Portraits of Loss - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

Portraits of Loss

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One second can change a life. A Michiana family knows that all too well.

Robert and Judith Hillers were killed in a car accident August 18. "I was actually at work at the hospital waiting to deliver a baby," said Erin Hillers, Robert's daughter and Judith's step-daughter. "My sister called and told me the news and I just couldn't even believe it."

Robert and Judith were on U.S. 31 driving to Indianapolis to catch a flight for vacation. Judith's cousin was with them, planning to drive their car back.

"They never made it out of town.  They were hit head on."

A car coming the other direction crossed the center line. The Hillers were killed instantly. Judi's cousin died shortly after at the hospital.

"What just keeps coming back to me is when the police officer came up to the door and told us and I keep re-living that," said daughter Johnna.  

The Hillers' girls say the "what if's" plague them constantly.

"I should have called him and I think what did I say to them the last time I saw them," said daughter Beth. "Did I tell them I loved them?"

Recently, the family was presented with a gift: a portrait. It is a gift that brings them face-to-face with those they lost, a gift that reminds us that even strangers still care.

It started with a call from a group called "Face to Face" and an artist who knows their pain, Anne Jones.

"We've been doing portraits for people who've lost someone to a sudden, unexpected or tragic death," said Jones. "That's where my heart is."

Like the hearts of the Hillers family, Jones' heart still aches. In just 2 months time last year, Jones lost her sister to a brain tumor, her mother to cancer. Then, she lost her husband on what should have been one of the happiest days of their lives.

"He had passed away during the night and didn't wake up on my son's wedding day," said Jones.

As she started to come to terms with her own devastating loss, she created the non-profit group "Face to Face" to provide commemorative portraits. Families are nominated and Face To Face chooses recipients, like the Hillers.

"I really believe that God gives me a little glimpse into their pain and their grief so that I can understand what I'm drawing or doing for them and I put more of myself into it and make sure it really captures who they are," said Jones.

It's a several hour process, one that's emotionally draining. The Hillers say Jones captured their parents in their portrait.

"I was just pretty amazed that it looks like them. You know, my Dad looks like he is literally sitting right there," said Beth just after seeing the portrait for the first time.

"My first thought was 'Wow,' it really looks like they are here, you know, it was kind of hard and really, really nice at the same time," said Erin.

Anne says that kind of reaction is her hope. "That it will bring joy to them and not sorrow."

Robert and Judith Hillers left behind grandchildren, so this portrait will also be cherished by them. "I'm thankful that will always be a reminder to her," said Erin.

There are still frustrations ahead for the Hillers. They're still waiting on a final accident report or word from the prosecutor's office on possible charges. They say it has made settling the estate difficult.

But, the portrait is also a reminder to the Hillers Family that they are not alone.

"I can't even put it into words. It was just so nice," said Erin. "You know, we are really appreciative that people, who don't even know us, care."

"I think when I look at this painting, it's not just a picture of them. It's a picture of them made by someone who cares," said Erin.

"Face to Face" is in the process of becoming a 501-C3 non-profit and is trying to grow across the country. They are doing a lot of private fundraising. Click here if you'd like to learn more about the group and how to make a donation.

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