About two months before my niece Kathy Blacker died on Jan. 11, 2008, she found a three-verse poem by President Gordon B. Hinckley among her files.
Although she was resigned to dying, she had some fears about the dying process, and his words greatly comforted her especially the second verse, which described exactly what she was feeling.
She wrote to President Hinckley's office to ask permission to have the poem printed on her funeral program, and she received a very nice letter from his secretary, Don H. Staheli, saying that President Hinckley gave his permission for her to do so.
The letter also conveyed some very comforting words from President Hinckley that were helpful to Kathy in her final weeks, and he said he would remember Kathy in his prayers.
Then Kathy suggested that I write and ask permission to give the poem a hymn setting. I did so, and Brother Staheli conveyed President Hinckley's permission for me to write the hymn.
After offering some heartfelt prayers that I might be able to write appropriate music for his profoundly beautiful and moving text, I wrote the hymn setting and sent a copy to President Hinckley's office for approval at the end of December. I received an immediate response.
Kathy passed away Jan. 11, and after her funeral I sent a copy of the program to President Hinckley's office so he could see how nicely his poem was displayed alongside my brother Gary Kapp's painting of Christ.
When I heard President Hinckley had passed away (on Sunday, Jan. 27), I was feeling a little sad to think I hadn't received a letter with his official approval. But the very next day after his passing, the hoped-for letter arrived with his approval, his permission for me to publish it in a future volume of Inspirational New Hymns for Choir and Home, and leaving it to my discretion whether to submit it to the Church Music Division.
The timing was so unusual and I was extremely grateful to receive the letter as a tender mercy in my life.
Then on Monday afternoon, Craig Jessop, Tabernacle Choir director, heard about the hymn and had his office call me to obtain a copy to consider for President Hinckley's funeral. On Tuesday, while traveling in California, I learned that the hymn would be performed by the Tabernacle Choir at President Hinckley's funeral on Saturday.Having seen the great comfort this hymn brought to my niece who died just two weeks before President Hinckley passed away, my great desire is for people throughout the world to have a free copy of these magnificent words of President Hinckley to comfort them in times of the loss of loved ones. This is just one more way his influence could be felt down through time.
For a copy of the hymn "What Is This Thing That Men Call Death," just click on the icons at right one for English and the other for Spanish, as noted. Photocopying is permitted for noncommercial use in home or church.