Former first lady Barbara Bush, who died this week at the age of 92, endured an event that all parents fear: the loss of a child.
Mrs. Bush commented in later years that she never truly got over the loss of her sweet little toddler, Robin, who died of leukemia just before her fourth birthday.
On Saturday, after her funeral at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, the loving mother, former first lady, and iconic matriarch of one of the nation’s best-known political families will join her daughter in the burial plot located at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas.
Barbara Bush told her granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager in a 2012 interview for the “Today” show that her first child, “rambunctious” George (George W. Bush), needed a playmate, as the Daily Mail reported.
“All this wonder needs is a counterpart,” she said. “A legitimate Christmas angel.”
Robin Bush was born on Dec. 20, 1949.
“Gampy [the grandkids’ nickname for George H.W. Bush] and I were very young — it was a very big day for us — a beautiful little girl,” she told her granddaughter about Robin. “She was quiet and gentle and had lovely little blond curls.”
Robin was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of three.
“The doctor said [at one point], ‘’My advice is take her home, love her and in about two weeks she will be gone,’” Barbara Bush told Hager.
“They took bone marrow tests, which were painful and [meant] a lot of blood, and blood transfusions, and poor Gampy had to leave the room every time she had a transfusion,” she added.
“Eventually the medicine that was controlling the leukemia caused other terrible problems. We called George [her husband], and by the time he got there after flying all night, our baby was in a coma. Her death was very peaceful. One minute she was there, and the next she was gone,” Barbara Bush later wrote in her memoir.
“I truly felt her soul go out of that beautiful little body,” she wrote.
“For one last time I combed her hair, and we held our precious little girl. I never felt the presence of God more strongly than at that moment.”
The Bushes donated Robin’s body to medical research, reported the Daily Mail, and she was then buried in a family plot in Greenwich, Connecticut. (Her body was later moved to the presidential library.)
She told Hager about the decision to give her child’s body to research: “It wasn’t hard. It made Gampy and me feel that something good is coming out of this precious little life. And today, almost nobody dies of leukemia.”
Barbara Walters in 1994 asked the former first lady if she ever got over her daughter’s passing, as the Daily Mail and others reported at the time.
“No,” she answered, “and that’s OK, too, but it’s true she is a happy part of our life now.”
In 2012, Mrs. Bush said Robin had been on her and her husband’s minds a lot more than usual.
“George and I do talk about it, maybe more recently in the last two or three years than before,” she told Hager. “I think we are getting older … Robin to me is a joy. She’s like an angel to me, and she’s not a sadness or a sorrow.”
Barbara Bush told her granddaughter that she had told the elder George that when he dies, Robin will be the first one he sees.
Deirdre Reilly is a senior editor at LifeZette.
(photo credit, inline images: George H.W. Bush Presidential Library)