Leading up to the day of the funeral, feelings of anxiety and uncertainty abounded. Although receiving media passes for the visitation had been fairly streamlined and straightforward, obtaining credentials to attend the private funeral service was a highly- competitive process. Of the roughly 2,300 invited guests, seating for members of the media was limited. After confirming Southern Calls was selected as the exclusive funeral publication to cover the historical event, we felt deeply humbled and honored to have been given the privilege to attend.
The morning came early, replacing any fatigue we felt with an eager adrenaline rush in anticipation for what would, perhaps, become the experience of a lifetime. Although the funeral was not scheduled to begin until noon, all media personnel received instructions to assemble in a parking lot at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport before being transported to the library by charter bus. Because President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, along with Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, were in attendance, we were required to pass a Secret Service screening before being permitted to enter the funeral tent.
While invited guests arrived through an entrance apart from the media, once inside, the crowd was surprisingly much less segregated. Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of California’s Saddleback megachurch, was among the first notable attendees we observed, seated just a few feet away. Warren also gained fame as the author of “A Purpose Driven Life.” Televangelist Joel Osteen and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York were among the numerous other religious leaders in attendance. An entourage surrounded television personality Kathie Lee Gifford as she moved through the crowd, while others, such as musician Ricky Skaggs, were able to blend with the public and escape largely unnoticed.
“Billy’s message and everyone of us as Christians – our message to everybody should be just come to the foot of the cross and meet Jesus. You’ll never be alone again for the rest of your life. You’ll never be alone again,” Gifford said.
Yes – you, the funeral director, and Mr. Graham had much in common. Caring for those who continue in life after the separation and finality that death brings to all people. He readily took the opportunity to encourage and lift – to bless and to love. Just as you do – caring for families – serving with distinction and compassion – carefully handling “endings”.
Dr. David P. Bruce
Since it was still several hours shy of the service start time, we were able to take full advantage of exploring the surroundings. First we walked down the aisle to the front, near the pulpit and where the casket would soon be placed. Once there, we were able to gain a truly awesome perspective of the sheer size and magnitude of the tent. The rows of seats seemed endless, with neatly printed placards attached to chairs reserved for family and for musicians slated to perform. Invited attendees were positioned on the floor level, while members of the media were provided bleacher style seats, desks or small designated areas for remote broadcasts.
Just before beginning, all guests were ordered to stay in place as the presidential motorcade suddenly appeared and the limousines were backed into side-by-side spaces behind a dark cloth privacy barrier. As any funeral director can appreciate, the Graham family was seated precisely at noon and immediately after the president, first lady, the vice president and Mrs. Pence were escorted to their seats by Franklin’s youngest son, Army Maj. Edward Graham.
“President Trump was gracious and cordial, and his demeanor was graceful and soft as he greeted the immediate family while in the library just moments before the beginning of the ceremony” Morris remembered.
Funeral homes thrive on personal relationships, and, because Morris had built such a strong rapport, he remained with the Graham family through the duration of the various services as a source of familiar support and continuity.
“Working with LHT was amazing. They have a fantastic team of top-notch professionals. I appreciate them allowing me the privilege to be a part of the history. A couple of years
after handling the services of Ruth Graham, I teamed up with Bob Boetticher and LHT. With limited resources for an event of that magnitude, I was excited to have them partner with my firm to provide the services for Rev. Graham. We each had a different role to play behind the scenes, and I worked with Bob Boetticher and John DeBord during every step of the process,” Morris said.
As the celebration commenced, guests were serenaded in song by several extraordinarily talented musicians and led in prayer by a variety of pastors highly regarded and respected by the Graham family and the late evangelist himself. However, the most powerful portion of the service proved to be the deeply powerful and personal testimonies given by Graham’s children.
“My father preached on heaven; told millions how to find heaven. He wrote a book on heaven, and, today, he’s in heaven. His journey is complete,” remarked Franklin Graham, as he derived the Gospel message.
“What the kids said was not planned. It showed all different sides of Mr. Graham. They didn’t plan to share various things; it was all simply what they felt,” said Barun.
