The death of Joseph “Beau” Biden III has refocused attention on the personal tragedies that frame Vice President Biden’s political career — from the death of wife Neilia and daughter Naomi in a car accident shortly after his election to the Senate in 1972, to the passing of Beau, his oldest son, on Saturday. In his 2007 memoir, Biden credits meeting Jill Jacobs, whom he would marry in 1977,with helping him rebuild. “She gave me back my life; she made me start to think my family might be whole again,” then-Sen. Biden wrote in “Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics.” As the Biden family prepares for this weekend’s funeral services (at which President Obama will deliver a eulogy), below are passages from the memoir highlighting Jill Biden’s singular relationship with the boys who would become her stepsons, Beau and Hunter:
On dating and holidays
Jill was wary. I was almost ten years older and had two sons. She was just starting her own career. I think it was easier for her in the beginning of our courtship when I wasn’t thinking about marriage. We both just liked having fun with somebody again, and she wanted to keep it that way. I didn’t introduce Jill to the boys right away, but once I did, they hit it off, and she was happy to include them in some of our dates. . . .
[B]y the time the first holidays rolled around, Jill was already integrated into our lives. Even when I was stuck in Washington, she’d stop by the new house on Montchan Road — we called it The Station — to have dinner with Val and Jack [Biden’s sister and brother-in-law] and the boys. On Thanksgiving 1975, it was Jill who suggested we get away. . . so the four of us piled into a car and drove north for a long weekend. In the car on the way up, Jill helped the boys make their Christmas lists. And when Christmas rolled around that year, Jill made sure The Station was festive and happy.
How the boys pushed for marriage
One morning the next year, Beau and Hunter walked into my bathroom while I was shaving, and I could tell they had something serious they wanted to talk about. Beau had just turned seven; Hunter was six. And they were having trouble getting started.
“You tell him, Hunt,” Beau said to his brother.
“No. You tell him.”
Finally, Hunter spoke up: “Beau thinks we should get married.”
“What do you mean, guys? Beau?”
“Well,” Beau said, “we think we should marry Jill. What do you think, Dad?”
“I think that’s a pretty good idea,” I told them. I’ll never forget how good I felt at that moment.
“But, Dad,” Beau said all in earnest, “d’ya think she’ll do it?”
They were observant, my sons. . . .
Jill and I were married by a Catholic priest at the United Nations chapel in New York City in June 1977. We hadn’t told anybody but our family and closest friends; we didn’t want to tempt the press. The ceremony itself was family only — but that counted nearly forty. Beau and Hunter stood with us at the altar. The way they thought of it, the four of us were getting married.
On doing laundry and naming a new sister
I marveled at the way she let the boys come to her. I’m not sure I would have had her patience. It didn’t happen right away, but I’ll never forget how it felt the first time I saw her open her arms and brace herself for a running hug from Beau and Hunter. . . . Jill was the parent who showed up at the boys’ grade school to serve hot dogs or work in the library. She drove them to sports and to Cub scouts. She cooked their meals. There were plenty of nights when it was just the three of them at dinner. I’d come home, and Jill would be laughing at the earnest help our two sons had been offering at running the house. In the middle of her first week at the house, Beau had said, “Jill, aren’t you ever going to do laundry?”
“What do you mean, Beau-y?” Jill said. “I usually do it once a week.” She was not yet aware of the amount of laundry two young boys generate.
“You should probably do it every day,” Beau gently explained.
They had secret spy adventures together, too. A few years later, when Jill thought she might be pregnant, she piled Beau and Hunt into the car and drove to Eckerd’s drugstore to buy an early pregnancy test. . . . The boys actually knew we were going to have a baby before I did, and Jill never forgot how excited they were that day. She told them they could pick the baby’s name, and Beau and Hunter named their sister Ashley.
How “Jill” became “Mom”
Jill and I never talked about it alone or with the boys, but I noticed one day that they were no longer calling her Jill. They were calling her Mom. Neilia would always be Mommy, but Jill was Mom. I’m sort of used to being in charge, but in truth it was Jill and the boys who shaped the contours of our remade family. At first I wasn’t even sure what to do with Neilia’s pictures in the house, but Jill made that easy: When she embraced me and the boys, she embraced everything. The boys went to visit Neilia’s parents in Skaneateles almost every year at Easter break and during the summer. If I was stuck on Senate or campaign business, Jill would drive the boys north. She’d call the Hunters to brag that one of the boys got an A on the test or played a good game. Jill honored our memory of Neilia, and she always said that if anything ever happened to her she’d expect me to keep her memory alive for the boys. . . .
Some years later, a magazine fact-checker called my Senate office with a deadline crisis. A story about our family was going to press, and the fact-checker was confused. She’d read about Neilia and Naomi and the accident, but when Beau and Hunt had been asked about their “stepmom,” Jill, they’d said, “Oh, no. We don’t have a stepmom.”
Beau and Hunter had long since made their choice: Jill was Mom.
In 2012, Jill Biden authored a children’s book titled “Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops,” based on the experiences of Beau’s daughter, Natalie, while her father was in Iraq with the Delaware Army National Guard. “My experience through my son’s deployment made me realize how important it is for all Americans to get a glimpse inside the life of a military family and to understand what it means when a family member is deployed,” Jill Biden wrote in the introduction. “I hope Natalie’s story gives readers some insight and encourages them to commit a simple act of kindness toward a military family.”
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