Biden's career, his entire adult life spent in the public eye, has been bookended by tragedy, The Washington Post's Paul Kane notes. Joe Biden lost his wife and infant daughter when a tractor-trailer broadsided the family vehicle while they were Christmas shopping in 1972, months after the 29-year-old Biden had been first elected to the U.S. Senate. Beau, then 3, and his brother, Hunter, then 2, were seriously hurt.
More than 40 years later, Biden kept Beau's cancer, which had taken a turn for the worse, a closely held secret, Kane wrote. Which made the vice president's commencement speech at Yale University a few weeks ago all the more remarkable: His face hidden behind aviator sunglasses, he did not let on that his son was dying of cancer:
“The incredible bond I have with my children is the gift I’m not sure I would have had, had I not been through what I went through," he said.
Biden has spoken intimately about grief before. In 2012, he spoke of losing his wife and daughter in a heartfelt speech to military families who have also lost a loved one. Beau would be diagnosed with brain cancer about a year later.
“For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide. I realized someone could go out — and I probably shouldn't say this with the press here, but you're more important — I realized how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide. Not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts. Because they’d been to the top of the mountain, and they just knew in their heart they’d never get there again, that it was never going to get — never going to be that way ever again."
Beau and his father had a special bond. Beau introduced Biden at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, months before he was set to depart on a year-long deployment to Iraq with the Delaware Army National Guard.
"I have something to ask of you," Beau said. "Be there for my dad like he was for me."
Beau was originally diagnosed with brain cancer in August 2013. He had surgery in MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and after a few months of chemotherapy, he was declared in remission. The cancer returned this spring.
Unlike most cancers, tumors in the brain don't spread to other parts of the body. They interfere with normal body functions, The Post's Lenny Bernstein reports. Brain tumors are particularly common among children, he said. He said about 23,000 men and women will be diagnosed with brain cancer this year, and 15,000 will die.
The elder Biden himself had two surgeries in 1998 for cranial aneurysm, an enlarged blood vessel in his brain. When Beau got sick a few years later, at least one of Biden's former aides returned from retirement to be by the vice president's side, Kane reports, who adds that many of them choked up talking to him this weekend about the Biden family's loss.
President Obama, who The Post's Steven Mufson reports visited Biden and his wife, Jill, on Sunday with Michelle Obama, issued a statement:
"Joe is one of the strongest men we’ve ever known. He’s as strong as they come, and nothing matters to him more than family. It’s one of the things we love about him. And it is a testament to Joe and Jill – to who they are – that Beau lived a life that was full; a life that mattered; a life that reflected their reverence for family."
And finally, here's the vice president's official statement on his son's passing:
"His absolute honor made him a role model for our family. Beau embodied my father's saying that a parent knows success when his child turns out better than he did.In the words of the Biden family: Beau Biden was, quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known."