As I sat working on the vision and objectives for the Foundation this week I found myself face to face with a sense of loss and what I can only describe as feeling like a piece of me is missing. It was as if I was walking down the street knowing exactly where I thought I was going only to turn the corner and find myself lost. In January of 2013 it will have been six years since my daughter took her last breaths on this earth and left this world. I have tried for years to run from these feelings by keeping myself buried in business, working on the Ella Bullis Foundation, or spending time with my wife Anna and daughter Lily. I told myself that as long as I had someone else to focus on or a project that was bigger than me I would be able to make it through her loss without actually having to feel the loss.
My goal was to never stop moving. Never stop focusing on others. Never lose sight of where I wanted to be or go. Never lose control. Never show weakness. And while there is nothing wrong with any of those things in general, what I didn’t know was that I was running from the inevitable. The inevitable truth that one day everyone has to face their pains, hurts, face the feeling of being lost and not in control. I think that as a dad and husband I felt that I had an obligation to be strong for my family and if I stopped to acknowledge the pain from the loss or admitted that I was not in control I would be letting them down. I know that God has built into men the desire to protect our families and shelter them from pain. This is a large part of what makes us feel “strong” (at least for me), feel valued, and gives us a sense of worth and direction in our lives.
What happens when we can’t protect one of our children or keep them from feeling pain? I know that when Ella died I was filled with a sense of failure as a Dad. Even though I would tell myself that it was not my fault for her death, I still felt like I had let my family down. Instead of trying to deal with that though I tried to over compensate by being “strong” for those who were still depending on me. Being “strong” required (I thought) me to ignore the gaping hole in my heart.
I thought my plan had worked and that I had successfully insulated myself from the feelings of failure and the pain of losing Ella. Today the facade fell down. I turned the corner and found myself face to face with my emotions; anger, pain, lost, confused.
Earlier this year my wife and I found out that we should expect a new member of the family in January of 2013 (hence the really cool picture at the top of this post that my wife made). With all of the joys and excitement of my wife being pregnant and adding another member to the family I was able to continue telling myself that I needed now more than ever to be “strong” for them. And that seemed to work.
Fast forward to about two weeks ago when my wife booked a family photo shoot. It was a beautiful day and when the first of the photos started popping up on Facebook (our awesome photographer and friend Melanie Disbrow likes to keep people in suspense by posting just a few of the pics on Facebook) my initial reaction was how beautiful my wife and daughter are and how lucky I am to have them in my life.
The photo was (is) beautiful. But for some reason something still seemed to be missing. For the past week I have been staring at this photo every day and wondering what it was that was missing or why it just didn’t feel right to me.
And then today as I was working on the Foundation’s strategic plan for 2013 a question floated into my mind, “What would this picture look like with Ella in it?” That was what my heart was telling me was missing from the photos. I should have two beautiful daughters to twirl around and toss in the air.
I found myself crying tears of anger. She should be in that picture. Then the sense of loss hit me. She never will be. Then came the confusion. “How am I to look at these photos of my beautiful daughter, wife, and unborn baby; and not be reminded that there is a hole in my heart for the one who is missing? Yet, how can I not feel God’s hand of blessing and love when I look at these photos?”
I have turned the corner. I can’t run from the inevitable any longer. There is a hole in my heart and I need to be honest about that. Facing this pain and grief leaves me feeling vulnerable, scared, and more than a little out of control. It robs me of the feeling that I have been clinging to for the past six years, that of being “strong” for my family.
I don’t know if by sharing this I will connect with any other dads or moms out there that have lost children. But, I do have hope that even though I will never know the answer to why God allowed Ella to leave so soon, I will be able to find peace and come to know the abundant life that He has promised to me (and each one of us). I hope that by sharing my story and struggles others who might read this will find themselves on the path to discovering (or rediscovering) the hope and joy in the brokenness and pains that we face during this life.
I hope to post again soon and if anyone reading this wants to share there thoughts you can comment on my post or email me at [email protected]