Our last visit with Billy Graham at his mountain home was around Christmas time. My wife, Jeanie (Billy’s sister), and our daughter Debbie and I, and Billy’s daughter Gigi, joined hands and sang one of his favorite crusade songs: “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine, O what a foretaste of glory divine.”
At 99, eyesight and hearing mostly gone, he was only dimly aware we were there. Then as we left, Jeanie leaned over and said, “Billy Frank, we’re going now. I’d like to take you to Charlotte with me.” There was a long pause and then he breathed the two words he spoke to us that day: “Oh, my.”
Now he has come home to Charlotte – at least the earthly part of him has – to rest in the red Carolina soil, next to his wife, Ruth, five miles from the farm where he grew up.
Hundreds of admirers lined up on roads and highways and overpasses along the route of the motorcade that brought his body here from Montreat. They waited for hours, with Bibles and signs and flags to wave a goodbye.
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Coming after the recent silent years, when he was away from public view, almost, it seemed, forgotten, this eruption of care and thanks and attention from around the world touched Jeanie and me so deeply.
His simple casket, made of plywood by life prisoners at Angola Prison in Louisiana, was carried gently into the Library. There the family, from Jeanie down to the youngest grandchildren, gathered around, and his pastor offered a prayer.
As we stood quietly talking, I saw the large cross-shaped window over the entrance reflected on the casket.
It was a powerful symbol, the cross over the casket, light shining over death, servanthood over self.
He preached that the way of the cross leads home. Now it has led him to his eternal home, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Leighton Ford of Charlotte, Billy Graham’s brother-in-law, is a Presbyterian minister known internationally as a preacher, writer and mentor.