William Rivers Pitt | The Loved and the Lost: A Note to the Biden Family

Like an old Irish blessing, the rain is falling softly upon the field that is my back yard. It is, along with the forest beyond, a verdant riot of green, so lush that it seems it would paint your hand if you brushed it. The flowers have come back, as have the birds, all blues and yellows and reds and song. The garden is bursting. After the grinding astonishment of white and cold that was winter, this detonation of life is like a long embrace from an old, dear friend.

As I write this, my daughter sleeps in her room. The soft susurration of the rain is God’s own lullaby, and by God, it works. All of her tumbling two-year-old energy melts away like butter in a saucepan when that sound drifts through her springtime-open window, and she sleeps the sleep of the righteous. When I checked on her a bit ago, she was curled on her side, head on her pillow, her Pooh Bear clutched close in a deep embrace, with her ever-growing strawberry-blonde hair cascading across an untroubled brow.

To say that I love her is to say the rain outside is wet. That is simply too simple. I adore her in the Latin sense of the word, “adorare.” I worship her. She is my lodestar, the axis of my universe. She is my heart. I am because she is. Before she was born, I was very quietly terrified of my impending fatherhood, terrified of the caliber of my unknown abilities as a father. After she arrived, I discovered to my delight that I was actually good at it, and she has become my best friend. When I walk through her playroom to my office, she asks, “Daddy work?” I reply, “Yes,” she runs to join me yelling “Yay!” and climbs into my lap, and we write together while listening to “The Last Waltz,” her current favorite.

She is my heart, my very heart, and if I lost her I would be obliterated utterly … and so my mind and my soul are bent today toward the hearts of Vice President Joe Biden and his family. Mr. Biden is required now to bury a beloved son after already having buried his wife Neilia and his one-year-old daughter Naomi, who were killed in a collision with a tractor-trailer truck just before Christmas in 1972. No parent should have to bury a child. Mr. Biden has lost two – one who never had a chance to grow up, and another in the full flower of his life – along with his wife. It is like some nightmare koan: the mind reels, and stops, and all is only sorrow in aftermath.

It is an old story all too often repeated: the children of the powerful wind up being terrible people. Beau Biden, who succumbed to brain cancer on Saturday at age 46, was a notable and underscored exception to that rule. He served as state Attorney General of Delaware, served in the Delaware Army National Guard’s Judge Advocate General Corps, and did a tour in Iraq. In 2008, he introduced his father to the convention in a speech that knocked paint off the walls. He was widely considered to be the front-runner in the Delaware governor’s race in 2016 before that wretched disease laid him low. He fought the cancer for two years, and his father’s family grave plot has become crowded once again.

Vice President Biden had just been elected to the Senate when the accident in 1972 stole half of his family. He was virtually annihilated by the loss of his wife and daughter. He contemplated suicide … but he still had two young sons, both of whom were injured in the crash and were hospitalized. He rose, and persevered, and raised one hell of a son. Until his boys were healed, he put the Senate second. “As a single parent,” recalled Beau Biden during that stirring 2008 convention speech, “he decided to be there to put us to bed, to be there when we woke from a bad dream, to make us breakfast, so he’d travel to and from Washington, four hours a day.”

During a speech at Yale University several days ago, Vice President Biden said, “The real reason I went home every night was that I needed my children more than they needed me.” Politics is a cynical business – if we all had a nickel for every politician’s lie told every day, the recession would be over – but what Mr. Biden said at Yale is as much truth as you will ever hear from an elected official in your whole life. My daughter walks like a drunk coming home after a long night at the bar. She can’t pay the rent, can’t dress herself yet, doesn’t speak the language, and isn’t strong enough to open the refrigerator. She needs me in every way … but I need her more, by multiple orders of magnitude. She is oxygen. She is life itself.

This is not about politics in any way whatsoever. Life has beaten Joe Biden with rocks. He has buried a wife and a baby daughter, and now must bury a son. I find this to be purely unfathomable. The passing of Beau Biden – husband, father of two, soldier, public servant – is a loss to the nation, but that pales in comparison to the loss being endured by Joe Biden and his family.

In the end, and from one husband and father to another, the best I can do is share the words of another public servant named Abraham Lincoln: “I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming … I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost.”

Godspeed, sir. I am so very sorry.