After son’s death, Biden balances grief with public duties

Jun 10, 2015, 3:43 PM
FILE – In this June 6, 2015 file photo, Vice President Joe Biden, accompanied by his family, ...
FILE - In this June 6, 2015 file photo, Vice President Joe Biden, accompanied by his family, holds his hand over his heart as he watches an honor guard carry a casket containing the remains of his son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, into St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church in Wilmington, Del. for funeral services. Biden faces the daunting decision of how and when to re-enter public life after burying his 46-year-old son. On Wednesday, Biden returns to Washington for lunch with the president and a meeting with the Ukrainian leader, but he'll head straight back to Wilmington, evoking memories of the nightly trips home that Biden took after he lost his first child decades ago at the start of his political careerStanding alongside the vice president are Beau's widow Hallie Biden, left, and daughter, Natalie. Beau Biden died of brain cancer May 30 at age 46. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden is facing the daunting decision of how and when to re-enter public life after burying his 46-year-old son, Beau Biden, whose death has put a somber pause on the vice president’s usually frenetic schedule.

As Biden mourns with his family in Delaware, Obama administration officials describe the vice president’s office as essentially in a holding pattern, with aides working to give Biden complete flexibility to grieve as he sees fit. Although Biden is being kept up to date and has participated in some official activities, aides used phrases like “uncharted path” and “touch and go” to describe the situation, in which the vice president is determining one day at a time how best to proceed.

Only a handful of times in U.S. history has a president or vice president lost a child while in office. Yet for Biden, the hardship is not completely unfamiliar.

After spending most of the last 11 days in Delaware, Biden returned to the White House on Wednesday for lunch with President Barack Obama and a meeting with the Ukrainian prime minister. Yet Biden headed straight back to Wilmington in the evening, evoking memories of his nightly train trips home after he lost his wife and baby daughter decades ago at the dawn of his political career.

He planned to stay in Delaware on Thursday, with no public events on his schedule.

“This will continue to be a difficult time for the Biden family, and for all of those of us who care deeply for the vice president and his family,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest, adding that it would surprise no one that Biden was deeply dedicated to his job. “We obviously are pleased that he was able to return today and be focused again on the many difficult policy challenges that he has assumed in his role.”

The vice president’s office declined to comment for this report.

But officials familiar with Biden’s plans said he has not conveyed to staff when he plans to return to a normal schedule. They described a communal sense of mourning at the White House, where staffers are close to the vice president and many knew his son personally. They said that other top officials have eagerly stepped up to attend meetings or perform ceremonial functions normally left to Biden in an attempt to free the vice president to be with his family.

Still, many previously scheduled commitments are being kept on Biden’s schedule even amid uncertainty about whether he’ll ultimately attend.

A Friday meeting with visiting Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Salim al-Jabouri is still on the books. Biden could also travel Saturday to Mobile, Alabama, for the christening ceremony of the USS Gabrielle Giffords, in which Biden’s wife, Jill, has an honorary role.

After that, it’s unclear how many of his public duties Biden will choose to resume in the short term, said the officials, who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss Biden’s plans by name.

Dr. Katherine Shear, a psychiatrist and grief expert at Columbia University, said grief is often a lifelong process for those who lose a child. She said the grief process progresses best when individuals alternate between confronting the pain head-on and seeking respite through distractions, such as work.

“We naturally do that, and it’s very important that we do it. How we do it is a totally other thing. That’s where it becomes very personal,” Shear said.

Other politicians confronting similar tragedies have adopted differing approaches to that personal decision.

When President Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son, Willie, died while Lincoln was in office, he waited before fully resuming his official duties, although he couldn’t avoid them completely, said Eric Foner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who wrote several books about Lincoln. President John F. Kennedy, whose newborn son Patrick died while he was president, seemed intent on keeping busy, returning to the White House almost immediately to confer with Senate leaders about a critical vote on a test ban treaty.

Aides who have worked with Biden say he’s spoken of a lesson he learned in 1972 after the car accident that took his wife and daughter: You’ve got to keep going. Some said it was possible or even likely that Biden will apply that truism once again, throwing himself with vigor into his duties.

Looming in the background is another decision that Biden must make: whether to run for president in 2016. Prior to his son’s death, Biden had said he would make a decision by the end of summer, although most Democratic operatives have long since assumed he’s not running.

Draft Biden 2016, a super PAC formed earlier this year to recruit Biden, has put most of its activities on hold out of respect for the vice president. But the group’s founder, William Pierce, said not to count Biden out.

“He’s a man who has already overcome a lot of adversity. Now his oldest son has been taken away as well,” Pierce said. “In my head, I can see him running again, because this is a man who sees a challenge in front of him but overcomes it.”

___

Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Phillip Lucas in Atlanta contributed to this report.

___

Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

World News

This illustration made available by Johns Hopkins APL and NASA depicts NASA's DART probe, upper rig...
Associated Press

NASA spacecraft smashes into asteroid for defense test

A NASA spacecraft rammed an asteroid at blistering speed Monday in an unprecedented dress rehearsal for the day a killer rock menaces Earth.
6 days ago
In this Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Pres...
Associated Press

At least 9 killed as Iran protests over woman’s death spread

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Clashes between Iranian security forces and protesters angry over the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody have killed at least nine people since the violence erupted over the weekend, according to a tally Thursday by The Associated Press. The scope of Iran’s ongoing unrest, the worst in […]
10 days ago
Royal guards stand by the coffin of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, as members of the public pay thei...
Associated Press

Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral | Live updates

WINDSOR, England — Queen Elizabeth II has been interred together with her late husband, Prince Philip, at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, officials said. The royal family’s official website said the Dean of Windsor conducted a private burial ceremony late Monday at the King George VI Memorial Chapel, an annex inside St. George’s, a […]
13 days ago
Britain's King Charles III and Camilla, the Queen Consort leave after a Service of Prayer and Refle...
Associated Press

Live updates: Queen’s funeral police effort is biggest ever

LONDON — London police say Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral on Monday will be the largest single policing event the force has ever handled. Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy said Friday that the massive police operation surpasses even the 2012 Olympics, which were held in the British capital, and the celebrations earlier this year […]
16 days ago
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a medical worker takes a swab sample from a resident ...
Associated Press

WHO: COVID end ‘in sight,’ deaths at lowest since March 2020

GENEVA (AP) — The head of the World Health Organization said Wednesday that the number of coronavirus deaths worldwide last week was the lowest reported in the pandemic since March 2020, marking what could be a turning point in the years-long global outbreak. At a press briefing in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said […]
18 days ago
Kenya's new president William Ruto signs the book of condolence for Queen Elizabeth II at the resid...
Associated Press

Live updates: Public views queen’s coffin in ancient hall

LONDON — Members of the public who waited outside for many hours are filing through Westminster Hall to pay their respects at the queen’s coffin, which is lying in state there. People are filing past each side of the coffin, most pausing for a brief moment to bow their heads. Some wiped their eyes while […]
18 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
...
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
After son’s death, Biden balances grief with public duties