Benny Willingham, 62, was five weeks away from retiring, relatives say, after working in the mines for decades.
"I want to tell you something he said a couple weeks ago in church," Willingham's sister, Jean Sanger, said to co-anchor Harry Smith on "The Early Show" Tuesday. "He said he was thankful that the Lord had saved his soul and he said he has watched over me in the mines for over 30 years. And he said, 'If he takes me tomorrow, I've had a good life."
Coal Mine Blast Leaves 25 Dead, 4 Missing
W. Va. Coal Mine Blast: The Victims
Mines not Paying Fines a Familiar Story
List Of Recent Fatal U.S. Mine Disasters
Gov.: "No Excuse" for Mine Safety Flaws
Mining Company Previously Fined for Safety
Mine Explosion Rescue Efforts
Sanger said Willingham "was such a loving, loving man. Loved God. He loved his family. Everybody that met him loved him. That's no exaggeration. Everybody loved Benny."
Her voice cracking, Sanger said she was experiencing "disbelief. I just feel numb."
Willingham's daughter, Michelle McKinney, told Smith her father's death doesn't seem real. "I'm just waiting to wake up," she said. "It doesn't seem possible." But, she says, "He's gone home, and he's happy."
Another family member said, "It helps a lot knowing where he's at, but I want be stingy. I want him back."
To watch the moving, powerful interview with Willingham's family members, click on the video below: