What Joe Biden Taught Me About Grief
I read the news today that US Vice President Joe Biden’s son Beau died this weekend. He was 46, the same age as I am. He died of brain cancer, the same thief which stole my mother.
I know very little about Joe Biden, but then I read this article and I was filled with compassion for the losses he has faced in his life. His wife and baby daughter were killed in a car accident and he said the only thing that made him carry on was looking after his two sons. Now he must face the loss of one of those sons.
In a speech Biden gave to families of fallen soldiers in 2012, he 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.
There will be times we will think we have our grief under control and then we will find ourselves ambushed by hearing snatches of a song, or catching a scent from a passer-by that evokes our loved one. I recently sat beside an older lady who smelled so much like my mother, it took all my strength not to bury myself in her coat and inhale deeply of that beloved lost scent. The writer Colette captures this so well when she wrote:
It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.
In that speech, Joe Biden didn’t offer any cliches about time healing all wounds; instead he offered the belief that the raw pain will gradually soften:
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.
His heartfelt words echo these lines by writer Anne Lamott; words I turn to often:
You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly- that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.
How long does grief lasts? It lasts longer than you can imagine. It lasts until the day comes when we’ve noticed we’ve gone a whole hour, a whole day without the heavy weight of grief around us; we notice that our lives have moved imperceptibly forward and while this sometimes makes us sad and we still yearn to have our loved ones with us, we learn to carry them with us always in our hearts as treasured memories. Along the way there will be numerous set-backs, but with time these too will diminish. Grief is as individual as the person experiencing it. It is a process which neither you nor any well-meaning friends or family should rush you through; a process that requires compassion for yourself and for the process. Trust that in time you will heal from the pain of grief, but like a broken vase that has been painstakingly mended, if you look closely, you will see a tiny fracture, a thread vein of grief always present.
I can’t put a like on this…But i really understand why you relate to this especially losing your mother. Grief has a mind of it’s own. Meanwhile I send you tons of cyber-hugs!
Lovely to see you again Susan – thanks for your comment.. and cyber-hugs x
Thank you so much Marie. Your eloquent, heartfelt words offer hope and understanding. I wish you healing and many smiles.
What a lovely post, Marie. You and I both have been through some grief for certain. It’s so thoughtful of you to write a post about our vice president. In our current political climate, it’s easy for Americans to feel cynical about politicians. But Joe Biden, whatever his faults, is nearly always characterized as a good guy, and he loves public service, to which he’s devoted himself for many years. It’s so tragic that he lost his son at such a young age to cancer. No wonder his experience resonated with you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and those of others. Grief never leaves us, but if we’re lucky, we learn that it is a measure of love. xoxo, Kathi
Kathi thank you so much for your thoughtful comment here. I know very little about Joe Biden as a politician, but the all-too-human story of his grief and loss resonated with me so much
Marie, this is so lovely. I will save this and share it.
Marie, this post is beautiful without any of the sugar-coating that gets one’s arm hairs bristling.Love the quotes. I felt so sad hearing of Beau Biden’s death. I thought: Hasn’t Joe Biden gone through enough grief for one lifetime? I’ve always had admiration for Joe Biden. I feel awful for him and the family.
Eileen, I know just what you mean! It seems some of us are magnets for more than our fair share of pain in this world x
This is really really beautiful and true. Thank you for writing, Marie. It is also very well timed for me. xoxoxo.
Beautiful post. Thank you!
Oh, Marie. I just want to say thank you for this beautiful post.
Thank you all for taking the time to read, share and comment on this post which comes straight from my heart to yours x
What a beautiful post. It makes me think of one of my favorite poems about grief.
So now it has our complete attention, and we are made whole.
We take it into our hands like a rope, grateful and tethered,
freed from waiting for it to happen. It is here, precisely
as we imagined.
If the man has died, if the child’s illness has taken a sudden
turn, if the house has burned in the middle of night
and in winter, there is at least a kind of stopping that will
pass for peace.
Now when we speak it is with a great seriousness, and when
we touch it is with our own fingers, and when we listen
it is with our big eyes that have looked at a thing
and have not blinked.
There is no longer any reason to distrust us. When it leaves
it will leave like summer, and we will remember it as a break
in something that had seemed as unrelenting as coming rain
and we will be sorry to see it go.
—Marie Howe, The Good Thief
Jenny, this is a wonderful poem. Thank you so much for sharing. I love how poetry reaches those places deep in our soul
Marie, thank you for this beautiful post. What a remarkable family the Bidens are, able to show such grace and love in the face of such heart-break. And what a remarkable writer you are, Marie, to be able to capture the essence of grief in words on a page so gently, yet so powerfully at the same time. Thinking of you. Lots of love, Yvonne xx
Yvonne, how lovely to see you here and to read your own lovely words too.
Thank you, Marie xxx
Thank you for sharing, Marie. So heartfelt.
Lost me my Mom and my best friend to brain cancer since 2008 . I could never have stated so elequently what this article did . But that is the path my life has followed after my losses . welk said , thank you
Jim, I am so sorry to hear this. What a cruel disease it is. I hope you continue to find strength on your journey.
This is so well-put. I love your analogy of the broken vase. It feels so apropo. A friend of mine was advised by her boss to move on from a long-term friendship that had been broken recently. I told her that she first had to grieve the loss of the friendship before moving on. She should not underestimate the importance of grief in the healing process. xox
You raise an important point her Jan about grief. Grief is not just when we loose our loved ones to death, but also for any loss in our lives – all of which need time and care to get over.
Reblogged this on Citius Altius Fortius and commented:
Poignant. Lots of newfound respect of our VP.
This post is beautiful. Having recently lost our 9 year old son in a tragic accident the explanation of grief is so true. We happily talk about our son daily, but then there are moments when the mere mention of his name brings tears. Thank you for sharing.
Oh Marie, this is so so true, and so raw and beautiful. Love and hugs to you xox
Your post is very beautiful Marie. I’m very sorry for your mother.
I lost one of my friend of brain cancer last summer. He had 36 years old, he was great, fun, happy. He never stoped to smile and be thankfull to life even if he knew that his brain cancer were incurable. He misses me so much. When I think about all the friends and loved ones I lost because of cancer… I try to do my best to support the ones (patients and caregivers) who are going through this and bring them some softness and wellness.
You expresed grief very well and your post goes straight on my heart.
Beautifully said and so very poignant. Our vice president has had to endure so much.
Thank you for this post! We reference it in a blog we just published: “Just Keep Swimming: Grief Advice from Finding Nemo” (http://www.side-out.org/latest-blog/just-keep-swimming-grief-advice-from-finding-nemo/).
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