On November 7, 1972 a relatively unknown lawyer named Joe Biden pulled off a big political upset. By just over 3,000 votes he defeated two-term incumbent U.S. Senator J. Caleb Boggs and, at age 30, became the sixth youngest Senator in U.S. history.
Despite the amazing victory, he almost never took the oath of office. On December 18, 1972 while Biden was in Washington D.C. looking at his new office, his wife, Neilia, took their three children shopping for a Christmas tree. They were involved in a fatal automobile accident. Neilia and his infant daughter, Naomi, were killed. His two sons, Hunter and Beau, were critically injured.
His life suddenly and unexpectedly changed, Biden suddenly found himself as a 30-year-old widower and single father. He also found himself filled with anger and doubt. In his memoir Promises to Keep Biden wrote, “I began to understand how despair led people to just cash it in; how suicide wasn’t just an option but a rational option … I felt God had played a horrible trick on me, and I was angry.”
A career in the U.S. Senate suddenly didn’t seem that important as being there for his two sons. He considered resigning before even taking the oath of office. Beau recalled his father saying, “Delaware can get another senator, but my boys can’t get another father.”
Eventually other U.S. Senators like Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy convinced Biden to take the job the people of Delaware elected him to do. In January of 1973 he took the oath of office at his sons’ hospital bedside. However, because he still wanted to be there for his sons, he gave up his the home he and his late wife were planning to buy in Washington D.C. and commuted by train to and from his home - a practice he still continues.
Still, life wasn’t easy for the young Senator. At first he did the least amount of work required for his job. “My future was telescoped into putting one foot in front of the other … Washington, politics, the Senate had no hold on me,” Biden wrote. Senate staffers began placing bets on how long Biden would last.
No one would have blamed Biden for quitting. After all, he has lost half his family. But Biden didn’t quit. Despite his grief, Biden he hung on and slowly began rebuilding his shattered life.
It wasn’t until 1975, however, when Biden met Jill Jacobs that the pieces really fell into place. Falling in love again renewed Biden’s interest in life and politics. “It had given me the permission to be me again,” Biden wrote in his memoir. Two years later they married.
With his renewed passion, Biden continued what was to become a successful political career. He was re-elected five times to the Senate. He served as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987-1995 and currently serves as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. In 2008, after a second failed attempt to become the Democrat’s presidential nominee, he was asked to be Sen. Barack Obama’s Vice Presidential running mate.
“Failure at some point in your life is inevitable but giving up is unforgivable,” Biden said during his Vice Presidential acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
It’s impossible to say what would have happened to Biden if he had decided to give up.
But he didn’t.
For those who have lost a spouse, Joe Biden’s story is one of hope. If you continue to put one foot in front of the other, no matter how difficult it may be, there are better days ahead. Despite the challenges and obstacles he faced as a 30-year-old widower, Biden rebuilt his life and his family.
Each day we make the decision to push forward or give up. Each day that decision will bring us closer to rebuilding our lives or falling back into darkness. Though difficult, Biden chose to live again and reaped the rewards of his efforts.
Abel Keogh is an inspirational speaker. His memoir Room for Two (Cedar Fort, 2007) is about the year following the suicide of his pregnant wife, Krista, and death of their premature daughter. He is now writing– a work of fiction. His website is www.abelkeogh.com. Abel is an Author in Open to Hope Foundation (www.opentohope.com) and Co-Editor in Death of a Spouse blog, www.opentohopedeathofaspouse.com
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