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“OUR love will be reunited soon in heaven.” With those touching words, ailing evangelist Billy Graham whispered a final farewell to his beloved wife Ruth at her graveside.
The ENQUIRER has learned the world-famous 95-year-old preacher made the emotional private visit shortly before his eldest son and heir apparent asked for prayers for his father.
“Our family would appreciate your prayers for him that the Lord would strengthen him,” said the Rev. Franklin Graham, 61, who now heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Franklin described his father as “extremely weak,” and close sources say family members had accepted the fact that the much-admired preacher was facing his last days.
“Billy has valiantly lived to a ripe old age, but he knows that God is ready to call him home, and the family is preparing for the end,” revealed a close source.
“He’s said, ‘I’m ready to meet my maker.’ ”
“Billy recently asked to be taken to Ruth’s grave before the weather became too cold. Then he asked for some time alone so he could pray for her. He often talks about the wonderful reunion they’ll have in heaven.”
Ruth passed away at age 87 in June 2007 after 63 years of marriage.
“When Ruth passed, it was as if half of Billy died,” said the source. “They were two parts of a whole.”
T h e Rev. Graham will be buried next to Ruth on the grounds of his library in Charlotte, N.C. He’ll be laid to rest in a $215 birch plywood coffin built by inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, said the source.
“Billy’s son Franklin made the request after seeing the coffins during a visit to the prison and being struck by their simplicity,” said the source.
The Rev. Graham made a brief appearance at his star-studded 95th birthday celebration on Nov. 7. He was hospitalized two weeks later for observation and tests, then released, but he was weakened by a respiratory infection.
He’s been confined to a wheelchair for several years and is nearly blind due to age-related macular degeneration. He’s also suffered from Parkinson’s disease and battled prostate cancer. Over the past few years, he’s endured other health-related issues, including hip replacement, pneumonia and crippling falls.
For now, The Rev. Graham – who has preached to 2.2 billion people around the world and been a confidante of every president since Harry Truman – is comfortable at his mountaintop home in Montreat, N.C.
“Billy wanted to be home surrounded by family, not in a hospital bed, and his final days have been filled with joy,” said the source.
“Besides praying for his reunion with his beloved wife, Billy was thankful that he was able to deliver a videotaped sermon, titled ‘My Hope America,’ at his birthday party.
“At this stage Billy has nothing else to live for. He can no longer deliver sermons as his voice has been weakened to a whisper by the ravages of old age. And with Franklin at the helm, he’s established a line of succession to carry on the family ministry.
“He feels the time has come for him to say goodbye to his family and close friends, and move from his worldly life to the afterlife.
“Billy’s been so blessed, and he’s not afraid of dying. He’s said, ‘I’m happy to go. I’m ready to go. As a matter of fact, I’m looking forward to it.’”