A family tragedy becomes inspiration to future generations

Published 8:28 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2018

It is hard to conceive, but history is replete with stories of how tragedy can on occasion, result in major contribution to others. Many of us survive the tragedies which we experience by finding ways to cope that will enable us to move on with our lives. Too often, however, our pain and torment are so horrific from tragedy that our tears slow us down, resulting in irrevocable depression and malaise.

The tragedy which visited a wealthy man more than 150 years ago is an inspiration to many today. The man was a successful businessman and lawyer who was married with four daughters and a son. The son died at an early age in 1871 of pneumonia. In that same year, his lucrative business perished in the great Chicago fire. With an uncanny resolve, he took the loss as a challenge. Relying on his faith, he successfully rebuilt the business.

A few years later, in 1873, the family decided to take a cruise to Europe on a French ocean liner. He would stay in Chicago and wrap up some unexpected business problems and join them later by taking another ship. The wife and daughters were only four days into the crossing of the Atlantic when their ocean liner collided with another ship.

Suddenly, a cruise that passengers were enjoying fast became a crisis they knew would be deadly without some providential intervention. The businessman’s wife quickly gathered her four daughters and prayed to God to spare them, if that were his will, or to make them willing to endure whatever awaited them. Unfortunately, in his wisdom, the prayer was not answered, and the ship immediately disappeared into the waters of the Atlantic. More than 226 passengers, which included the businessman’s four daughters, lost their lives on that unfaithful day.

His wife did survive. She was discovered by rescuers floating on a piece of the ship’s wreckage and taken to Wales. From there she wired her husband sharing with him the loss of their daughters. Unrelenting in her faith, she is quoted as saying, after experiencing this surfeit of woes, that “God gave me four daughters. Now they have been taken away from me. Someday I will understand why.”

Her husband immediately rushed to be with his wife. To get to his wife he had to go past the exact area where his children lost their lives. As the ship traversed the area he was invited to the captain’s cabin and shown the exact spot where the ships had collided, resulting in the loss of his daughters.

The businessman I have been referring to was Horatio G. Spafford. His wife’s name was Anna. They went on to have three more children — one of whom died. It was his daughter, Bertha Spafford Vester, who said that it was during his rush to be by his wife’s side that he penned to paper, “It is Well with My Soul,” that has become a spiritual inspiration to future generations in times of sorrow.