“Because of my relationship with Franklin, the proudest moment for me was seeing him give the eulogy for his father and secondly, the service in the Rotunda. There was no political divide. Everyone was united together to celebrate a religious leader,” he explained.
After the final prayer was read, the bagpipes began. Pipe Maj. William Boetticher, brother of funeral director Bob Boetticher, gallantly led the family as they recessed to the library. Following the postlude, Graham’s children re-emerged at different spots around the tent to visit with guests, again espousing servility and grace and honoring a specific request from their father.
“He requested that members of his family greet guests to thank them for coming,” according to Gus Morris.
“God gave this family to the people. Mr. Graham’s life was open to everyone, so the family, who are very cohesive, wanted to be accessible to the crowd, so everyone was treated the same way,” proclaimed Barun. “His life was a lesson in humility, love, faith and surrender.”
Ultimately, Billy Graham never abandoned the deep faith that defined his life and ministry. He never sacrificed the family who loved and supported him for fame and fortune. He never sought the spotlight or preached from a pedestal of self-righteousness and, most importantly, he never denied Jesus Christ who saved him. Like all of us, he was a sinner and had a keen sense that he could use that simple fact to teach millions of people about redemption, forgiveness and salvation through the love and the acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and Savior. He also had a phenomenal understanding regarding the overall meaning of life, which is being prepared to go to heaven.
“The Bible says that as long as we are here on Earth, we are strangers in a foreign land. There are enemies to be conquered before we return home. This world is not our home; our citizenship is in heaven,” Graham preached.
Are you ready?
“You don’t know how funny it makes me feel to sit here and look at my house, and my husband and I just had an argument about which room was mine, but thank you all for being here, and you’re here because you love him, but you don’t love him like I do, and you haven’t loved him as long as I have. When the President saw me today he said, “My goodness! Your family has good genes.” Well, he didn’t know my name was Jean . . .
Jean Graham Ford, Sister
. . . There’s a little girl that was born many, many years ago on a faraway country, and, she, I don’t believe had probably ever heard of Charlotte, North Carolina, but she was born many, many years ago a long time away. But you know, her parents had taught her to pray, even at that early age, for the man that God would prepare for her. And so, there was a little boy here in Charlotte milking cows every morning and every afternoon, and he had no idea that there was a little girl praying for him in China. But, you know, mother, many years after that wrote . . . really, she was about thirteen when she wrote this little poem, and I couldn’t think of any adjectives that have been said that could do better than this poem, and I want to share this poem with you that many of you maybe have heard, or ever quoted it, but it’s worth doing it again.
Thirteen-year-old girl remember . . .
Dear God, I pray, all unafraid as we’re inclined to do . . .
I do not need a handsome man, but Oh God, let Him be like You.
I do not need one big and strong, or yet very tall,
Nor need he be a genius or wealthy, Lord, at all,
But let his head be held high, Dear God, and Let his eye be clear.
His shoulders straight what ere his state but ere his earthly sphere,
And, oh God, let his face have character and a ruggedness of soul,
And let his whole life show, dear God, a singleness of goal,
And when he comes, as he will come, with those quiet eyes aglow,
I’ll understand that he’s the man I’ve prayed for long ago.
And, you know, the Lord answered every single one of those prayers that mother…and many more . . . and of course, that little girl, my sisters and my brothers and I called “Mama,” and the little boy was daddy, and how grateful God has now brought them back together again for eternity.
Virginia “Gigi” Graham, Daughter
When I was a girl growing up mother led us in family devotions every day. She read the Bible, and she prayed, and that was that.
When daddy was home he led in family devotions. He read the Bible, but he didn’t just read it. My daddy would stop and make a comment. He would ask a question, and we would discuss the scriptures.
So, my mother taught me by her example to love reading my Bible every day, and my daddy taught me by his example to think about what I was reading.
So, about ten years ago, eleven years ago, when my mother went to Heaven my daddy started asking me to read him the Bible, and at first it was very intimidating, and then it became such a joy, and there were times when I would sit in front of my daddy.
