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Jenna Bush Hager shares her husband's touching eulogy for her father-in-law

In a poignant remembrance of his father, who spent much of his life in a wheelchair, Henry Hager said he's now "standing 6-foot-5-inches tall, smiling down."
/ Source: TODAY

Jenna Bush Hager shared parts of her husband's touching eulogy for her father-in-law that made her "so proud of him" during John Hager's funeral over the weekend.

Five family members gathered for a ceremony for Hager, who died at 83 on Aug. 23, to mourn the loss of the former lieutenant governor of Virginia.

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The coronavirus pandemic prevented the family from having a large funeral, so Jenna and her husband, Henry Hager, gathered at a cemetery with Jenna's mother-in-law and her brother-in-law and his wife.

"At first I thought how sad because this man knew a lot of people and he liked people a lot, but the fact that it was just us at the cemetery outdoors with a reverend who knew him felt really intimate and lovely and peaceful," Jenna said on TODAY with Hoda & Jenna on Monday.

John Hager lived much of his adult life in a wheelchair after contracting polio in 1973, which Henry referenced in his eulogy.

"Henry gave a beautiful, beautiful eulogy where he said now his hands are no longer in pain, his arms are no longer in pain, and he's standing 6-foot-5-inches tall, smiling down," Jenna said. "I was so proud of my husband in that moment. Any of y'all who have celebrated, it's not the funerals we may want or the weddings, celebrations, but I think it's all about being with family and celebrating life, so I was happy to be able to do that."

John Hager was an inspiring figure who competed in 13 marathons in his wheelchair and also broke barriers as the first disabled lieutenant governor of Virginia. He also worked in the U.S. Department of Education under Jenna's father, former President George W. Bush, in addition to being, as Jenna put it on TODAY last week, a "beloved" grandfather to her three children whose nickname was "Bumpy."

"He said, 'My dad was my hero. Most of us don't have heroes, his cape was hard to see behind his wheelchair, but I was always watching,'" Jenna said about her husband. "It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard, and I was so, so proud of him.

"He likes writing. I think he's a beautiful writer. He was nervous and he definitely choked up, but I said, 'Of course you did,' and it's about sharing your love."

John Hager also inspired Jenna to coordinate with UNICEF and Rotary International in 2016 for a PSA about eradicating polio, which disabled an average of more than 35,000 people each year in the 1940s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Polio, which is a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the poliovirus that can cause paralysis, has been eradicated in the United States since 1979 thanks to a vaccine but is still a threat in other countries, according to the CDC.

"It’s strong, and like so many that face obstacles in their daily life, he’s overcome it in many ways," Jenna told People about her father-in-law in 2016.