Shared experience, shared faith
Thanks to their faith, Ron and Chris Harder survived their son’s death, but they wanted to help others in similar circumstances
Those who have never experienced the loss of their own child can only imagine the pain and grief that overwhelmed Ron and Chris Harder upon the sudden death of their youngest son. At age 22, Zack was swept away by the current while swimming in the south fork of the Yuba River. The Harders clung to their faith in God to survive the tragedy. Today, they have put their faith into action by opening a funeral home with their nephew, Jim Beeding. They use their experience to help others deal with grief and loss.
The Harders raised their children in Roseville. Chris recalls Zack’s ability to light up a room with laughter. By June of 2006, the young man was living with his older brother in Los Angeles, and came home for a visit to celebrate his birthday. “Zack enjoyed life immensely,” Chris said. On a Saturday afternoon, Zack went to the river with friends. The plan was to cool off and have fun, but later that afternoon, as Zack was swimming, rushing white water yanked him under the river. He never resurfaced.
Zack’s death came on the anniversary of Chris’ mother’s death, a fact she’d reminded her son about during a phone call that morning. When Chris received the call about Zack’s drowning, she curled up on her bed in disbelief. Then the tears came. The pain crushed her, and at times, even three years later, can be unbearable.
However, Chris finds hope in her faith. Belief in God’s plan for the life of every person helps keep her from becoming angry. Daily Bible reading releases her from the mire of grief with promises of eternal life through Christ.
“Jesus Christ assures us that we will see him again in heaven,” she said. “We hold that promise close to our hearts. We both looked to God for the strength to make it through, from the moment we received news of Zack’s drowning and still to this day.”
As the initial intensity of their grief subsided, the Harders felt a compelling urge to help others who were shattered by the loss of a loved one. Ron suggested opening a funeral home in honor of their son. Impressed by their nephew’s compassion as funeral director for Zack’s memorial, they joined forces with Beeding to open Heritage Oaks Memorial Chapel in Rocklin.
“We believe in God’s grace and guidance rather than coincidence,” said Chris Harder. “In today’s economic upheaval, opening a new business is a huge challenge. It has been a journey of faith from the time it was just an idea to the business we conduct on a daily basis.”
Her belief in this guidance was confirmed when the partners found a building on Destiny Drive. “Can you believe it?” she asked. “That’s a God thing. We want to be the hands of Jesus to those we serve.”
Although the Harders and Beeding are approaching the business from a Christian perspective, Heritage Oaks is not, strictly speaking, a “Christian” business. “People deserve to be treated with compassion and kindness when they grieve and face a loss, no matter what their culture or faith,” Chris said. “We know that without hope, grief is a more difficult experience. We can demonstrate the hope and strength that personal spiritual faith can provide, especially during those first fragile days following a loss.”
Heritage Oaks has high-tech equipment and “green” embalming methods, but their biggest asset is the experience they bring from their own lives. While Ron and Chris still grieve over the loss of Zack, their faith in God has enabled them to turn that personal tragedy into a helping hand in the community.