Ruth Graham, now 81 and in delicate health in North Carolina, has just released two volumes bearing many of those poems, Footprints of a Pilgrim (Word Publishing) and Never Let It End (Baker Books). With lyrical honesty, they record the tears and occasional tumult as well as the love that underlies the couple's 57-year marriage. Beyond that are her universal meditations that, like the Psalms, sometimes shout with faith and sometimes ruminate about loss and decline.
Neither of the Grahams was available for interviews, but their eldest daughter, Gigi Graham Tchividjian, spoke by phone from Florida this month about the impact of her mother's writing.
"Growing up, she shared with us the sunshine. Even when she was lonely and Daddy was gone for long periods, she didn't share that. Her pain, the foggy times of life, she shared with her pen. She never wrote the poems to be published. They were for her own therapy."
Ruth Graham's agent, Stephen Griffith, said he noticed her stapling some of the poems as a wedding gift for one of her granddaughters several years ago. He persuaded her to prepare a compilation, and the result is Footprints of a Pilgrim.
Tchividjian, 55, said that she had written two or three poems herself but that none of her siblings had. And her father? "Oh, no. It takes a certain kind of person to appreciate poetry. I don't think Daddy understands poetry."
Her mother, who must use a walker because of painful hip problems, "is constantly working on a poem. It's always a work in progress."
Ruth Graham even has composed her epitaph: "End of construction . . . Thank you for your patience."
Jim Remsen's e-mail address is email@example.com.