Hope after Heartache: Colorado Couple Comes Alongside Grieving Parents
By Carl Stagner
Their world came crashing down in June 2013. Described as an “amputation” of the family’s heart, the tragic loss of Rich and Kelly Packard’s son Derek left not only a gaping hole in their household, but also residual emotional and spiritual effects that could have torn a marriage apart. Instead, this couple’s faith in Jesus brought them together through countless nights of incomprehensible grief into a new day of hope after heartache. Seven years later, they’re doing whatever they can to help other couples caught in the snare of despair after the death of a child. Now Church of God pastors and lay leaders have a trusted resource referral, should it be needed, God forbid, in the aftermath of such unspeakable tragedy.
Every husband and wife suffering the loss of a child, no matter the age, is a target for the enemy of our souls. Marriages and entire families have fallen apart when crisis strikes, even within the church. Rich and Kelly Packard learned so much from their experience that they cannot keep it to themselves. Framed in Scripture, and in constant view of the God of all comfort, they’ve sought to create a weekend experience in the mountains of Colorado for married couples dealing with the death of a child. Like Jesus, who found respite physically apart from the craziness of crowds and society (Luke 5:16), Rich and Kelly understand the need for a getaway, and for more than a book, something beyond a grief group, and something greater than a transfer of information from a pulpit. Hurting couples must experience retreat.
“Living Hope Mountain Respite (LHMR) fills a unique gap that exists in broad scope grief support resources in our churches and communities,” Kelly explains. “Though these resources are no doubt supportive, due to the expanse of life circumstances that cause grief, there is simply not enough resources to meet specific grief needs. LHMR is focused specifically on the marriage relationship and the relational strain placed upon a marriage due to the death of their child. Our personal marriage journey of relational strain experienced through the death of our son, Derek, uniquely allows us to step into this gap and comfort other marriages with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).”
Weekends in Colorado with Rich and Kelly Packard include Bible-based curriculum providing practical solutions for the journey of grief the couples never wanted to embark upon. Plenty of time is built into the schedule for fellowship, food, recreation, allowing room for married couples to spend necessary moments alone. A sample schedule is available on their website.
Neither Rich nor Kelly are ordained ministers or professional counselors, but their theology and counsel are spot-on. They recognize the strain grief has on both the individual parent and the marriage relationship. In response to the truth of Christ holding all things together (Colossians 1:17), they conclude that Christ can also hold a marriage together. Kelly reflects, “Rich daily turning his heart toward Jesus; Jesus transforms his brokenness. Kelly daily turning her heart toward Jesus; Jesus transforms her brokenness. Rich and Kelly turn intentionally toward each other after we have turned to Christ first; the marriage experiences transformation from brokenness.”
Kelly thinks back on the emotional toll their loss had on their emotions and how they endured.
“We recognized that our next breath was literally a struggle to take in due to the intense emotional pain,” she recounts. “We learned reliance on him in a way that creates depths of sweet intimacy with our Savior. The relational intimacy with Jesus starts to swallow the despair. We start to have an emotional capacity to function in our marriage in a healthy way.”
The Packards were living in Indiana and a part of the Madison Park Church of God congregation in Anderson when tragedy struck in 2013. Years earlier, they’d graduated together from Anderson University, then College, where they first met. Remembering fondly their days at AU, the Packards recently recorded an interview with Anderson University’s Alumni Network. They also brought to mind what they appreciated so much about Madison Park Church of God, then under the pastoral leadership of now Church of God Ministries general director Jim Lyon.
“Youth pastors and other pastoral staff members that intentionally pursued relationship with our sons,” she cites. “Both of our sons had spiritual mentors directly from the pastoral staff—a parent’s largest gift from a church!”
Kelly remembers never wanting the worship services to end, as the inspirational dynamics were like a “glimpse into glory, perhaps.” She’s also thankful for Pastor Jim, who she remembers as having communicated Spirit-led wisdom from the Scriptures with intellect and eloquence to “spur others in the faith onward.”
But Jim Lyon also remembers Rich and Kelly, and can’t say enough about the couple’s qualifications and character. He sees Living Hope Mountain Respite as a useful resource for pastors across the Movement and beyond.
“I am thankful how they are finding something that gives life in the wake of their loss,” Jim writes. “Derek’s passing was a dreadful tragedy; even as their hearts were shredded, Rich and Kelly carried themselves through those days with great dignity and faith.”
Learn more about Kelly and Rich Packard, their ministry, and bookmark them as a resource for your church, at www.livinghopemountainrespite.com.