Usually people find a powerful association between a certain song and a particular memory, or perhaps even a whole season of their life. But this is a post about how a family came to cherish the association between one song and a person’s entire life – and death.
When Anna was in junior high school, her family befriended a family of Bulgarian immigrants to Canada through their church. The family consisted of parents, Ivan and Rhoda, and their three young children.
Over the years, the two families became quite close.
Anna was in Grade 10 when she and her family found out that both Ivan and Rhoda had received terminal cancer diagnoses.
In order to support the family while still affording them their privacy, Anna’s parents added an extension to their home for them.
There was a time during which Anna remembered Rhoda working so hard to cook healthy concoctions that might enable her to live a bit longer.
Ivan was the first to pass away and of this Anna simply remarked, “The couples where someone loses a spouse always seem to be the couples most in love with one another.”
As Rhoda’s energy waned and she needed palliative care, the families would gather together in the hospital for visits.
“When we went to visit her, we sang,” Anna told me. “Rhoda was a talented musician and music was also one of her favourite ways to pray.”
During these visits, the families would always sing the hymn, “It is well with my soul.”
While I had certainly heard this song before, I was surprised to learn the context in which it was written. Horatio Spafford, a Christian and a lawyer, was awaiting the return to America of his wife and four daughters aboard a ship in 1873. Tragically, the ocean liner sank and all four of his daughters died. This devastation was added to his Job-like fortune of having earlier lost his property, his wealth, and his four-year-old son.
Naturally, it was an incredibly arduous process for Rhoda to contend with losing her husband and leaving her children, but eventually, owing to her profound Christian faith, she gradually came to release control.
“That’s why she loved this song so much,” Anna explained. “Her lot was pretty large,” she said, with reference to the lyric: “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know/It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
Rhoda made every effort to prepare her children as well as possible for her passing and Anna’s parents had begun discussions with them about adopting their children even while Ivan was still alive.
When Anna’s parents and siblings adopted Ivan and Rhoda’s children into their lives, their lives and love was magnified and multiplied.
Anna marvels at how each family member reacted to the grief in distinct ways and yet, there was an incredible transformation to behold in each person through the new responsibilities that each one had to take on. In particular, she noted that the situation especially brought out the very best in her father “who really, really loves to be a dad.”
When I asked how the children are doing now, Anna told me that they talk about their deceased parents in a healthy way.
“If any kids would have problems, you’d think that it’d be the kids who lost both their parents. But my siblings are the most helpful, kind, and generous people I know. They are the kind of people you want to be around,” Anna said.
And so, at the hospital, at the funeral, and still now in their everyday lives, this family cherishes this song as the summation of Rhoda’s testimony that enables all of them to sing and to affirm, “It is well with my soul.”
Here is one version of the song I particularly like:
Photo of Rhoda shared with permission of the family