Billy Graham on Life Without Ruth

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Billy Graham Evangelistic Association / EPA / Corbis

The Reverend Billy Graham and his wife Ruth

As they were preparing an excerpt from their book, editors Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy asked Billy Graham to reflect on what he has learned and what has changed since the death of his wife Ruth on June 14.

For two generations you have been teaching people all over the world how to live and pray. Is there anything you would say now to someone who has lost a spouse that, perhaps, you didn't know before?

One thing I've come to see is that no matter how prepared you think you are for the death of a loved one, it still comes as a shock, and it still hurts very deeply. Ruth's health had been precarious for months—in fact, she almost died the beginning of the year—so her death wasn't a surprise. But I realize now—in a way I never could have before—that a very important part of me has been taken away. My heart goes out in a new way to all those who have lost a spouse or other loved one, especially those who have loved ones serving in our military because I know now what they are going through. My faith in Christ comforts me, and I can't imagine going through something like this without Christ. But it's still hard.

You've said many times that you don't fear death, although you don't necessarily look forward to the process of dying. But do we fear death and fight it too much, with all the doctors and medicines and new technologies?

I think we often do. I'm convinced that in some cases we aren't so much prolonging life, but prolonging death. I'm thankful, however 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. 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.

Is there some piece of Scripture that is a particular comfort to you now?

The Bible says that one reason God gave the Bible to us is so we could have comfort and hope in the face of life's trials—and I've discovered this in an even greater way since Ruth's death. It would be hard for me to single out any one passage of Scripture, I suppose, but I find myself returning repeatedly to some of the familiar verses that speak of eternity and our hope of Heaven—passages like Psalm 23, or the first few verses of Revelation 21. My mind often turns also to Jesus' words in John 14: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you." I know Ruth has now entered that heavenly home, and that some day soon I will join her. This gives me great comfort.

You have preached so long about the hope of Heaven, and comforted so many who are grieving. Now the sadness is yours. How do you cope with missing her?

That's a hard question for me to answer, because I suppose I'm still learning how to adjust to life without Ruth. Sometimes I'll be preoccupied with something, and suddenly I'll be reminded of her for some reason, and I'll find myself almost overwhelmed.

One way I cope is by thanking God every day for the years we 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. Recently I pulled out some of my favorite pictures of Ruth—several going back many years—and put them on my desk, just to remind me of this.

Then I also cope by keeping busy, and by being with other people. I can't travel as much as I once did, but almost every day one of our children or grandchildren comes by, or a friend, or even someone I've never met before. Over the years I've seen people lose a spouse and then withdraw and lose interest in life, and I believe we need to resist that.

Most of all, I take comfort in the Word of God, and 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.