
On the day of our baptism, our Pastor mentioned a need for a Friday Meals on Wheels driver. I felt a nudge from God and acted on it that day. For 2 weeks I rode along with the previous Meals on Wheels' driver, who was a gift from God. I openly shared our story, one I share often with anyone who will listen, and the love and compassion she returned to me was a true gift. One of the families I deliver to has a little boy that is sometimes at the house. The first time I met him, I asked how old he was. I learned he was 15 months old, the exact age our Finn Benton would be. (Hi, God) The following week at my weekly counseling session, I confessed to my counselor the urge I had to hold that little boy. I hadn't held a baby since Finn, and it was the first time I truly desired to. The first week I was on my own with Meals on Wheels, I prayed in my car prior to beginning. I prayed that God would allow it to be a healing experience for me, and also allow me to provide what the people I serve needed as well. When I came to the house with the little boy, he was there at the door with his big cousin. I told the family of my Finn, and as I finished the story this sweet little boy reached out both hands and leaned forward toward me, prompting me to hold him. I asked the family if I could hold him, and a moment, only orchestrated by God himself, happened. I held the first child since losing our Finn Benton. I leaned my head into his, like I did with Finn (see pictures below) and tears streamed down my face.
For the first time, I truly felt like, maybe, I could do this again. I could be a mom again and use everything that Finn taught me to work toward being the best mom and making sure God was glorified in our lives every moment. Meals on Wheels has given me new perspective about hardship. Many people define losing a child as the worst loss one could experience, and while I agree, I also believe that never having experienced Finn at all would be a far greater loss. I see people every Friday who have very little, but smile and display kindness and strength that I could only aspire to show. They truly inspire me and help me see my blessings, instead of my loss. God knew exactly what he was doing when he put me on this healing path.
Because of Finn...we have grown closer to family and friends (old and new).
Austin and I have always been very independent. We have strived to achieve everything on our own. Maybe because of this we failed to recognize who really was in charge of it all, God. Since losing our Finn Benton, we have had to depend on people like never before. Family have shown up and made sure we know we are loved and most importantly that Finn won't be forgotten. Austin's brother, Joe Bob, and his girlfriend, Jessica, still live with us. They have given up their comfortable living environments to move into our tiny spare bedroom and witness our tears on a daily basis, taking on our pain as their own. I often think about what I was doing at 20 and 24 years old, and I definitely wasn't living the selfless life they have taken on. I tell Jessica all the time how I always wondered why she was so drawn to Finn. I would always ask Austin, "What do you think her motive is?" We laugh about it now. The ONLY explanation for why she was so drawn, other than Finn's ridiculous cuteness, is that God placed her and Joe Bob right where they needed to be. God has placed countless other people in our lives who reach out on a nearly daily basis to check-in, even 5 months later. We have grown closer to most of our family members. And of course, we have grown closer to our Father, who is the one we rely on most to get us through the most difficult of moments. This experience has showed us that it's ok to rely on others. There is no weakness in it.
Because of Finn...a deserving high school student will receive a scholarship in his honor.
We have been so blessed with endless support from friends and family. The Russell family along with Christi Pevehouse and Lori Miller threw a wonderful event, The Finny Fun Run, in honor of our beautiful boy. It was full of beautiful moments, including a walk where all of the wonderful participants walked behind us for a lap to show that they will always be behind us, supporting us every step. The thoughtfulness that went into every moment of that day was beyond anything we could have hoped for. A day that gave us courage to continue on in a month that proved to be the most difficult yet. Thank you for all who participated and/or purchased shirts. So many people drove hours to attend, and we just want you to know how much we appreciate you. We look forward to seeing what blessed high school senior receives a scholarship in our Finn Benton's honor.
Because of Finn...and all of Finn's army...we have been able to donate nearly $10,000 to different causes.
We have sprinkled Finn's love and yours to any cause we feel called to. Funerals, medical care for children, food for the hungry, families who have lost children, etc. I usually wouldn't share this because it seems a bit obnoxious, BUT because we received the money from all of you I feel we owe you an explanation as to where the money has gone.
I have struggled since Finn's tournament to define Finn's foundation and have asked God to give me guidance. The truth is, because Austin and I have always been so independent, I feel an enormous responsibility to make sure all of your money be used in the best possible way. A way to glorify God, but also, a way to selfishly keep Finn's memory alive too. After researching establishing the foundation as a 501c3, I don't know that it's the best route, money and time-wise. I have also spoken with my cousin who is a sister in child-loss and who started a foundation in her son's name. She spoke wisely to me as she explained that adding another foundation to the market waters down the already established foundations. It's also difficult to keep up with years down the line when the support lessens. If anyone has any guidance on how to move forward, or recommendations I would absolutely love to hear. Next year's softball tournament (I hope to continue this legacy for Finn) I'd like to do in honor of Finn but to benefit another family or families. I hope you guy's continue to show up even though our purpose is wavering right now. I know God will show me the way. What I'd like to do with the remaining money from the first softball tournament is to pay for the funerals of children (mostly that have donated organs but I'm not going to put a rule on that quite yet). Someone anonymously did this for us (THANK YOU), and it's a gift I think of often and would love to pay forward for others. If you work in a funeral home, or know someone who does, please share this information with them. I know there are countless stories made public about these children who gift their organs, but I also hope to reach those that maybe don't get the publicity that Finn and others were so blessed with.
Because of Finn...we were able to find joy again in Paris.
