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ConocoPhillips Company

05/04/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 05/04/2021 08:11

Jennifer Ellis on life after loss: 'It's important to keep going'

PHOTO CREDIT: Vacation Races and Lucid Images

BY GUS MORGAN

Inside the gorge, known as The Narrows, Jennifer Ellis paused to admire the soaring cliffs and savor the moment.

Jennifer makes her way along a riverbed in The Narrows at Zion National Park.

Life was good.

Jennifer, a senior consultant for Investment Appraisal, was visiting Zion National Park to hike and run in a half-marathon in 2021.

More importantly, she was there to heal.

A sudden loss

Jennifer's trip to Zion marked the latest milestone in her journey of grief, one that started on Aug. 6, 2016, the day her husband, Joe, died unexpectedly at their Katy home.

Joe's death stunned Jennifer and the couple's 18-year-old daughter, Katie.

Jennifer, Joe and Katie Ellis. This is Jennifer's favorite family photo.

To distract themselves from grief, Jennifer and Katie focused on arranging Joe's funeral, which took place on Aug. 11.

'In the short term, emotions can be overwhelming and too much to absorb. It really helped us to focus on tasks,' Jennifer said.

After Joe's funeral, it would've been understandable for Jennifer and Katie to slow down and cancel any immediate plans, giving them time to grieve and process Joe's death.

Instead, they kept moving. Busy was better.

The courage to continue

Before Joe's death, the family had planned to travel to Pennsylvania on Aug. 13 to see Katie off to Penn State University.

Instead of altering those plans, mother and daughter stayed on track and headed to Pennsylvania.

Jennifer, Katie and Joe Ellis

'For us, that was therapeutic,' Jennifer said. 'It was very significant for my daughter and for me that we continue with our plans. College provided some 'normal' for Katie. For each of us, going through the motions enabled us to get on that path of healing faster and to identify what our new identities looked like going forward. I didn't want us to get stuck in sadness.'

But the reality of the situation hit Jennifer as she drove away from Katie - Joe was gone, and now Katie was away at college, all in a matter of days. The family unit, her parenting role, and the life she had known, had changed dramatically.

'Going from three to one,' she said, 'was tough.'

Searching for a path forward

When Jennifer returned to work, she experienced an outpouring of support from her colleagues.

Jennifer is an avid runner. She's participated in the ConocoPhillips Rodeo Run numerous times. Even Katie and Joe have participated in the event, which raises money for education. From left, Jennifer and Katie running during the 2004 Rodeo Run. Joe participating in the 2003 Rodeo Run, which was Jennifer and Joe's first 5K together. Jennifer recently participated in the 2021 virtual Rodeo Run, which took place May 1-9.

'ConocoPhillips co-workers are my second family and have been since Katie was a toddler,' she said. 'Current and former co-workers supported me through Joe's loss and services and were a source of strength. Getting back to work forced me to get a routine going and provided some normalcy.'

Part of Jennifer's return to normalcy involved a return to recreational running, a fitness activity she has enjoyed on and off over the years.

After Joe's death, she started running again to boost her physical and mental health; it was an activity that allowed her to regain a sense of control and accomplishment.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 and the ensuing isolation it caused, running became even more important for Jennifer. She started running more consistently at least three times per week.

'Grief is a complex, non-linear process of multiple emotions that can be further complicated by isolation. When grief and circumstances seemed out of control,' she said, 'running has been that thing I could control where I could go to sleep feeling like I accomplished something, even on rough days.'

Jennifer crosses the finish line during the Zion Half Marathon.

When she happened across Vacation Races, a company that hosts races near U.S. national parks, she discovered a new avenue to healing, one that involved running and nature. She signed up for a half-marathon in Zion National Park.

'The adventure gave me something to look forward to again,' she said.

That trip advanced Jennifer's healing, physically and mentally. She liked it so much, she signed up for races in Yellowstone National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Next year, she's going to Yosemite National Park and Glacier National Park.

'If you're going through turmoil, there's a big therapy benefit to being in nature,' she said. 'You get the fresh air and quiet. And it can help you get a better perspective on the entirety of life instead of the immersive experience you are going through.'

During her trip to Zion National Park in Utah, Jennifer hiked to Observation Point, which offers a spectacular view of the park. Jennifer is among the many ConocoPhillips employees who embrace an active lifestyle to maximize their physical and mental health.

'The pieces will start to come together'

As it approaches five years since Joe's passing, Jennifer and Katie continue to push forward.

Katie, now 23, graduated from Penn State in May 2020 and is working in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.

'Time goes by so fast,' Jennifer said. 'Katie is really incredible and is doing well. Sticking with her plans for school and having an adventure helped her tremendously.'

And Jennifer continues to embrace her journey of healing, one step at a time.

Jennifer has a message for those who've lost loved ones.

Katie and Jennifer share a moment at a Penn State football game. Both graduated from the university.

'It's important to keep going,' she said. 'Be kind to yourself. And don't expect to feel good quickly. It's a journey. Stay active in going through the motions. The pieces will start to come together.'

'Choose to move forward'

Jennifer said her employee benefits, especially having access to grief and financial counseling services, proved valuable during her recovery.

'The benefits were very useful,' she said. 'It's been a real blessing to work at ConocoPhillips through this. I'm very appreciative of the company's support.'

Dave Nix, Employee Assistance Plan manager, said people grieve in different ways.

'For some, throwing themselves into work is helpful,' he said, 'while others need some time away to heal and make sense of things. Some find relief by engaging with friends or family. Others find the support of a counselor or grief recovery support group helpful.'

Nix, who helped find Jennifer a grief counselor, said he never tells someone how to grieve.

'I just try to be a supportive resource and help them find their path,' he said. 'It is not a path that I would recommend one should walk alone. '

Employee Assistance Plan

ConocoPhillips offers counseling services to employees and eligible dependents as part of its Employee Assistance Plan.

  • Click here to read more about ConocoPhillips benefits and wellness initiatives.

Jennifer said talking to a professional grief counselor proved beneficial, and it's something she recommends.

'It helped me. Immersive emotions can cloud perspective and unbiased input can provide useful tools to enrich the path ahead and remind us to be kind to ourselves. And anyone who has had a significant loss is going to have a considerable transition in figuring out what life looks like going forward.'

Jennifer said she continues to touch base with a mental health professional to stay on track. That's because when it comes to grief, she said, there's no end date.

'I'm embracing that I really liked my life before, and I really like my life now,' she said. 'They are just very different lives. We can't prevent loss and sometimes it's just excruciating, but I want people to know that you can choose to move forward and keep living.'

AT A GLANCE

Name: Jennifer Ellis

Jennifer, Joe and Katie at Disney World.

Job role: Senior Consultant, Investment Appraisal

Fast fact: When she worked in Sustainable Development, Jennifer was part of the team that won a 2017 SPIRIT of Performance Award for developing the company's marginal abatement cost curve (page 20), a tool ConocoPhillips uses to reduce its greenhouse gas footprint

Quick Quote: 'Physical activity can improve your mental wellbeing.'

Jennifer, center right, listens to ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance during a Patriot Employee Network (PEN) pre-launch event in 2020 for the Portraits of Courageexhibit by former President George W. Bush. Jennifer said her late husband, Joe, a U.S. Army veteran who served with the Military Police, was extremely appreciative of PEN's Veterans Day recognition event.