Rob Pacienza joined Herbie Newell on the August 14, 2019 edition of The Defender Podcast to share about his experience with grief and loss after the death his youngest daughter. Rob is the Lead Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and a graduate of Samford Univeristy in Birmingham, Alabama.
Rob first heard the gospel at Coral Ridge, after being invited by friends to attend church with them. He became a follower of Christ and was discipled there, experiencing the great community of believers under strong leadership. When God brought Rob back to Coral Ridge as the third lead pastor, he believed the greatest challenge of his life would be leading and shepherding the church in this transition. However, within year later, tragedy would strike his family.
On a Saturday night about a year ago, Rob and his wife, Jen, put their three children to bed, including their 3-year-old daughter. A little while later, Rob and Jen checked on their children, and their 3-year-old little girl was not moving. An hour later, she was pronounced dead, and their family faced heart-wrenching grief.
Grief and tragedy can strike any family, with or without notice. Knowing this truth, Rob shared from his personal experience about grieving through loss.
Q: What advice would you give families who are adopting children and know they are terminal?
A: We are owners of nothing but stewards of everything. Our children belong to God, and He gives them to us for a period of time that we do not know. Parenting is a call to stewardship; we are called not to hold onto anything too tightly. No matter how long we have with our children, what are you doing with this gift and treasure that God has entrusted to you—that’s the mission and focus of every parent.
Q: How can we help our children process grief?
A: We underestimate what our children can comprehend and understand. There really is no such thing as being too young to begin shepherding the heart and mind of a child, so don’t run from the hard conversations, the hurt, and the grief. Either you will shape your children’s understanding of grief or the world will. We need children to see parents crying, suffering, and grieving and doing so with the hope that comes from the Lord in the midst of it. Children shouldn’t see us suppressing or ignoring our grief but leading them to process it together.
Q: Why is it so important to be centered together in marriage when tragedy hits?
A: The statistic for couples whose marriages end in divorce after losing a child is around 85%. Communicating and being open about vulnerability is crucial to the continued strength of the marriage. Spouses need to be sensitive to know that they will grieve differently as individual, so grief will look different for each of them. As such, it’s important to recognize the danger of grieving at each other instead of with each other. Being able to communicate where you feel broken or vulnerable—individually and as a couple—will help to know what is needed in a moment. Although grief may look different, giving and taking of sacrificial love for each other will help spouses walk with each other through the journey.
Q: What are practical ways that the Body of Christ and individuals can minister to families in grief?
- The people who have loved us best have given us the freedom to not feel pressured to “get over” anything. People must not assume that families will ever get over tragedy. They will have a new normal but will forever be changed by their loss.
- Saying nothing is sometimes saying the best thing. If you don’t know what to say, that’s OK.
- Be physically present. No words will make it right or better, so simply love the family well.
- Remember that the family will deal with this grief forever. Be aware of their grief in various situations and recognize that they can have major triggers. Holidays, special family milestones, etc. will likely impact families emotionally. It’s important for people to remember and realize the brokenness that will not go away.
Rob emphasized that sin broke the world, and it will not be made right until heaven. However, we have hope in the gospel that God will come back to make all things right. We can grieve with that hope and walk with others as they feel the effects of sin in a broken world. Be sure to listen to the rest of the podcast to hear Rob’s heart for those who grieve.