‘Witness to Dignity’: What I experienced at Barbara Bush’s bedside in her final days
In my capacity at CNN, my job is to speak with families and loved ones about the impact of their loved ones’ illness and the loss of their life.
I was in Houston on Thursday, the morning of Barbara Bush’s memorial service, when a call came in from my team. It was from a friend of one of her daughters, a woman who wanted to share what she was hearing in the wake of the former first lady’s death.
We sat down outside the funeral home building where Barbara Bush left her earthly abode after her brief but unexpected battle with brain cancer.
Here is what she told me.
She was sitting on the stone floor of the ground-floor chapel in Houston and her friend was holding her hand. There were no flowers or white or silver wreaths of remembrance as I expected there to be at a service like this.
The friend had prepared for this moment through countless hours of conversation with Barbara Bush, of whom she was a longtime fan. I’d known the family a long time and so this person had been watching the family for years as an active and engaged participant.
She had heard the stories, seen the photographs, and read Barbara Bush’s letters for decades. The friend had spent much of the last year listening to countless hours of tapes made throughout Barbara Bush’s illness, as friends and family members tried to get the last word with the former first lady.
The friend felt it was time to tell Barbara Bush’s story through my lens, as a journalist, not as a member of her family.
She said, “This woman was a survivor of cancer, but she had her life. She had just been given a terminal diagnosis. Yet she continued to live and to serve the country with grace and dignity.”
I listened to that line a few times. And the friend said, “It is the kind of thing you’ve never thought to say to a family member before. And as a journalist, I always wondered what was the story.”
She knew, of course, that the family members she was talking to wouldn’t have heard.
But I was curious about what she had heard. She told me she