Member Spotlight

No fears about dying

A visit from Jesus gives Gayle Rudd peace



For weeks after finding out his sister’s cancer was terminal, Paul Sims called Gayle Rudd every day to ask, “Are you going to heaven today?”

“I don’t know Paul, are you?” she would reply. “No one knows when he’s going.”

While her words are true and biblical, Gayle knows for sure that heaven is her final destination. At 80, most Christians would feel closer to heaven than they did when they were younger, but an experience with Christ in the spring of 2023 melted any fears she may have had about dying.

Gayle was shocked when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in August of 2020, but prayer brought her peace. Then, after surgery, chemo, remission, the return of the cancer and months of chemo, doctors told her they could do nothing more. When she realized she wasn’t going to get better, she prayed even more about death. “I was not afraid to die,” she says. “I knew where I was going. But I was worried about the process, how bad it would get before it happened, what would I have to go through. I prayed a lot.”

In the Spring of 2023, Henry was in rehab in Trussville after being in and out of the hospital with heart and blood pressure problems. When she came home from visiting him each day, she usually went to bed because she would be exhausted. One night, her breathing was especially laborious, and she had difficulty talking. (Doctors later drained off almost two liters of fluid.)

“I couldn’t turn over from one side to the other,” she says. “I had to turn onto my back, lie there awhile, then to the other side. One night, I said, ‘Lord, am I just gonna die right here by myself?’ All of a sudden, Jesus was right there beside the bed. His arms were stretched out as if welcoming me and I knew all I had to do was reach out and take His hands. I really wanted to, but I hesitated, because I had a couple of things left undone. I reached out to Him, then drew my hands back. I said, ‘No Lord, I can’t right now.’’’

She was weightless, floating above the bed. When she drew her hands back, she fell back onto the bed so hard, it was as if someone had thrown her down. “I’ve had dreams before, but this was not a dream,” she says, barely keeping the tears at bay. “My body was in the air. It was so real, and yet I’m still here. I just don’t have the words to describe how I felt. I definitely know that if I had taken His hands, He would have taken me home.”

Feeling so good that she wondered whether Jesus had healed her, she got up and got some water, then went back to bed and slept well. For the next couple of days her breathing was fine.

“It was so beautiful, so simple and so sweet,” she says, tears now flowing freely. “But I want people to know I’m at peace. I realized dying was not something I needed to be concerned about.”

Gayle grew up in Birmingham and was saved at 13, at a camp meeting in Pell City, under a tent with sawdust on the ground. She attended Banks High School for one year, then dropped out to get married and have babies. She had a total of five. In 1972 she went to work for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance, where she stayed for 36 years, most of that in customer service.

Henry, 88, was born in Tuscaloosa and grew up in nearby Coker. He finished high school in T-town, attended the University of Alabama for two years, then spent two years at Shelton State learning to be an auto mechanic. In 1969 he went to work for Richard Kelly Chevrolet as shop foreman. He retired from Century Chevrolet when he was 80, then continued to work there part time for another two years.

“I thought I was saved as a young boy in VBS, but in my mid-40s I was at a church service and realized that I was just pretending all those years,” he says. “So I was saved then.”

He grew up in church and attended regularly. “But as an adult, I thought I was missing out on the good life by going to church,” he says. “I was into auto racing, had bought into a race car that ran at the BIR, and that’s what I was involved in.”
The couple met on a blind date. Henry was 38 years old and had never married. “I was not planning on getting married, either,” he says. An acquaintance set them up. “We had a nice time, and he didn’t even ask how many children I had,” says Gayle, who had divorced. “That usually ran them off!” They dated about four months before marrying. Their 50th anniversary will be in December 2023.

“When we first started dating, every time he came to the door to pick me up, a different child answered,” Gayle says. “After three or four dates, he finally asked how many I had. He was shocked, but you shoulda seen his daddy.” When Henry introduced her to his parents and told them she had five children, his father’s jaw dropped, his eyes bulged and he sat up on the edge of his recliner and said, “Well, I guess I’ll have to plant a bigger turnip patch.”

Gayle invited Henry to her church, Ridgecrest, when they first started dating. “I started going with her, but I’d meet her there after Sunday School,” he says. It was a few years later before Henry started going to Sunday School. “It was after we attended a progressive dinner with other couples,” he says. “I realized those guys were just regular old guys like I am.” They were at Ridgecrest 33 years.

They lived in Center Point for many years, where they took in 20 foster children over a 10-year period. They adopted two of them, bringing their brood up to seven. They now have 16 grandchildren and 36 great-grands. “There are 74 of us when we all get together, which is most holidays and some birthdays,” Gayle says. Her birthday is July 2, and this year was a big one, so they all went to a brother’s place on Smith Lake. “All my siblings are still living,” she says.

The Rudds lived in Springville for several years, but their five-acre property required too much upkeep, and had too many steps. They built a two-bedroom cottage behind Roses & Lace in Ashville and moved there in August 2017.

They joined FBCA the weekend they moved to Springville because Gay Adkins goes there, and she’s Gayle’s first cousin. So is Carol Bowling. Henry is an inactive deacon at FBC. Gayle taught five-year-olds in Sunday school for many years at Ridgecrest, then helped with Wednesday night children’s groups at FBC.

Before marrying Henry, Gayle’s hobby was flying. She took lessons in the mid-Sixties, got her license and probably visited every airport within a 100- mile radius of Birmingham. “It was just something I’d always wanted to do,” she says. “It got me out of the house and time away from my children. I flew quite a bit until Henry and I started dating.”

When they got married, Henry made her promise to stop flying as long as he was alive. “He wanted me to be there to raise the children,” she says. Together, they took up square dancing, a hobby both enjoyed for 35-40 years.

Gayle has been on hospice since June 4, 2023, but her pain is under control. “My nurse comes twice a week and orders my meds,” she says. “I have some side effects from all the morphine. Whatever I need, they get for me.” She has ‘round-the-clock care, and the Rudds are rarely by themselves. One of their nieces makes up a monthly calendar with caretakers inked in, so a sibling or a child is there at all times.

When her hair was growing back after chemo, she couldn’t do anything with it, and a wig was uncomfortable. She spotted a woman at a wedding with green hair. So she decided to have some fun with hers, and let her cosmetologist granddaughter experiment with it.

“I went through various shades of pink, blue and purple,” Gayle says. “I got lots of weird looks and comments, with some women saying they wish they had the nerve to dye theirs like mine.”

Despite her health, Gayle feels blessed. “God has supplied someone to do what I need done, and He just keeps on blessing,” she says. “I’m just taking one day at a time. Each day is a gift, and I want to enjoy it.” —— By Elaine Hobson Miller