Former Vice President Joe Biden opened up about the immense grief he’s experienced since the loss of his son Joseph Robinette Biden III, better known as Beau, in an interview with Vanity Fair published on Wednesday.
Biden unpacks the loss of 46-year-old Beau from brain cancer on May 30, 2015, in his forthcoming book, Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose. He spoke with Vanity Fair about the loss, his good friend former President Barack Obama, and the possibility of an upcoming presidential campaign.
Not even five minutes into the interview, writer David Kamp says, “Biden’s eyes suddenly flashed and reddened, as if he was seeing something in his mind that he didn’t like seeing, and he bowed his head for a moment” at the mere mention of his son.
Biden noted that his grieving was harder the second year than the first, that it “lasted longer for me than the first time,” the first time being when he lost his first wife and daughter Naomi in a car crash in 1972:
“Anybody I know who’s gone through serious tragedy, the first year, there are so many people around you, propping you up. But after a year, your family, your close friends — I mean, it’s normal, they’ve got to get back to their lives. But then the reality of it sets in, in a profound way.”
Biden describes Beau in his book, to be published next month, as a man who “had all the best of me, but with the bugs and flaws engineered out” and notes his son’s repeated insistence that he seek the presidency.
“At one point he said it was my obligation to run, my duty,” Biden writes in a book excerpt included in the interview. “Duty was a word Beau Biden did not use lightly.”
Biden told Kamp that he was genuinely invested in running for president because “it’d be a play on words to say it would have killed him, but it would have bothered Beau a great deal if I’d not run because of him.”
Kamp notes that Biden refers to the former president as “Barack” in his book and tells a brief anecdote that solidifies notions people may have had about the men’s friendship:
One of the few people outside the family privy to the severity of Beau’s condition, Obama served as Biden’s confidant and grief counselor, and even made an offer (never taken up) to assist the family out of his own pocket if the going got tough for them financially during Beau’s ordeal. Biden has never been a wealthy man; he is that rare creature in Washington who earned his living from a government salary the whole time he served, for 36 years as a senator and 8 years as vice president.
On writing the book:
Biden’s Promise Me, Dad is a 250-page tribute to Beau with a title that stems from the son’s insistence that his father pledge “that no matter what happens, you’ll be all right.” Considering Biden’s illustrious political career, Kamp asked why he wrote this type of book. Biden said he hopes to help others dealing with immeasurable grief understand that “one of the ways to get through tragedy is to find purpose.”
He added: “I’ve got too much more to do to write an autobiography. For real. I don’t consider my attempt to contribute to the public square finished.”
On the whole will-he-or-won’t-he run for president thing:
Again, Biden gave no clear-cut response, telling Kamp: “I haven’t decided to run, but I’ve decided I’m not going to decide not to run.”