From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul


So I am glad not that my loved one has gone,

But that the earth she laughed and lived on was my earth, too.

That I had known and loved her,

And that my love I’d shown.

Tears over her departure?

Nay, a smile

That I had walked with her a little while.

—Sent to the Bushes by a friend after Robin died

Our son Jeb was just a few weeks old when our daughter Robin woke up one morning and said, “I don’t know what to do this morning. I may go out and lie on the grass and watch the cars go by, or I might just stay in bed.” I didn’t think that sounded like a normal three-year-old and decided she must have what my mother called “spring fever.” I took her to our excellent pediatrician, Dr. Dorothy Wyvell. She examined Robin, took some blood, and told me she would call me after the test results were in. She suggested I might want to come back without Robin but with my husband, George Bush. That sounded rather ominous to me, but I wasn’t too worried. Certainly Robin had no energy, but nothing seemed seriously wrong.

Dr. Wyvell called, and George met me at her office in the late afternoon. Dorothy was not one to pull any punches. She told us Robin had leukemia. Neither of us had ever heard of it, and George asked her what the next step was: How did we cure her? She talked to us a little about red and white blood cells and told us as gently as possible that there was no cure. Her advice was to tell no one, go home, forget that Robin was sick, make her as comfortable as we could, love her—and let her gently slip away. She said this would happen very quickly, in several weeks. George asked her if she would talk to his uncle, Dr. John Walker, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York City. She readily agreed. Uncle John also thought Robin had little chance to live, but he thought we should treat her and try to extend her life, just in case of a breakthrough.

The very next day George and I flew to New York and checked Robin into Memorial Sloan-Kettering. Thus began an extraordinary experience, and in a strange kind of way, we learned how lucky we were. We met people there who had only one child. We had three. We met people who did not love each other. We loved each other very much. We had the most supportive family and friends who helped us.

And last, but not least, we believed in God. That has made an enormous difference in our lives, then and now.

Robin was wonderful. She never asked why this was happening to her. She lived each day as it came, sweet and loving, unquestioning and unselfish.

I made up my mind that there would be no tears around Robin, so I asked people who cried to step out of her room. I didn’t want to scare our little girl. Poor George had the most dreadful time and could hardly stand to see her get a blood transfusion. He would say that he had to go to the men’s room. We used to laugh and wonder if Robin thought he had the weakest bladder in the world. Not true. He just had the most tender heart.

Eventually the medicine that was controlling the leukemia caused other terrible problems, and our baby slipped into a coma. Her death was very peaceful. One minute she was there, the next she was gone. I truly felt her soul go out of that beautiful little body. 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.

After George’s mother died in 1992, I was given an envelope with George’s name on it. It contained the following letter, which George had written his mother several years after Robin died and which she had saved all these years.

Dear Mum,

I have jotted down some words about a subject dear to your heart and mine. Last night I was out, and on my way home—late—I said to myself, “You could well have gone to the cemetery in Greenwich tonight” . . . this thought struck me out of the blue, but I felt no real sense of negligence. The part I like is to think of Robin as though she were a part, a living part, of our vital and energetic and wonderful family of men and Barbara.

Bar and I wonder how long this will go on. We hope we will feel this genuine closeness when we are 83 and 82. Wouldn’t it be exciting at that age to have a beautiful 31/2 year old daughter . . . she doesn’t grow up. Now she’s Neil’s age. Soon she’ll be Marvin’s—and beyond that she’ll be all alone, but with us, a vital living pleasurable part of our day-to-day life. I sometimes wonder whether it is fair to our boys and to our friends to “fly-high” that portrait of Robin which I love so much, but here selfishness takes over because every time I sit at our table with just our candlelight, I somehow can’t help but glance at this picture you gave us and enjoy a renewed physical sensation of closeness to a loved one.

This letter . . . is kind of like a confessional . . . between you and me, a mother and her little boy now not so little, but still just as close, only when we are older, we hesitate to talk from our hearts quite as much.

There is about our house a need. The running, pulsating restlessness of the four boys as they struggle to learn and grow, their athletic chests and arms and legs; their happy noises as the world embraces them . . . all this wonder needs a counterpart. We need some starched crisp frocks to go with all our torn-kneed blue jeans and helmets. We need some soft blond hair to offset those crew cuts. We need a doll house to stand firm against our forts and rockets and thousand baseball cards. We need a cut-out star to play alone while the ­others battle to see who’s “family champ.” We even need someone . . . who could sing the descant to “Alouette,” while outside they scramble to catch the elusive ball aimed ever roofward, but usually thudding against the screens.

We need a legitimate Christmas angel—one who doesn’t have cuffs beneath the dress.

We need someone who’s afraid of frogs.

We need someone to cry when I get mad—not argue.

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 just a little less wiggly.

Like them, she’d climb in to sleep with me, but somehow she’d fit.

She didn’t boot and flip and wake me up with pug nose and mischievous eyes a challenging quarter-inch from my sleeping face.

No—she’d stand beside our bed until I felt her there. Silently and comfortably, she’d put those precious, fragrant locks against my chest and fall asleep.

Her peace made me feel strong, and so very important.

“My Daddy” had a caress, a certain ownership, which touched a slightly different spot than the “Hi, Dad” I love so much.

But she is still with us. 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.

Love, Pop

George and I love and value every person more because of Robin. She lives on in our hearts, memories and actions. I don’t cry over her anymore. She is a happy, bright part of our lives.

George Bush and I have been the two luckiest people in the world, and when all the dust is settled and all the crowds are gone, the things that matter are faith, family and friends. We have been inordinately blessed, and we know that.

Barbara Bush

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