After a long battle with COPD and congestive heart failure, former first lady Barbara Bush passed away at her home at the age of 92, surrounded by friends and family. Her health had been frail for a while. She spent a period of time in intensive care last year with pneumonia, and as of Sunday afternoon, April 15, decided she was ready to be taken off oxygen and return home after a series of hospital stays. Barbara Bush was wife of George H.W. Bush (the 41st president) and mother of George W. Bush (the 43rd president), Jeb (the former governor of Florida), Neil, Marvin and Dorothy.
Bush’s father was a magazine publisher and this is credited with her lifelong interest in reading and education. When Neil was diagnosed with dyslexia, she became personally invested in literacy and educational causes. She devoted herself to literacy charities and other programs that supported higher education, especially the United Negro College Fund. This passion for education carried into her years as first lady where her signature issue was adult literacy. Her efforts are credited with the passage of the National Literacy Act and funded over 750 reading programs.
It would appear that Barbara Bush has taught us as much in death as she did in life. Often regarded as a woman of faith, grace and patience, these themes seemed to carry through to her end-of-life care decisions. By publicly choosing “comfort care” (also known as palliative care) at home instead of continued hospital stays and medical interventions, the former first lady elevated the subject into the national conversation.
Her choice of comfort over medical treatment may actually represent the end-of-life desires of most Americans. Studies have shown that more Americans prioritize reducing pain and stress over prolonging life.
In a statement released by the Bush family, it was clear that the unwavering presence of Barbara Bush carried through her final days. The statement said: “It will not surprise those who know her that Barbara Bush has been a rock in the face of her failing health, worrying not for herself — thanks to her abiding faith — but for others.”
Thank you for your service, Barbara Bush. We are all better for your contributions to American life.
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