Inside George H.W. Bush's Final Months Without Wife Barbara by His Side
In the nearly eight months that George H.W. Bush lived after Barbara Bush's death, he mourned his wife of 73 years but kept his spirits up
In those months, Bush mourned his wife of 73 years but kept his spirits up.
In April, Jean Becker, Bush’s longtime chief of staff, said in a statement that Bush was “broken-hearted to lose his beloved Barbara.”
“He held her hand all day today and was at her side when [she] left this good earth,” Becker noted. Bush remained next to Mrs. Bush at Houston’s St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, when he sat near her casket as mourners paid their respects.
After Mrs. Bush’s death, Bush said in a heartfelt statement through his spokesman Jim McGrath, “I always knew Barbara was the most beloved woman in the world, and in fact I used to tease her that I had a complex about that fact.”
“But the truth is the outpouring of love and friendship being directed at The Enforcer is lifting us all up,” he continued, mentioning the family’s nickname for her. “We have faith she is in heaven, and we know life will go on — as she would have it. So cross the Bushes off your worry list.”
In the wake of Mrs. Bush’s death, Bush informed his friends that he was not ready to die, The New York Times reported.
Fewer than 24 hours after his wife’s funeral, Bush, who had a type of Parkinson’s disease, was admitted to the Houston Methodist Hospital. He had contracted an infection that spread to his blood.
After his devastating loss and his hospitalization in April, Bush kept busy, receiving a private concert from the cast of Hamilton and attending the musicalin May. “Just unbelievable he stayed for, and loved, every minute of the three-hour show,” McGrath tweeted.
“I know this was a great summer for him,” John Sununu, Bush’s former White House chief of staff, tells PEOPLE. “It was a continuous flow of family in and out every day he was up there.”
“The kids and grandkids all took turns coming in to make sure he had company constantly. It really was part of what kept him moving and going,” Sununu continues. “I think his days at Kennebunk were his happiest days.”
“He couldn’t be happier to be here,” McGrath told the Press Herald in May. “Maine is good for his soul.”
Even though he had an upbeat attitude, Bush endured another health scare. A week after returning to his Maine home, Bush was hospitalized at Southern Maine Health Care for low blood pressure and fatigue.
“We’re going to go up and spend time with him for his birthday in a couple of weeks, so I’m really looking forward to that,” she said.
“I think he definitely worries more about other people than he is himself,” Bush Hager added. “But that’s how he’s always been, as you know.”
Bush was in a particularly good mood when he sat in the first row as Barbara tied the knot with Craig Coyne in October at the family’s Maine compound.
“[Bush] was there with them all through dinner,” an attendee told PEOPLE. Barbara had hurried the wedding planning process so that her grandfather could attend.
Sununu saw Bush for the last time in Maine with Andy Card, who was an alumnus of both Bush administrations.
“We had a nice lunch, a nice reminiscing set of conversations,” Sununu says. “He was not really looking as good as the last time I had been with him. It was pretty clear he was on a downward slope.”
One topic that did not come up was politics. “We never talked current politics and we hadn’t talked politics for three or four years,” Sununu notes. “He told me that when Barbara was still here, they had each other on their minds. Each was concerned about the other.”
Bush traveled to Houston near the end of October two days after Sununu’s visit, Sununu says.
Back in Houston, Bush and former chief of staff and Secretary of State James A. Baker III dined on oysters, according to the Times.
“Then things sort of went downhill from there,” Baker recalled.
Bush left one wish unfulfilled. Once a baseball player at Yale University, Bush told Sununu that “when he returned to Houston, he hoped to throw out the first pitch at a Houston World Series game.”
The Los Angeles Dodgers faced the Boston Red Sox in the last World Series of Bush’s lifetime.
On Bush’s last morning, he asked Baker, “Where are we going, Bake?”
“We’re going to heaven,” Baker said.
“That’s where I want to go,” Bush replied, according to the Times.
“It was as gentle a passing as I think you could ever expect anyone to have,” Baker told the Times. “And he was ready.”
After Bush’s death, Bush Hager took solace in her belief that he and Mrs. Bush have reunited.
“He taught me and my family about service, family, decency, the power of gentle words and a beautiful heart,” she wrote on Instagram. “I will miss him desperately but so happy he and my Grandmother are back together.”