He was hard of hearing. So, I would sit in front of him knee to knee, and he would ask me to give him a full sixty-minute message, and he never took his eyes off my face. Once in a while he would interrupt me, and he would ask a question, or we would discuss it, but he loved to hear God’s Word.
And then as he got weaker we went from sixty minutes to five to ten minutes, but the pattern was always the same. Whoever was in the house was called to gather around him, and we did that whether he was in the kitchen or if he was in his study, or more recently, when he was in his bedroom. But the pattern was the same. People would gather around, and I would read a passage of scripture, but before I did I would explain to him why I had chosen that particular passage of scripture.
Anne Graham Lotz, Daughter
After twenty-one years my marriage ended in divorce.
I was devastated. I floundered. I did a lot wrong. The rug was pulled out from under me. My family thought it would be a good idea for me to move away, to get a fresh start somewhere else. And so I decided to live near my older sister and her family and near a good church. The pastor of that church introduced me to a handsome widower, and we began to date fast and furiously. My children didn’t like him, but I thought, you know, they were almost grown. They didn’t know . . . they couldn’t tell me what to do. I knew what was best for my life. My mother called me from Seattle. My father called me from Tokyo. They said, “Honey, why don’t you slow down. Let us wait to get to know this man.”
They had never been a single parent. They had never been divorced. What did they know? So, being stubborn, willful, and sinful I married a man . . . this man on New Year’s Eve, and within twenty-four hours I knew I’d made a terrible mistake. After five weeks I fled. I was afraid of him. What was I going to do? I wanted to go talk to my mother and father. It was a two-day drive. Questions swirled in my mind. What was I going to say to daddy? What was I going to say to mother? What was I going to say to my children? I’d been such a failure. What were they going to say to me? “We’re tired of fooling with you.” “We told you not to do it.” “You’ve embarrassed us.” Let me tell you. You women will understand. You don’t want to embarrass your father. You really don’t want to embarrass Billy Graham. And many of you know that we live on the side of a mountain, and as I wound myself up the mountain I rounded the last bend in my father’s driveway, and my father was standing there waiting for me. As I got out of the car he wrapped his arms around me, and he said, “Welcome home.” There was no shame. There was no blame. There was no condemnation, just unconditional love, and you know, my father was not God, but he showed me what God was like that day. When we come to God with our sin, our brokenness, our failure, our pain and our hurt God says, “Welcome home,” and that invitation is open for you. Thank you and God bless you.
Ruth Graham, Daughter
And I followed her my whole life. I was told we have three minutes to try and sum up the life of my father, Billy Graham. I’m going to take less than three minutes, because my siblings took a little more. I just want you to know that my father was fat. He was faithful. He was available, and he was teachable, and I want each of you to remember that; faithful, available, teachable. May we all be that way. And thank each one of you for coming and giving us this honor and the honor to my father. Thank you.
Nelson Edman “Ned” Graham, Son
. . the Billy Graham that the world saw on television, the Billy Graham that the world saw in the big stadiums was the same Billy Graham that we saw at home. There weren’t two Billy Grahams. He loved his family. He stood by us.
He comforted us. He left us an enduring legacy. His uncompromising testimony of God’s great love, all of us children came to see the world and our Father in Heaven through my father’s eyes.
I think the most compelling vision I have ingrained in my memory is my father, the preacher, the evangelist standing behind this pulpit right here…in stadiums around the country and around the world, and his voice booming, proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has often said, “Someday, you will read that Billy Graham is dead.” He said, “Don’t you believe one word of it.” He said, “I’ll be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed addresses that’s all.”
I last visited with my father Sunday, February the 18th, and on the 21st of February he was escorted by God’s angels to the throne of God, and I can only imagine what it was like for my father to step into Heaven, and there was the Lord Jesus Christ to say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” There was the throne of God. Can you just imagine that? My mother . . . his mother, father, friends, clapping, cheering, bells ringing, trumpets blowing, not because it was Billy Graham. It’s just another child of God who’s come home, another child of God.
Daddy, I won’t see you on this Earth again, but I will see you again. I’ll see you maybe soon, but not yet. To God be the glory.
Franklin Graham, Son
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