The holidays can be brutal for those experiencing a painful loss. Former Vice President Joe Biden has walked in your shoes. He has remarkable empathy, strength, courage, faith, and love which has bonded his family and enables them to weather life’s darkest hours with grace. Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose brought me to tears multiple times. After receiving a diagnosis of gioblastoma, a malignant brain tumor, Beau Biden extracted an extraordinary promise from his father which was challenging to keep.
Gioblastoma is horrid. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is battling it now. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) died from it in 2009. Mr. Biden opted for an aggressive treatment protocol orchestrated by M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston with assists from Jefferson University and Walter Reed hospitals.
I was surprised to read that Pres. Barack Obama offered to fund his treatment. V.P. Biden was fortunate to have access to the best medical minds in the country as well as Air Force Two to shuttle the family to his son’s bedside. Yet, his political focus was more on resolving the dysfunction caused by legacy information technology systems which made it inordinately difficult for the medical teams to timely share test results. Mr. Biden passed away on May 30, 2015.
Political junkies might be interested in the international relations work that V.P. Biden did while his son battled cancer and his agonizing decision over whether to run for president in 2016. I skipped most of this because I was more powerfully drawn to the personal story. V.P. Biden lost his first wife and daughter to an auto accident. The experience fueled his empathy for painful losses. He has an extraordinary message for grieving families:
There will come a day, I promise you, and you 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. It will happen.
V.P. Biden’s visit to New York City to comfort the family of newly wed police officer Wenjian Liu, who was assassinated while on duty, had me gushing tears. His father, Wei Tang Liu, spoke Cantonese. The two fathers hugged and bonded over a parent’s shared grief. Mr. Liu came to Delaware five months later to return these hugs.
The other story which grabbed my heart was about a trip to Europe with his granddaughter Finnegan. He took her to Dachau to teach her the horrors of the Holocaust:
You can’t remain silent. Silence is complicity.
These words of wisdom presented a powerful lesson for me:
The first duty of a public servant is to help bring people together, especially in crisis, especially across difficult divides, to show respect for everybody at the table, and to help find a safe way forward.
The Biden family has a long history of preventing abuse of power and have been strident in preventing violence against women and children. After Mr. Biden’s death, his brother Hunter, sister Ashley, widow Hallie, and V.P. Joe and Dr. Jill Biden set up the Beau Biden Foundation to prevent abuse of children.