Joe biden may tell you about the accident, the loss, how it felt, what it means. But the president-elect doesn’t always tell grieving families about the depth of darkness that enveloped him during those final days of 1972, just before Christmas. Biden would walk out of the hospital into the night looking for someone to fight. “I began to understand how despair led people to just cash it in; how suicide wasn’t just an option but a rational option,” he wrote 35 years later.
Maybe you’ve seen the haunting photo of Delaware state police officers standing next to the mutilated station wagon. It ran on page 2 of a local paper alongside an Associated Press story informing readers that Biden’s wife, Neilia, and their baby daughter, Naomi, were “dead on arrival.” It’s a jarring artifact: To the right of the gruesome report is a cartoon Santa hawking onyx rings and Caravelle watches and “Electric Razors on Credit.” Biden’s injured sons, Beau and Hunter, spent Christmas in the hospital. Their 30-year-old father tried to make sense of his new life as a widower and single parent.
Death has stalked Biden throughout most of his political career. He was elected to the Senate 41 days before the accident that killed his wife and child. In 1988, months after his first failed bid to become president, Biden suffered two brain aneurysms. In 2016, he opted not to enter the Democratic presidential primary partly because he was still grieving Beau’s death from brain cancer.
This election was supposed to be a new start. “The donors are making their preference known,” Larry Rasky, a longtime Biden ally and fundraiser, told CNBC on the night of the Super Tuesday triumph that positioned Biden as the inevitable nominee. That day, March 3, before the country started shutting down, before the field hospitals and the refrigerated morgue trucks arrived, Biden was elated. He had so much to be thankful for. And he was sharing this long-sought success with a handful of loyal friends like Rasky, his ’88 campaign press secretary, who never lost faith in him, even when others did.
Ten days later, Rasky sent a prophetic tweet: “COVID-19. You can’t bomb it. You can’t yell at it. You can’t ignore it. You can’t bully it. You can’t really blame anyone for it. The only thing you can do is solve the problem. That’s one card #DonaldTrump doesn’t have in his deck of magic cards.” In the days that followed, Rasky developed what he assumed was normal back pain, but it grew in severity. Then the cough started. On March 22, he died at the age of 69. Most of America still hadn’t grasped the reality, or the lethality, of the virus. Biden had already lost a friend of 30 years.