05/25/2012 02:59 pm ET Updated May 25, 2012

Joe Biden Recalls Tragic Loss, Emotional Aftermath In Speech To Families Of Fallen Troops

Vice President Joe Biden, in most cases a congenial public speaker, showed off a much more emotional side on Friday, when he recounted the agonizing experience of losing his first wife and daughter in a car crash in 1972.

Biden was so distraught in the wake of the accident that he even admitted pondering thoughts of suicide, he told families of fallen troops.

"It was the first time in my career, in my life, I realized someone could go out -- and I probably shouldn't say this with the press here, but no, but it's more important, you're more important. For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide," the vice president said at the TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp in Arlington, Va., according to Politico. "Not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts, because they had been to the top of the mountain, and they just knew in their heart they would never get there again."

Biden then gave a painful account of the day of the incident, which took place just weeks before his swearing in as a first-term U.S. senator.

"I was down in Washington hiring my staff and I got a phone call, saying that my family had been in an accident," he said. “And just like you guys know by the tone of the phone call, you just knew. You knew when they walked up the path. You knew when the call came. You knew. You just felt it in your bones: Something bad happened. And I knew -- I don’t know how I knew, but the caller said my wife is dead. My daughter is dead. And I wasn’t sure how my sons were going to make it. They were Christmas shopping and a tractor trailer broadsided them.

"In one instant, killed two of them and, well..." Biden said, his voice brimming with emotion.

After completing his own chronicle of grief and dealing with tragedy, the vice president ended on a positive note, encouraging listeners to stay strong and understand that the darkness cast by the death of a loved one will lift.

"Folks, it can and will get better," Biden said. "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. It will happen."

Biden will be speaking to members of the armed services community again this weekend, when he delivers the commencement address for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.