Life Lessons We Can All Learn from Joe Biden

I was working for Vice President Biden when we met with the families who lost children in Newtown. I was at a loss for words. Everything seemed so trivial compared to the enormity of their loss. Watching the Vice President with them, the way he shared in their grief and offered them solace, was one of the most moving and profound experiences of my life.

When I saw the pictures of the Bidens huddled beside their beloved Beau’s casket on Thursday, my heart broke. Where was their Joe Biden, the person who can do for him what he has done for so many?

Many of us rode the train up for Beau’s funeral, the same train Joe Biden traveled nightly to see his family when he was in the Senate for 36 years. I thought about of all the meetings the Vice President must have missed by taking those train rides — how important those meetings might have seemed at the time, and how so many others would have stuck around in Washington instead. I was reminded that the real gift of Joe Biden is not just that he provides us comfort in the face of inexplicable death but he also teaches us how to get life right.

In government, the work is often important. But sometimes its intensity can make people feel as if every meeting or moment is critical. And so we log long hours, and only maybe realize later that the moment was too small and the sacrifice too large.

Joe Biden taught us we can lean in but we must also leave. He set the standard as a loving and present father who established his Senate office rule: if the kids called, he was to be interrupted, no matter what he was doing or who he was talking to. And with those values, Delaware reelected him to the Senate six times and then he rose to the second highest office in the land.

Working for Joe Biden is a family affair. The large clan of Bidens we now see grieving also showed up for debates, conventions, and family milestones large and small. When Beau was in town, he would stop by the office to talk about a policy he cared about or to thank us for something we had done for his dad.

But Joe Biden wasn’t just present for his children. He was there for all of our children, too. At one holiday party in the Vice President’s residence, I realized I had lost track of my young kids. I asked around and was told that the Vice President had led a whole parade of them upstairs to show them his beloved dog Champ and give them their own stuffed champ dog to take to home.

Sure enough, the parade eventually returned downstairs with Biden carrying a picture of his mom. One of the girls had told Biden a story about her mother and so Biden sat at the bottom of the stairs, surrounded by kids, telling them stories about his own mom. When I left the White House, my then five-year-old daughter asked if I was leaving because she and her brother had so many champ dogs that it was someone else’s turn. She considers the Vice President an old friend.

The thousands who stood in line for hours this week to pay their respect to Beau and the Biden family reminded us how many Americans feel just like my daughter does.

When I grieve for the Vice President, it is not just for the overwhelming and disproportionate tragedy he has endured or the cruel notion that any parent should ever have to bury a child. I mourn for how close he, Beau, and the rest of the Bidens really are and the searing loss that they all feel.

Most of us will never have Joe Biden’s gift to provide comfort in a time of unthinkable grief. But we can all do a little more to make our families more like his.

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