Joe Biden and grief were in the news a couple of months ago, notably his interview with Stephen Colbert and his speech to military survivors. Everything Biden said is known to those who are grieving, yet his speaking about grief is important for a number of reasons.
1. He's a man.
For men, speaking emotionally about grief is often seen as a sign of weakness, of not being in control. This runs counter to men and boys trying to imitate football players who say that pain doesn't bother them and who don't want to show any emotions that aren't strong or angry. If they do, they quickly apologize.
Many more prominent women talk and write about the heart and its devastation from grief, most recently Sheryl Sandberg on her husband's death, Susan Williams on Robin's suicide, and Joan Didion on the deaths of her husband and daughter.
2. Biden spoke about his grief in public.
Politicians rarely share grief so openly because it might make voters think they can't make the hard decisions.
3. He didn't tell others what they had to do or believe. He said what helped him with his grief and what did not. He shared his experiences:
- His dislike of the platitudes people told him. "I know how you feel." No, they really didn't.
- How grief keeps coming back, even years down the road.
- Questioning how God can be good when innocent people die.
- Because of his despair, he now understood why some people would consider suicide.
- He said that one day thinking about our loved ones would bring a smile before it brings a tear. For some people, it is going to take a long time for this to happen. All grief is hard, but some grief is complicated by additional factors.
- He worries about those who don't have the support of a community like he did.
4. Biden is a person of faith.
Yet he struggles with that faith as he tries to make sense of the violent deaths of people he loved. He lost a wife and a baby daughter in a car accident, and now a grown son to brain cancer.
For Biden, having faith is not an excuse not to grieve. We are still human, and if someone we love dies, the human response is to grieve. If we are honest, we will question God about this. Read the words of C.S. Lewis, John Donne, and Alan Paton as they struggled to reconcile their faith and grief.
We do not check our brains at the door, or stuff our emotions in our pockets, when we enter the sanctuary.
Biden has remarried. His wife Jill taped a message by Kierkegaard on the bathroom mirror - "Faith sees best in the dark." I like Kierkegaard. I take his words with me when I go hiking, and nature helps me interpret them. I want to think more about why this is so.
Religion doesn't have universal acceptance in the grief world. A number of my friends have left their faith because religion didn't help them deal with the deaths of their loved ones, especially when they died painfully from horrible diseases. While the theology of care was probably there, its followers didn't translate this into compassion. That Biden struggles with his faith is a refreshing statement. Having faith is not to be a dismissal of the sufferings of this world. It is to be what encourages us to enter those struggles and deal with them.
5. Grief was being spoken to a non-grieving audience.
People who hadn't listened before, heard the reality of grief, especially that it will last longer than thirty days. They will remember his words when someone they love dies.
That so much was made of Biden shows how little we talk about grief in our society. It should not have been big news. We should be sharing our grief with each other whenever it happens, whether it's from cancer, miscarriage, suicide, or because of an accident.
What does this mean for those who are grieving? When someone asks about your grief, take a deep breath, and share the truth of your experience.
Give voice to what has been unspoken for too long.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.