Source AP ©

Billy Graham's wife to die soon

Influential evangelist Billy Graham said Wednesday that his ailing wife, Ruth, "is close to going home to heaven," and wished to be buried at the recently dedicated Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"Ruth is my soul mate and best friend, and I cannot imagine living a single day without her by my side," the 88-year-old Graham said. "I am more in love with her today than when we first met over 65 years ago as students at Wheaton College."

Ruth, 86, has degenerative osteoarthritis of the back and neck and is bedridden at their home in the mountains of western North Carolina.

The site of Graham's burial once appeared to be the source of some debate within his family. In December, The Washington Post reported that Ned Graham, the couple's youngest son, opposed burying his parents at the library. He and other members of the family said they preferred a site near Billy and Ruth Graham's home outside Asheville, in the town of Montreat.

The paper said evangelist Franklin Graham, who has taken over leadership of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for his father, wanted the graves to be at the Charlotte museum.

Graham, who himself suffers from fluid on the brain, prostate cancer and Parkinson's disease, responded by saying the decision would be his and his wife's alone.

"Ruth and I appreciate, more than we can express, the prayers and letters of encouragement we have received from people across the country and around the world," he said Wednesday.

Graham was in Charlotte last month for the opening of the $27 million (20 million EUR), 40,000-square-foot (3,700-square-meter) museum and evangelistic library. He looked frail, was brought to the state by golf cart and needed Franklin's help to reach his seat.

He told a crowd that included three former U.S. presidents - Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush - that he was embarrassed by the attention and said there was "too much Billy Graham" in the exhibits.