Olympics Winter

A hymn for Therese Rochette

The sky has fallen on Joannie Rochette, but the strength to continue may be found in something the skater wrote four years ago in her online journal.

Meaning in the death of figure skater's mom may lie in a favourite song

At the last Olympic Games four years ago, Joannie Rochette skated to the music of the great Edith Piaf.

The song was L'Hymne A l'Amour, and its English lyrics as presented by the French legend now haunt:

If the sky should fall into the sea;  And the stars fade all around me; For the times that we have known;  I will sing a hymn to love.

Yes, the sky has fallen on Rochette, Canada's six-time national women's figure skating champion who found out from her father on Sunday morning that her 55-year-old mother, Therese, had died that morning of a heart attack in Vancouver General Hospital.

In the hours to come, Skate Canada announced the 24-year-old will continue to compete, heading for the short program on Tuesday evening and the final on Thursday.

But it will be with the heaviest of hearts and the memory of a mother's life hard lived, though one that ended on the verge of a daughter's dream.

In a stunningly frank journal entry on her own website, dated Jan. 6, 2006, the Ile-Dupas, Que., native told the story of how the Piaf song choice affected her mother when they listened to the song in the car.

Therese cried.

Loss of her first love

"When she was in her early 20s, my mother had a many years love relationship with a man," Rochette wrote. "They were engaged, and two weeks before their wedding, my mother's fiancé passed away in an accident."

Eventually, Therese would meet and marry Normand, and they would have a child — a son. And the son would die shortly after childbirth.

They tried again, and the result was Joannie.

So, years later when her daughter played the Piaf song, the tears came because it was the music that helped Therese get over the loss of her first love.

"She told me that she listened to that song so many times, after her fiancé passed away," Joannie wrote. "It was HER song."

If one day the life takes you away from me; If you die and you are far from me; No matter, as long as you love me; Because I would also die…

And now the song, whose lyrics were written by Piaf in 1949 after her own lover was killed in a plane crash, will resonate in ways we can only imagine.

Rochette skated that long program to a fifth at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, and after four years of hard work she has come into the Vancouver Games as the defending world silver medallist and as the one woman considered to have any chance to unseat prohibitive favourite Yu-Na Kim of South Korea.

Paying tribute

But what now? Skate Canada says Rochette is going to compete, and that doesn't surprise Pj Kwong, the longtime coach and commentator who has spent many years around top-level competitors.

"My thinking is she wants to pay tribute to her mother's sacrifices and what it took the Rochette family to get to this point," Kwong said. "This is the best way to honour her memory and do that."

This year's piece for the long program is Samson and Delilah — a biblical story of a woman who cuts off a hero's hair in order for him to be weakened and slain.

Whatever that may mean to the skater, it should not be something that will tie her in knots as she performs, as the Piaf song could.

When you meet Joannie Rochette, you see a young woman who has been determined to shoot for the highest of honours, but who will not allow it, she said in a recent interview, to define the rest of her life.

That has been done, for the near future, by fate. And how she reacts to it under the lights of Pacific Coliseum may well come down to the love of her parents, who wanted her so very much.

And the memory of her mother.

Those who love will live eternally; In the blue, where all is harmony; With my voice raised high to heaven; Just for you, I'll sing a hymn to love…