Separated by distance throughout their dating years, George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara maintained a long distance relationship through college, military service and the war. When they finally wed, they knew they wanted a big family, but never anticipated the heartache that was headed their way as parents.
In their first 13 years of marriage, they welcomed six children into the world: George Walker Bush, Pauline Robinson “Robin” Bush, John Ellis “Jeb” Bush Sr., Neil Mallon Bush, Marvin Pierce Bush and Dorothy Walker “Doro” Bush Koch. Sadly, at the tender age of three, Robin passed away after battling advanced leukemia, a life-altering event that the George spoke about with granddaughter Jenna Bush Hagar when he knew the end was drawing near for him.
The Bush Library has shared that the family was “deeply impacted” by Robin’s death. It motivated Barbara and George to fight against cancer “for the rest of their lives.”
In 1958, George wrote a heartfelt letter to his mother describing how Robin’s presence was still felt by them years after her death. Barbara shared that letter with the world, which struck a chord with everyone.
“There is about our house a need. We need some soft blonde hair to offset those crew cuts. We need a dollhouse to stand firm against our forts and racquets and thousand baseball cards. We need someone who’s afraid of frogs. We need a little one who can kiss without leaving egg or jam or gum. We need a girl. We had one once — she’d fight and cry and play and make her way, just like the rest. But there was about her a certain softness. She was patient. Her hugs were a just little less wiggly. We need her and yet we have her. We can’t touch her and yet we can feel her. We hope she’ll stay in our house for a long, long time.”
To mark the former president’s passing just eight months after his devoted wife Barbara, editorial cartoonist Marshall Ramsey drew a picture of George standing with Barbara among the clouds of Heaven. They had linked hands with Robin.
The cartoon shows Barbara telling George: “We waited for you.” At one point, George confessed to Jenna that he actually was looking forward to his death.
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This brought me such comfort this morning. I had the opportunity to talk with my grandpa about the afterlife. This is what he said: He answered without any hesitation. “Yes, I think about it. I used to be afraid. I used to be scared of dying. I used to worry about death. But now in some ways I look forward to it.” And I started crying. I managed to choke out, “Well, why? What do you look forward to?” And he said, “Well, when I die, I’m going to be reunited with these people that I’ve lost.” And I asked who he hoped to see. He replied, I hope I see Robin, and I hope I see my mom. I haven’t yet figured it out if it will be Robin as the three year old that she was, this kind of chubby, vivacious child or if she’ll come as a middle-aged woman, an older woman. And then he said, “I hope she’s the three-year-old.” Robin was the daughter this giant of a man lost years before to leukemia. The little girl he held tightly: who spoke the phrase I have heard Gampy repeat for my entire life, forever knitting Robin’s voice into the tightly woven fabric of our family: “I love you more than tongue can tell.”
She couldn’t believe what her grandfather had just told her! She asked why.
“Well, when I die, I’m going to be reunited with the people I’ve lost. I hope I see Robin, and I hope I see my mom. I haven’t yet figured out if it will be Robin as the three year old that she was, this kind of chubby, vivacious child or if she’ll come as a middle-aged woman, an older woman… I hope she’s the three-year-old.”
Jenna shared the cartoon on social media after her grandfather’s passing, noting that it has brought her comfort during this difficult time. He had told Jenna that he used to be afraid of passing and was scared of dying, but no longer, not when he knew what was waiting for him up above.
As the nation and world mourns the loss of a beloved president, our condolences go out to the Bush family. May they forever hold on to the wonderful memories of Barbara and George like the one Jenna shared.