politics

"God had played a horrible trick on me." The story of Joe Biden's quiet personal tragedies.

In just over three months, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will face Donald Trump at the November 3 US election. 

The former Vice President pulled off an unexpected comeback in March when he became the Democratic nominee against fellow candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Now, he is campaigning to challenge the incumbent president alongside his vice-presidential pick, Kamala Harris

But as Biden begins to dominate front pages and headlines, it's likely his private life will gain more and more attention. 

Then-President Barack Obama with Joe Biden in 2017. Image: Getty. 

Because while many of us know the 77-year-old as Barack Obama's friendly sidekick, in private, Biden's life has been full of tragedy. 

Joe Biden was still a law student when he married Neilia Hunter in 1966. Together they had three children: Beau, Robert and Naomi.

In 1972, he won the U.S. Senate election in Delaware, despite seemingly having no chance of winning. It was his biggest professional success so far, and his beautiful young family were thought to have attracted voters.

But just weeks later, while his wife was purchasing a Christmas tree with their children, she was killed in a car accident, along with their youngest child, Naomi.

joe biden kids
Joseph Biden and his wife Nelia cut his 30th birthday cake. Image: Getty.
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Biden's two other children were also in the car, and while they received serious injuries, they survived.

Writing about the accident in his 2007 memoir, Promises to Keep, Biden shared, "Well, I didn't want to hear anything about a merciful God. No words, no prayer, no sermon gave me ease. I felt God had played a horrible trick on me, and I was angry".

Watch: Joe Biden speaks about the death of his wife and daughter. Post continues below.


Video via ABC News.

The politician wanted to resign from his position, but was convinced to stay, and was sworn in less than a month later.

While his political career advanced, he says he struggled profoundly with grief and anger. "I liked to [walk around seedy neighbourhoods] at night when I thought there was a better chance of finding a fight... I had not known I was capable of such rage," he said.

Despite his grief, Biden put all his energy into raising his two young sons.

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"Many people have gone through things like that," he said in a speech at Yale University in 2015.

"But because I had the incredible good fortune of an extended family, ground in love and loyalty, imbued by a sense of obligation imparted to each of us, I not only got help, but, by focusing on my sons, I found my redemption."

Biden commuted over an hour and a half per day to work in Washington and be at home with his sons, leading his colleagues to take bets on how long he would last as a senator.

joe biden kids
Vice President Joe Biden with his family, wife Jill, and sons Hunter and Beau. Image: Getty.

To this day, Joe Biden does not work on December 18, the anniversary of the car accident.

Five years after the accident, Biden met Jill Jacobs, whom he would marry in 1977.

At the recent Democratic National Convention, Dr Jill Biden spoke about the early years of her relationship with her husband and how she helped him navigate his grief. 

“I fell in love with a man and two little boys standing in the wreckage of unthinkable loss. Mourning a wife and mother; a daughter and sister. I never imagined, at the age of 26, I would be asking myself, ‘How do you make a broken family whole?’” she said.

“Still, Joe always told the boys, ‘Mummy sent Jill to us.’ And how could I argue with her? And so we figured it out together.

“How do you make a broken family whole? The same way you make a nation whole. With love and understanding, and with small acts of kindness.

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“You show up for each other, in big ways and small ways, again and again.”

About 40 years after losing his wife and daughter, while Biden was serving as Vice President, tragedy struck again. In May 2010, his son Beau was admitted to hospital after complaining of headaches, and it was found he had suffered a minor stroke.

In August 2013, Beau was diagnosed with brain cancer at 44. He received radiation and chemotherapy treatments, but died May 30, 2015, aged 46.

Beau Biden in 2008. Image: Getty. 

Speaking on the Megyn Kelly TODAY show, Jill Biden shared that the couple never gave up hope.

"Throughout Beau's illness, even though the diagnosis was truly devastating, we always had hope," she said.

"We never gave up hope. We tried treatment after treatment, month after month. But we always felt – until the moment he closed his eyes – we always felt he was going to live."

During Beau's treatments, Biden planned to sell his house to pay for medical expenses and support his son. But during a lunch, Obama reportedly told Biden, "Don’t sell that house. Promise me you won’t sell the house."

"I’ll give you the money. Whatever you need, I’ll give you the money," he said. "Don’t, Joe – promise me. Promise me."

joe biden kids
Joe and Jill Biden. Image: Getty.
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Joe Biden shared this particular story when he was asked by CNN about his most memorable moment with Barack Obama.

In October 2014, the Biden family faced media attention once again when it was reported that Biden's youngest son, Hunter, had been discharged from the Navy Reserve after testing positive for cocaine.

Although Biden didn't comment on the matter, Hunter shared his own statement at the time.

"It was the honour of my life to serve in the US Navy, and I deeply regret and am embarrassed that my actions led to administrative discharge," he said, according to CNN.

"I respect the Navy's decision. With the love and support of my family, I'm moving forward."

Despite Biden's personal hardships, his wife Jill says he always "put one step in front of the other," even when she didn't understand how. 

According to Biden, speaking to late night TV host Stephen Colbert, one quote by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard has always remained with him:

"Faith sees best in the dark."

Feature Image: Getty.

This post was originally published on January 15, 2017, and updated on August 24, 2020.


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