MONTREAT, N.C. – Aging evangelist Billy Graham huddled by his comatose wife's bedside with their five children Thursday at the couple's home in the mountains of western North Carolina.
Billy Graham said in a news release Wednesday that his wife, Ruth Graham, 87, who has been bedridden for months with degenerative osteoarthritis of the back and neck, "is close to going home to heaven."
"Ruth is my soul mate and best friend, and I cannot imagine living a single day without her by my side," said Billy Graham, who is 88 and ailing himself with fluid on the brain, prostate cancer, Parkinson's disease and age-related macular degeneration. "I am more in love with her today than when we first met over 65 years ago as students at Wheaton College."
Ruth Graham rallied briefly after she underwent treatment for pneumonia two weeks ago, but her health worsened because of her weakened condition. She celebrated her birthday Sunday and was alert, but slipped into the coma Wednesday morning. Her condition did not change overnight, said Graham's spokesman Larry Ross.
News that Ruth Graham had fallen into a coma came as Billy Graham announced that he and his wife would be buried in Charlotte, at the new Billy Graham Library, instead of at The Cove, a Bible training center near the Grahams' home outside of Asheville.
The Washington Post reported last year the couple's youngest son Ned, citing the wishes of his mother, opposed burying his parents at the library. Ruth Graham wanted to be buried at The Cove, he said.
In his Wednesday statement, Billy Graham said he and Ruth decided earlier — "after much prayer and discussion" — they would be laid to rest at the library in Charlotte, but kept that decision private until it became clear that Ruth was close to death.
Born in Charlotte, Graham traveled the world for decades building a revival-based ministry that reached millions. He later returned to the Charlotte area, which became the home of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Three former presidents — Clinton, Carter, and George H.W. Bush — helped Graham open the $27 million library and museum last month. Graham needed the help of son Franklin, who has taken over the leadership of the association, to reach his seat, and later quipped that the emotional ceremony had such an air of finality that, "I feel like I've been attending my own funeral."
When Graham and his wife die, Ross said, they will be buried at the foot of a cross-shaped walkway in the library's prayer garden — a symbolic decision to demonstrate both their reverence to God and their "ongoing witness of their faith in Christ.