Joe Biden, and the indescribable heartbreak of a child dying before a parent

This is no lightweight, but the sort of man we should make president

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The Independent Online

My heart goes out to Joe Biden, the US Vice-President. I don’t know him, but he has – again – suffered that most unimaginable of tragedies:  a child dying before a parent. Biden’s son Beau, 46, died from brain cancer, two years after being given the all-clear. He left behind a wife and two children. His passing was the second tragedy in Biden’s life: in 1972, his wife Neilia and their three children were in a car crash in which she and their daughter died. Beau and his brother survived, albeit badly injured.

To lose a child once is unthinkable, for it to happen twice… My own mother is twice widowed, which is, of course, terrible, particularly as my father died so young (41). But even we would say it’s not the same. There is a natural order of things which suggests parents should die first. Biden (pictured, with Beau) almost didn’t take up his Senate seat back in 1972. But he changed his mind. He then began a lifetime’s commuting between Washington DC and his Delaware home. He explained, in a 2012 speech to bereaved families, why he did it. “I came to realise that a child can hold an important thought, something they want to say to their mom and dad, maybe for 12 or 24 hours, and then it’s gone,” he said. “Looking back on it, the truth be told, the real reason I went home every night was that I needed my children more than they needed me.”

He described how he resented well-meaning individuals saying: “Joe, I know how you feel”. God, how could they know the black hole in his heart, Biden asked? How could anyone who has not been through it, know? In that speech, he dared to suggest “not all losses are equal”. Biden described the constant weight of grief, constantly reignited by “a field”, “a flower”, a “tune on the radio”. It’s extraordinary to hear Biden say such words. He seems different to many politicians: a more likeable, congenial individual. To some, he’s a lightweight. This is no lightweight, but the sort of man we should make president. But it won’t happen. He is too close to being a “real” person. “There will come a day – I promise you, and your parents as well – when the thought of your son or daughter, or your husband or wife, brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye,” Biden concluded. Anyone who has known loss knows this to be true. Everyone’s thoughts should be with Joe Biden today.

Stefano Hatfield is editor  in chief of High50