Ruth Dutro

Ruth Dutro, seen here in 2003 holding crosses she gave to patients to comfort them during their last days, has died. (Daily Pilot File Photo / January 7, 2013)

"Very few of the 2,000 hospice patients we've worked with considered themselves 'ready to go' as death approached," Ruth said. "Most people, including believing Christians, are terrified as death draws near."

The Dutros began counseling older adults almost by accident.

"The church where we were serving as visitation pastors had a young staff," Ken said. "Seniors began requesting an 'older pastor' for visits, so we took those assignments."

Ken and Ruth served for many years at Newport-Mesa Christian Center and later at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Costa Mesa. They were last affiliated with Shoreline Baptist Church in Fountain Valley.

"We're on hand to reassure, encourage and comfort," Ken said in 2009.

Ruth and Ken usually visited hospice patients multiple times before they died.

"We pray with them and talk about God's promises, and about heaven, and Ruthie will sing a hymn," Ken said. "Some people are unconscious — but we know they hear every word until their last breath."

The Dutros' ministry irrevocably changed their lives.

"We're comfortable with death, and we have no fear," Ken said then. "We've planned our own funerals and will go according to his timing."

"His timing" for Ruth came last week. Ken still has work on Earth to finish.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.