In sunset of life, Billy Graham reflects on growing old

October 4, 2011

(RNS) For much of his 92 years, Billy Graham has had one main title:
evangelist.


But in a new memoir set in the twilight of his remarkable life,
Graham reveals a lesser-known side of himself: a grieving and ailing
widower who has difficulty getting up from a chair or putting on his
shoes.


"I can't truthfully say that I have liked growing older," Graham
writes in "Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well," which hits
bookstores on Oct. 18. "At times I wish I could still do everything I
once did -- but I can't."


To be sure, his book includes his signature focus on evangelism,
asking non-Christian readers numerous times to come to Jesus before it
is too late. But most of the book's 180 pages are filled with messages
on growing old, or preparing younger readers for the reality of old age.


"All my life I was taught how to die as a Christian, but no one ever
taught me how I ought to live in the years before I die," he writes in
the introduction. "I wish they had because I am an old man now and
believe me, it's not easy."


So, a month before he turns 93, Graham has become a teacher of sorts
in How to Grow Old 101.


Stay involved, he recommends. And spend wisely. As the
great-grandfather of 43, he warns against going into debt buying
expensive gifts for grandchildren.


Prepare a will and medical directives to reduce family conflict
after you're gone, he advises. And look out for the "hidden perils" of
depression, anger and self-absorption.


"Sometimes I have to force my mind to turn away from whatever
problem is absorbing me at the moment and make myself focus on the needs
of others," he writes.


Despite their limitations, he assures, the senior years can
nevertheless be rewarding. He cites biblical examples, including Moses,
who died at 120 after leading the Egyptians to the Promised Land, and
Elizabeth, who gave birth to John the Baptist though "well along in
years."


"Are you willing to be used by God regardless of being bound by
physical ailments, financial constraint, or the loneliness of growing
old?" asks the man who once crisscrossed the world but now seldom leaves
his home in the North Carolina mountains.


He counsels on a range of possibilities: getting involved in church
or other ministries, helping others who may be ill or grieving, and
building a mature faith through books and Bible study.


"God forbid that we should ever retire from prayer, the sweetest
work of the soul," he writes.


Graham even manages to find humor in the gradual loss of senses that
accompanies old age. Recalling hearing younger people screaming "Can you
hear me?" into their cell phones, he said: "It's sometimes comical to
hear the younger generation ask their peers to repeat themselves."


For years, news reports have chronicled Graham's physical decline:
pneumonia, hearing and vision loss, even tripping over his dog. His
wheelchair, cane and walker now are close to his bed, and he dictated
the book that took him several years to write.


"I often wonder if God, in his sovereignty, allows the eyesight of
the aged to cast a dim view of the here and now so that we may focus our
spiritual eyes on the ever after," he writes.


Graham reserves his most poignant prose about grief for his beloved
wife Ruth, who died in 2007, two years after he held his last official
crusade in New York. He always thought she would outlive him.


"Not a day passes that I don't imagine her walking through my study
door or us sitting together on our porch as we did so often, holding
hands as the sun set over the mountaintops," he writes.


In recent years, Graham has marked his Nov. 7 birthday with a media
release about his hopes for a heavenly home. In the book, Graham writes
that he looks forward to death because he's eager to be reunited with
his wife. In the meantime, he appreciates the "touches of Ruth" in each
room of his house.


"Before long Ruth and I will be reunited in heaven," he writes.
"More than ever, I look forward to that day!"