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Author Jenna Bush Hager Shares Her Family's Alzheimer’s Story

Author Jenna Bush Hager Shares Her Family's Alzheimer’s Story
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December 2, 2020
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Jenna Bush Hager, the first daughter and granddaughter of former Presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, is a bestselling author and co-anchor of “Today with Hoda & Jenna.” 

In her latest book, entitled “Everything Beautiful In Its Time,” she shares memories of her beloved grandparents, including stories about her maternal grandfather Harold, who had Alzheimer's disease. We spoke with Jenna about her memories of grandpa Harold and the touching way she is honoring him decades after his passing.

Jenna, you write in your book that your maternal grandparents, Harold and Jenna Welch, wrote you letters that you still hold dear. What was the single largest lesson you learned from your grandfather?

My grandpa Harold, who my family affectionately called Pa, was a homebuilder in West
Texas. In fact, my grandmother lived in the house he built until she moved into a
retirement home. 

Pa taught my twin sister Barbara and me the importance of making everything fun. He would yell “happy days” at the top of his lungs whenever someone would spill something or when us kids just acted like kids. I think he was teaching us not to sweat the small stuff.

Tell us about your experience with Alzheimer’s disease.

My sister and I were so young when my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and he passed away when we were only 13. It was confusing as a kid, to witness a man who never yelled or raised his voice in anger change, and forget where he was or who he was with. 

He would sometimes say, “Who are you?” to our grandmother, whom he loved more than anything. She always answered with the words, “I’m the woman that loves you.”
You have a lifelong passion for reading. How did the “Read with Jenna” Today book club inspire you to write this book?

I wrote “Everything Beautiful in Its Time” in the 13 months after I lost my three remaining grandparents. I wrote about losing them, about the love that they showed all of my family, and about the grief that comes when we lose the people we love.

Because I decided to write about such a raw time in my life, I felt like it was important to share as much of myself as possible.

Today, you have a baby you named Harold, with his whole life ahead of him. How will you ensure that he honors the memory of your beloved grandfather?

Even just by naming our newest little one Harold, we are paying tribute to my Pa. My grandparents always wanted to have a baby named Harold and unfortunately, never had another child. It was always a dream of ours to have a little boy named after this giant of a man whom we loved so much.

What advice do you have for young people currently facing Alzheimer’s disease in their family amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?

Stay as connected as possible to the person with the disease. We know how especially lonely and isolating it can be for people. Write letters, send photos, make FaceTime calls; be as present as you possibly can.

It’s important to always remember who your loved ones are and simply be patient with them. We were lucky enough to have enough experiences with our Pa to know who he was. He loved to laugh and dance and simply make everything fun.

About: Learn more about Jenna’s book "Everything Beautiful In Its Time."

Photos included in this post are courtesy of the author.

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