MONTREAT, N.C. (BPNews.net)--Ruth Bell Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, died at 5:05 EST June 14, surrounded by her husband and five children at her Montreat, N.C., home. She was 87.
"Ruth was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team," Billy Graham said in a statement after her death. "No one else could have borne the load that she carried. She was a vital and integral part of our ministry, and my work through the years would have been impossible without her encouragement and support.
"I am so grateful to the Lord that He gave me Ruth, and especially for these last few years we've had in the mountains together," Graham added. "We've rekindled the romance of our youth, and my love for her continued to grow deeper every day. I will miss her terribly, and look forward even more to the day I can join her in heaven."
For several weeks, Graham had been confined to bed as she suffered from degenerative osteoarthritis of the back and neck, and two weeks ago she was diagnosed with pneumonia and seemed to be recovering, A. Larry Ross, a spokesman for the Graham family, told Baptist Press. But on the morning of June 13 she fell into a coma.
At the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in San Antonio that day, SBC President Frank Page led messengers in a time of prayer for Graham, whom he called a "dear saint of God."
Ross said Graham was alert on Sunday, June 10, to celebrate her birthday and was encouraged by visits from family members.
Billy Graham released a statement June 13 announcing the plans he and Ruth had settled on for their burial.
"Earlier this spring, after much prayer and discussion, Ruth and I made the decision to be buried beside each other at the Billy Graham Library in my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina," Graham said. "We have held this decision privately and only decided to announce it now that she is close to going home to heaven."
Graham called Ruth his soul mate and best friend, saying he cannot imagine living a single day without her by his side.
"I am more in love with her today than when we first met over 65 years ago as students at Wheaton College," he said.
The worldwide evangelist said he and Ruth appreciated the prayers and letters of encouragement they had received.
"Our entire family has been home in recent days and it has meant so much to have them at our side during this time," Graham said in the June 13 statement. "We love each one of them dearly and thank God for them."
Graham, 88, suffers from fluid on the brain, prostate cancer, Parkinson's disease and age-related macular degeneration. The Billy Graham Library was dedicated in his honor May 31 with three former U.S. presidents in attendance, and it opened to the public June 5.
The Grahams married in 1943 and they have 19 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren in addition to their five children. Arrangements for a private funeral are pending.