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“In Mr. Biden’s first detailed public remarks on his 2016 plans, delivered Thursday night, he said the ‘most relevant factor’ in his consideration is his emotional health and that of his family, following the death of his son Beau, who succumbed to brain cancer in May at age 46.” WSJ, Sept. 5

Dear Mr. Vice-President:

All but the most insensitive of your political opponents sympathize deeply with you in your grief in the aftermath of your son’s recent death. I cannot imagine losing my child, let alone going through such terrible grief twice—this on top of your losing your first wife and daughter so tragically more than 40 years ago. Many experts say that losing a child is the worst grief of all. It’s out of order. We don’t expect it.

As I have struggled to understand grief over the last six years, I have learned three things:

  1. Grief and bereavement take far longer than any of us can imagine until we’re there. It often takes years before we gain mastery. The funeral is only the beginning.
  2. Complicated grief can take much longer. Last month The New York Times ran an article, “A Grief So Deep It Won’t Die.” Paula Span wrote about a widow mired in grief for nine years. “Complicated or prolonged grief can assail anyone, but it is a particular problem for older adults, because they suffer so many losses—spouses, parents, siblings, friends…. The problem appears more likely when a death is sudden or violent; when the person who died was one’s spouse, romantic partner or child…. ”
  3. Give yourself permission to do things differently than your loved one did or wanted you to. An older, wiser friend—widowed six months before I was—called shortly after Lev died to give me that advice. She gave herself permission to install a lawn sprinkler system. I’ve given myself permission to do all sorts of things differently than Lev did. I know that your son Beau, as he was dying of cancer, expressed hope that you would run for President. In his love for you, he did not want his death to hinder your dreams and aspirations. But the fact is that bereavement is inevitable. Beau could not forecast the depth of your grief. He could not guess that your priorities might change with his death.

If you muster the strength to run, Mr. Vice-President, then Godspeed. But don’t feel guilty if you decide to sit it out. All those who have grieved deeply understand.

Sincerely yours,
Ella Wall Prichard