A Joyous Goodbye

By Bob Paulson and Kristen Burke   •   July 24, 2007

It rained the day Ruth Bell Graham went Home. People around the small town of Montreat, N.C., noted that it had rained very little in the weeks preceding June 14. But that day and the day after, rain came in waves, like grief, across the misty mountains Ruth loved so much. “The whole mountain is crying,” said Montreat resident Robert Harms.

But along with the rain and grieving came laughter and rejoicing. Laughter as friends and family remembered Ruth’s sparkling sense of humor; rejoicing as they reminded one another that Ruth is at last in the presence of her beloved Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

On June 15, well-wishers started to arrive at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, in nearby Asheville. They signed a guest book and lingered in front of a memory board filled with photos and a list of Ruth’s favorite Scripture passages: Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 25:4-5, Lamentations 3:25, Psalm 90:14 and Psalm 37:4.

Wade and Faye Talbot, of Black Mountain, have known the Grahams for years. Wade’s parents and grandparents, like Ruth’s parents, were missionaries in China; Faye helped provide nursing care for Ruth in recent years. “Ruth’s love for the Lord and her love for people is beyond us,” Faye said.

Early the morning of June 16, Ruth’s body was transported from Morris Funeral Home in Asheville to Anderson Auditorium in Montreat. As the funeral cortege traveled through the still-wet streets of Black Mountain, people stood and watched to honor Ruth’s passing.

A small group also gathered at the stone gate leading into Montreat, the quiet and easy-going Presbyterian retreat community where the Grahams have lived for most of their lives.

By late morning, hundreds of people began to arrive at Anderson Auditorium. Many sat on benches or steps as they waited for the doors to open. Longtime Montreat residents mingled with people from across the country who wanted to honor Ruth’s memory.

A woman from San Diego, Calif., said, “Ruth Graham is a pillar of the faith, and you just don’t pass up opportunities to honor someone who’s been inspiring for young women. We don’t have those figures anymore.”

As shuttle buses filled the narrow streets, bringing people to the memorial service, Mary Jean noted that on the door of the post office she had seen a note from Billy Graham apologizing for the inconvenience the service would cause his neighbors. But none of the Montreaters standing outside the auditorium seemed to mind.

The funeral service was, like Ruth, both dignified and hilarious. As a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace,” the droning yet triumphant notes resonated in the circular, stone-walled auditorium. Ruth’s older sister Rosa told stories about her accident-prone, insect-attracting, would-be-martyr sister.

Each of Ruth’s children also spoke. Franklin Graham said, “My mama believed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. My mama believed that Jesus Christ died for our sins. My mama believed that Jesus died and went to the grave and that He rose on the third day. And my mama believed that Jesus Christ is in heaven and that He is coming back here someday. … Mama lived what she believed, and she taught all of us children to love the Lord God and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Billy Graham stood and said, “She was an incredible woman. I wish you could look in her casket, because she is so beautiful. I sat there a long time last night looking at her, and I prayed … I knew she had a great reception in heaven.”

Ruth’s casket was made of plywood by inmates at Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana. The prisoner who led the team that made the casket was called “Grasshopper” and had come to know the Lord while serving 31 years in prison for murder. It seemed fitting for Ruth, who often visited prisoners and fed many in her home after their release.

On Sunday, June 17, family members gathered at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte for the interment. During the half-hour service, Billy Graham addressed the family. “It doesn’t seem to me like we’re at a place of burial,” he said. “I feel like it is a place of rejoicing.”

Richard Bewes, former rector of All Souls Langham Place in London, closed in prayer. “We pray now that You will watch over the members of this family, these dear ones,” he said. “We are looking forward to that day when … the Son of Man, as the bright, Morning Star, returns. Fortify us for that day; prepare us for that moment when we see the Lord in glory.”

The sun was shining. There was grief, but there was also hope and joy. Ruth Bell Graham was Home.

Read Ruth Bell Graham’s obituary »
Memories of a Godly Woman »
Ruth Bell Graham: A Life Well Lived, Part 1 »
Ruth Bell Graham: A Life Well Lived, Part 2 »
Billy Graham’s Letter about His Beloved Wife’s Homegoing »

Celebrating Ruth Bell Graham: This two-hour DVD with special additional footage is a stirring celebration of the extraordinary life of the woman who captured Billy Graham’s heart and inspired millions around the world with her faith. Order your copy here.

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