A smile before a tear and the grief that never leaves

This is awful news

Beau Biden, the 46-year-old son of Vice President Joe Biden, and a former attorney general of Delaware, has died of brain cancer. In a statement released Saturday night, his father called him “quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known.”

Joe Biden’s personal history is well-known, and tragically so for having lost his wife and daughter in a traffic accident in 1972 shortly after being elected to the U.S. Senate. Both of his sons survived to face a grueling recovery. Beau was one of those survivors.

That experience has led Joe to be quite candid (as is commonly expected from the man in nearly every matter) about his grieving process, and this part of his character is one of the few instances where I’ve felt a connection to a politician. 

His speech in 2012, to a group of families of fallen soldiers, is tragically relevant again. It’s one of the very few speeches I remember watching, as it rang a hard bell of familiarity within me (via Ezra Klein):

In that 2012 speech, Biden talks about the constant weight of grief. “Just when you think, ‘Maybe I’m going to make it,’ you’re riding down the road and you pass a field, and you see a flower and it reminds you. Or you hear a tune on the radio. Or you just look up in the night. You know, you think, ‘Maybe I’m not going to make it, man.’ Because you feel at that moment the way you felt the day you got the news.”

Biden also spoke of understanding sucidal feelings; not to condone the act or attempt itself, of course, but that the basic emotional response to having the ground disappear beneath you and not expecting it to return is real and legitimate. (Which from a politician is an astonishing thing to hear.) More, that the pain never goes away. The hole never gets filled.

That’s a really important thing to hear, from others, the grief you feel is so uniquely punitivite. That you are not alone. It establishes the trust necessary to believe that, yes, with time the space around that absence can grow and flourish into a new stage of beautiful livelihood. Eventually, those memories include a smile. 

Even as the inevitable rotation of time takes it toll, as more pass to the darkness of that hole, and the grief that ran in the background suddenly engulfs you anew. Eventually, there’s the smile too. 

My sincere, and understanding, condolences: to the family, friends, and to Joe. Rest in peace, Beau.


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