“I think we’re both heartbroken,” said Barbara, “We, of course, expected our grandfather to pass away soon — he was 94 — and yet it came as such a shock. And we miss him already very much because he really was the center of our family. And yet, I think I also get a lot of joy knowing that he’s with our grandmother now.”
Added Jenna, “They gave us such unconditional love. I was looking through old pictures, and it amazes me that even though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, we never really thought of him as anything besides our grandpa.”
Former First Lady Barbara Bush died in April at age 92.
After her death, the former president was “reflective,” Barbara said on Wednesday. “I asked him if his heart was broken, and he said ‘Yes’ and then he looked at me and he said, ‘Do you think it will feel worse than this?’ And it just, really got me, of course his heart was broken — he had lost the love of his life.”
“And yet, he also, whenever you asked him how he was doing, he would say, ‘I couldn’t be better,’ ” she said. “And so I think, instead of talking about how his time was limited, he just lived as much as he could.”
“I think we’re both heartbroken. We, of course, expected our grandfather to pass away… and yet, it came as such a shock. And, we miss him already very much b/c he really was the center of our family.” –Barbara Bush on her grandfather #Bush41 pic.twitter.com/yd2iYWQOUy— TODAY (@TODAYshow) December 5, 2018
Jenna said that the family knew “most likely that this was going to be [George H.W.]’s last summer” — something that wasn’t lost on her own young daughters, Mila, 5, and Poppy, 3.
“Everyday, Mila and Poppy would say, ‘Let’s go give great Gampy a hug,’ ” she recalled. “When he passed away, and I said to [husband Henry Hager] — and I didn’t think she could hear me — like, ‘I can’t believe this is happening right before Christmas.’ And Mila said, ‘Well of course it’s happening right before Christmas, Gampy had to get to Ganny so they could decorate their Christmas tree.’ “
Continued Jenna, “They had never spent a Christmas apart in their whole 73 years, 74 years. So of course he wanted to be there. And she probably was like, ‘Come on, time to come home.’ “
The sisters said the Bush family has been “shocked” and honored by the outpouring of love from the public in the wake of the former president’s death.
Said Barbara, “That’s a really wonderful gift to us, is that we get to hear other people’s stories on how he touched their lives as well.”
Jenna — who is a Today contributor — has already spoken out about the loss on the morning show, providing touching narration over interviews she conducted about and with her grandfather, in a Monday segment.
“My grandfather wrote letters all his life to his children, his wife, friends and even political rivals,” she said. “He often wrote about love and family. For me, his words have always been a precious gift, all the more so now. It’s my turn to write a love letter to my Gampy.”
“Even though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, we never really thought of him as anything besides our grandpa.” @JennaBushHager remembers her grandfather, George H.W. Bush #Bush41 pic.twitter.com/OHH07kd6u1— TODAY (@TODAYshow) December 5, 2018
“My grandfather always said his greatest gift was his family,” Jenna, 37, continued. “Whatever demands were placed on him in his professional life, and there were many, we all knew we could count on him. He made each of us feel adored always. He was our rock.”
Barbara, 37, and Jenna are just two of George H.W.’s 17 grandchildren. Their father is former President George W. Bush, 72. Both are in Washington, D.C., for the state funeral for their grandfather at the National Cathedral on Wednesday.
In this week’s issue of PEOPLE, Barbara emotionally opened up about her losing both her grandfather and grandmother — her namesake — this year.
“He was so present in our lives,” Barbara said.
She continued, “Because he was also the president of the United States, I don’t think we quite realized the gravity of the responsibility that he was holding. I have so many memories [of] him because we were with him so often. We spent every summer with him since we were born, regardless of what role he was in politically.”