Skip navigation

No matter how prepared you think you are for the death of a loved one, it still comes as a shock,” Billy Graham observes, “and it still hurts very deeply.”

Ruth and Billy would have been married 64 years this month. He called her his soul mate and best friend; she was also a woman who could keep him humble, help swat away the temptations and ego trips and the offers from moguls who wanted to make him a movie star or talk-show host. She was a fierce warrior for Jesus, the kind of woman who once tried to hide a broken arm from Billy because she didn’t want him to know she had gone hang gliding and who referred to her chosen burial place as her “launching pad.” We asked him how he was coping since her death in June. “I realize now,” Graham replied, “in a way I never could have before, that a very important part of me has been taken away.” And so he has a new tenderness for all those who mourn, that they will be comforted.

Billy used to tell people he wasn’t afraid of death but was maybe a little scared of the process of dying. Ruth turned 87 on June 10 and was in rare form that day, celebrating with him and various children home from their world travels. But she was frailer than ever before after a bout of pneumonia, and that night, as evening came, she started to slip. The next day, the feeding tube that had made it possible for her to be cared for at home came out as she was shifting in bed; she told the nurse she didn’t want the tube put back in. She had struggled for a long time, longer than nature might have intended. The rest of the family talked it over and consulted with the doctors. In the end they agreed that the tube would be replaced but only to deliver pain medicine, no more food or fluids.

Three days later, Billy and their five sons and daughters were ringed around Ruth’s bed, reading Scripture, singing Great Is Thy Faithfulness, a hymn sung by millions of people at Graham’s crusades. Finally, at twilight, she took a few last breaths. Billy leaned over and kissed her cheek and her forehead. He asked his children to sing the doxology with him, and they struggled through it, praising God, “from whom all blessings flow.” The cat that had been shooed away from the bed for months was now allowed to jump on and curl up beside her. And then the family lit a fire in her fireplace, just the way she had liked it. “I know God has prepared a home for her in heaven,” Billy told his friends at her burial. “I just hope she saves a room for me.”

Grief is a demanding guest in an old man’s house. Let sorrow settle in, and in time it no longer feels like home. His daughters had the hospital bed removed and restored Ruth’s room as it used to be, warm and inviting, not sad, so it looks as if she’s just away on a long trip. It was Billy’s habit, through all their decades of work and travel, to call her every evening at about 5. These days, as twilight rolls around, he finds himself wanting to pick up the phone and call her and then remembering that he can’t. “Sometimes I’ll be preoccupied with something, and suddenly I’ll be reminded of her for some reason,” he says, “and I’ll find myself almost overwhelmed.” One way he copes, he says, is by thanking God for the years they had together. “They are over now –but God was good in giving us to each other, and I want to be grateful for those memories and not suppress them.” He has pulled out some of his favorite pictures of Ruth and put them on his desk to remind himself.

We asked him whether, with all our advanced medical technology, we perhaps fear death and fight it too much. “I think we often do,” he said. “I’m convinced that in some cases we aren’t so much prolonging life but prolonging death.” Over his long life he has endured some serious medical crises; he now has Parkinson’s disease and prostate cancer and a shunt to drain excess water from his brain. “I’m thankful for the incredible advances in medicine that have taken place during my lifetime. I almost certainly wouldn’t still be here if it weren’t for them,” he says. “And I believe God has given them to us because he loves us and wants what is best for us, both in this life and the next. But death is a reality common to us all, and for me as a Christian it isn’t something to be feared, because I know what lies ahead for me beyond the grave.”

Graham has always been one to keep looking forward and not get stuck in the past. He’s thinking about fixing up the house or writing another book–he has already written close to 30. “Over the years I’ve seen people lose a spouse and then withdraw and lose interest in life,” he says, “and I believe we need to resist that.” But it has become clear that a man who spent his life teaching people how to live is now in a position to show people how to die, with hope for an eternal kingdom that is no longer a theological abstraction to him. Heaven is where Ruth is. “Someday soon I will join her,” he says. “Most of all, I take comfort in the hope we can have of eternal life in Heaven because of Christ’s death and resurrection for us. I’ve preached this message almost all my life, and it means more to me now than ever before.”

(From Time)

Advertisements

4 Comments

  1. Reading the story of Ruth’s death and Billy’s response brought deep sorrow and even pressure on my chest as I thought of losing my wife. I never thought I could love someone the way that I love her. The thought of not being able to talk to her, see her, live beside her is overwhelming to me.

    The hope in our loss is certainly the grace of God at work. When I think of losing my wife I can’t think of anything in my life that I might encounter that would require God’s grace more.

    Billy’s life is an example of the incredible grace of God – even more so now.

  2. Reading Billy Graham’s “comments on Ruth after death” gripped me tonight and wrapped around my heart because my beloved wife, Gail came to Christ after watching a Billy Graham Crusade. The comments about the empty house and the 5 o’clock phone calls spoke to my soul. After our 40 Year Blind Date and the love of a godly woman who I never heard anyone speak a cross or negative word to, draws me nearer to my Loving Lord. My “launching pad” awaits me right next to Gail’s. And although I love life more each day, I await the time that I will join her praising the Lord forever more!

  3. Billy Graham’s response to Ruth’s death is so vastly different than C.S. Lewis’ response after the death of his wife “H.”. I have just finished reading “A Grief Observed” as I find myself, for the first time in my life, actually doubting God’s goodness, love, and care. It is comforting to see that such men of faith oft times also struggle with the practicalities of living life in relationship with Christ when it feels as though He is absent, and we feel abandoned and decieved.

    I pray Dr. Graham perseveres without succuming to such weakness as I now share with C.S. Lewis.

  4. Reading Billy Graham’s comments on “Ruth after death” was helpful for me. I relate to some of the feeling he expressed as very normal for someone who has loss a spouse of many years. We want to and do know that God is still in control and want to express this in the way we live with our grief. I have also read C.S .Lewis’ book “A Grief Observed” and again relate to many of the feeling he expressed. I was also sure I knew how to handle this phase of my life as a Christian. What I found out when my husband died suddenly, was that I didn’t have a clue. You get through each day only with God’s grace. You believe you are handling things well, only to realize you have picked up the phone to call home when no one is there or turn to ask what he thinks about something only to realize you are own your own in making the decision.
    My pray is that God will grant Christians the grace to grieve in a way to bring Glory to Him in some way. This is my goal for this time. I didn’t say it would be easy, as life is almost never easy.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: