In the days before his death late Friday night, President George H.W. Bush knew his time was drawing to a close. He had made it back to Houston in October, despite his increasingly frail health due to Parkinson's, but the 41st president, who had made the Bayou City his off-and-on home since the 1950s, continued to decline.
As his condition worsened over the past few days, Bush was asked if he wanted to go to the hospital, and replied that he did not, according to CNN. He said he was ready to go be with Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years who died in April, and their daughter Robin, who died of leukemia when she was just a child in 1953.
His deteriorating condition was kept quiet publicly, but behind the scenes it was known that 41 had stopped getting out of bed in recent days. President Barack Obama had made a point of visiting H.W. at his Houston home when Obama swung through town to make an appearance at Rice last Tuesday. By Thursday he wasn't eating and was losing weight, according to the New York Times, but on Friday morning when James Baker III, his former secretary of state and friend of more than 40 years, came by to check on him, Bush had regained some spark. He looked up at Baker, eyes wide.
“Where are we going, Bake?” Bush asked.
“We’re going to heaven,” Baker answered.
“That’s where I want to go,” Bush said.
He died that night, surrounded by friends and family, including Baker, Baker's wife, Susan, son Neil Bush and his wife, Maria, their son, Pierce. Marshall Bush, a granddaughter, Jean Becker, the former president’s longtime chief of staff, and the Rev. Russell Levenson Jr., rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, the Houston church the Bush family has attended for years, and a few doctors and caregivers.
The official schedule for H.W's funeral has been released, and it's looking like 41's last journey is going to be a fitting tribute to the man who is now being hailed as one of the last of his kind, and a genuinely good person, one who will be sorely missed here in his adopted city.
The four-day funeral begins at 10:30 a.m. Monday with a Houston departure ceremony at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base. From there, Bush's remains will be flown to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, where another ceremony will be held upon arrival before the president's casket will be taken to the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.
Bush's casket will lie in state from 10 a.m. Monday to 8:45 a.m. Wednesday. This will be followed by a departure ceremony scheduled for 10 a.m. His casket should arrive at Washington National Cathedral at 11 a.m. when his 90-minute funeral, which will be attended by President Donald Trump, former presidents, and politicians from both sides of the aisle, is slated to begin.
Then Bush's remains will be taken back to Andrews to depart for Houston at 1:15 p.m., arriving here at 4:30 p.m. He will lie in repose at St. Martin's Episcopal Church starting Wednesday evening and Levenson has said the church will stay open throughout the night to give Houstonians the chance to pay their last respects. His second funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Following the services at St. Martin's, Bush will leave Houston for the last time, departing by rail at 12:30 p.m. Bush loved trains and had a special glassed-in viewing car designed for this final journey. He'll arrive at College Station at 3:45 p.m. where he will be interred at Texas A&M University at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum alongside Barbara and Robin.
In the coming days we're going to be celebrating Bush's accomplishments, everything from how he stepped up here and helped Terry Hershey protect Buffalo Bayou from being channelized in the 1960s when he was just starting out in professional politics, to his love of the Astros and local barbecue, to the crucial way he handled and saw us as a country through the end of the Cold War. But his final hours weren't really about all of that. In the end, the focus wasn't on politics or achievements or honors, it was on love.
On Friday night as H.W. grew weaker, Ronan Tynan, the Irish tenor who had become a friend of H.W.'s over the years, came by and sang "Silent Night" for the former president. Baker had come back that evening when he was warned that his friend had taken a turn for the worse, and he watched as Bush mouthed the words to the old Christmas carol. The family who weren't able to be present called and spoke with Bush on speaker phone. His last conversation was with his eldest son, fellow former commander-in-chief President George W. Bush, calling from Dallas. W. told him that he loved him, and that he had been a wonderful father. "I love you, too," H.W. replied. Those were his last words.