During 60 years of friendship, George H.W. Bush went on countless trips with James Baker III, his secretary of state and a confidant so close that America's 41st president liked to call him his "little brother."
On the last day of Bush's life, Baker checked on his friend. The result was an exchange Baker shared several times, including on CNN's "State of the Union."
"Hey, Bake, where are we going today?", asked Bush, alert after days of struggle.
"Well, Jefe, we're going to heaven," Baker replied.
"Good. That's where I want to go," said Bush.
Bush died about 12 hours later, surrounded by family and friends, including his pastor, the Rev. Russell J. Levenson Jr. It was a time for prayers and good-byes, and the priest shared some details in sermons during both the state funeral in Washington, D.C., and the final rites at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston, the Bush family's home parish for 50 years.
"It was a beautiful end. It was a beautiful beginning. … The president so loved his church -- he loved the Episcopal Church. He so loved our great nation. He so loved you, his friends. He so loved every member of his family," said Levenson, at Washington National Cathedral.
"But he was so ready to go to heaven. … My hunch is heaven, as perfect as it must be, just got a bit kinder and gentler." The priest turned and addressed the coffin, blending faith with language from Bush's days as a Navy pilot: "Mr. President, mission complete. Well done, good and faithful servant. Welcome to your eternal home, where ceiling and visibility are unlimited and life goes on forever."
There is nothing unusual about priests discussing heaven during funerals. After all, the Pew Research Center's massive "religious landscape" study a few years ago indicated that 72 percent of Americans believe in a place "where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded," and the number is 82 percent for those affiliated with a religious tradition.