As many of you know and so many of you acknowledged, the holidays are an incredibly difficult time for anyone who has lost a precious loved one. I have always, to my fault, been 10 steps ahead. Another because of Finn...I now live right where I'm at, in the moment. I had been looking forward to Finn's 2nd Christmas since last Christmas. I had established so many traditions that I was eager to continue as well as begin new ones (cookie baking was a must). Finn's first Christmas was truly magical, but his 2nd, I knew would be the icing on the cake. It would have been the first Christmas he was truly able to interact with his presents and marvel at the lights. He would have been walking...talking...and into EVERYTHING. I couldn't wait. Instead, we were faced with the opposite. We chose not to celebrate with a tree or presents or any of the traditional Christmas festivities. Austin's work shutdown for a week and a half and after speaking to my counselor, she encouraged me to make sure the days were planned. Austin has thrown himself into work and dreads down time, so she knew that the days off would hit him hard. I took a leap and told Austin we should book a trip. He wasn't too eager at first. He finds comfort in being at home with Finn's things. After a little convincing, he (kind of) agreed I could move forward with planning a trip. So I booked flights and a hotel to Paris, France. Austin was in a pretty low place in the days prior and I prayed relentlessly that God would allow us to truly enjoy moments during this trip. On Christmas day we woke and the pain hit almost instantly as we imagined how this day would be if Finn were still here with us on earth. Our flight left that day so we were quickly distracted with the need to finish packing, get the dogs loaded, and get the house closed up for a week away. We visited with Finn on Christmas and then Joe Bob and Jess spent their Christmas driving us to the airport.
Paris was truly the first time in over 5 months that Austin and I have felt true, genuine joy. We laughed and smiled, and as I told Austin, felt human again. Don't get me wrong, the pain of losing Finn was never far from our minds. We still shed tears each day as we have every day since Finn left for heaven, but we also were able to find that joy and pain can co-exist, something I have heard, but not felt for myself. For the first time, I didn't feel guilty when I smiled or laughed. I felt like Finn was cheering us on, proud of the smiles on our faces and proud of us for taking a step out of the darkness. It didn't hurt that Finny showed up in big ways throughout our trip.
We arrived in Paris in the morning on the 26th after flying all night, so we spent the first hours napping trying to overcome the dreadful jetlag. We woke in time for dinner that night where we ate at a restaurant only a block away. While we were eating, I noticed an F in the wood-grain on the table near Austin's hand.
We walked the 2 miles to see the Louvre and just enjoy the streets of Paris. The line to get into the Louvre was ridiculous so we didn't go inside but we enjoyed it from the outside.
As we left this area, we saw these 2 Feneon signs right next to this Lion statue. Finny is a Leo, so we took this as a big sign from our sweet boy.
We did the touristy lock bridge and purchased a lock and threw the keys in honor of our unbreakable love for Finn and each other.
At the Louvre that night Austin and I discovered the self-timer on our camera and captured my favorite pictures from the whole trip. Pictures that, if you know us, tell the most beautiful story of us emerging from the darkness. I never thought I'd see a picture of us so happy again. In fact, when I booked the trip Austin told me that he wasn't going to take a bunch of smiling pictures, I told him that's fine. So to see him smile, REALLY smile, in a picture is so beautiful. So much more beautiful than the beautiful scenary that surrounded us.
We also heard this beautiful song being played on this same magical night. It felt like how it might sound in heaven.
We made the hour long hike to the Eiffel tower from our hotel, stopping at museums, shops, and cafes along the way.
We decided to go for dinner and then stick around to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up at night time. And that's when Finn said the most beautiful hello to us. When we returned to the Eiffel Tower that evening we had just made our way through the crowd to get a picture of it lit up when we overheard a band playing Hallelujah. We immediately abandoned picture taking and enjoyed this sign from above. This song is and will always be our song for Finn Benton. It was in his favorite movie Sing, and we played it at his funeral. This is not a coincidence. We didn't just happen to show up at the exact right time, this was a beautiful moment orchestrated by God and Finn. A moment I will never get over.
We decided to visit what was described on the wonderful Google as the most beautiful building in Paris, The Palais Garnier Opera House and then shop at the Lafayette mall. The Opera House was astonishingly beautiful and lived up to it's Google research.
When we left The Palais Garnier, we noticed this light pole covered with stickers of our favorite letter. Hey, Finn.
We then visited the busiest, most expensive mall of our lives. At the top is the most beautiful view of Paris where we saw another sweet hello from Finn, a tiny rainbow, just above The Eiffel Tower.
Later that evening, we took a taxi to dinner near the Eiffel Tower.
Austin got the flu. We only left the hotel to eat. I caught up on sleep and the pain of losing Finn caught right back up too. Poor Austin was sicker than I've ever seen him, so we added a trip to a Parisian pharmacy to our list of to-dos. Luckily, he has now recovered.
The trip was beautiful and so very needed. We returned home the next day, New Years eve.
While we were gone, my mom and Finn's nanny, Ivy, cleaned our home. A wonderful show of love for us to return to. It's been difficult. Living in a year that Finn never stepped his chunky foot into. We still cry everyday. We still question why regularly, but we know, and the trip to Paris as well as all of the other "Because of Finn's" helped reestablish that, we will be okay one day. We will never be the same. We will be better, but less innocent. Living in the moment, but always thinking of our boy who lives in the past.
We appreciate all the continued prayers and love that has not ceased since the news broke about our sweet boy. We hope we have shown you all the gratitude you deserve to feel for all you have done for our family.
I had a downer moment the other day with Austin where I told him that it just out right sucks that we will never have another best year ever. Because every year for the rest of our lives we will be missing the most important piece to our puzzle. And then in church, our Pastor said something that has stuck with me. He said, "This year CAN be great if you draw closer to God and each other." And I believe it. So wherever you are at in life, if you too find yourself in the darkness, know that you CAN have a great year if you draw closer to God and those nearest you.