Wednesday, October 21, 2015

That Time Joe Biden Said the Right Thing

I don’t usually get into politics here because I don’t want the two or three people who actually read this blog to get all yelly in the comments section. I’m not a political wonk and don’t really enjoy the debate. But every once in a while something catches my attention to the point I can’t ignore it.

Today I’m bending my own rules because of Joe Biden’s announcement that he will not enter the 2016 presidential race. Why do I care so much about this announcement when I haven’t even stepped into the steaming heap of, um, news, that’s been generated by the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton coverage? Because Biden’s primary reason for not running for president is the same reason my own world is upside down: grief.

As part of Biden’s reasons for not running, he said this:
I know from previous experience that there's no timetable for [the grieving] process. The process doesn't respect or much care about things like filing deadlines or debates and primaries and caucuses.
For most of Biden’s vice presidency, I only took notice when he’d say something stupid make a gaffe that got a lot of news coverage. My opinion of him was pretty much formed by those gaffes. I didn’t bother researching Biden’s career. In my mind he was just another politician who existed in my periphery.

My opinion changed in May when Beau Biden died from brain cancer. Beau was Joe’s son. In the coverage of Beau’s death and funeral, I learned that he was not even the first child that Joe had buried. Suddenly this political caricature with a chronic case of foot-in-mouth came into sharp focus as a living, breathing, grieving human being. He had buried a wife and two children. You don’t just shake that off, I don’t care who you are.  

But it's never just gone. 
I can’t say that I know how Biden feels. Nobody really knows how Biden feels, except for Biden himself. But I do know what it’s like to be in more emotional and spiritual pain than you ever would have believed possible. I know what it’s like to feel like your heart has been shattered – no, pulverized – and set on fire. I know what it’s like to feel lost and alone even when surrounded by people who love and support you, because the ONE person in the world you want to wrap your arms around more than anyone else in the history of ever is gone from this world. And he is never, ever coming back.  

As I learned about all of Joe Biden’s losses, I stopped thinking of him as a politician and started thinking of him as a person. (I know, I know. It would be great if all politicians were people.) He was still out there in the public eye, doing his public servant gig, in front of cameras and everything, putting on his brave face for the world. Talking, smiling, legislating. All that crap. One would think that he had moved on. And many thought he had. But that’s not how grief works. You don’t just get over it and move on.

Like I said, I can’t know how he feels, but there are common traits among the bereaved. Like the fa├žade. The brave face that makes people think you are so very strong. What the brave face hides is that you feel like you’re dying on the inside a little bit every single day. We put on the brave face because we live in a society that doesn’t deal with grief very well. In generations past there would be a period of public mourning. The bereaved would wear dark clothes to signify their grief and people would respond accordingly. Now we have an unspoken agreement with each other to keep things light and cordial. Once you get a couple of weeks past the funeral, there’s an understanding that the only proper response to “How are you,” is “Fine, and you?” Small talk is not an invitation to pour out your soul.
Hmm. Good compromise. 
As Biden said in his press conference this afternoon, there is no time limit on grief. But you will reach a point where you can put your brave face on, suck it up, and go through the motions of normal everyday life. I’m now 9 long months into my own journey and I'm more functional than I was at first. I still have to fight against the grief every single day. I first have to fight my way out of sleep. Then I have to fight my way out of bed. Then I have to fight my way out of my pajamas. Then I have to fight against the urge to say, “Fuck it” and go back to bed after I’m dressed.

Do you see the pattern here? Fight, fight, fight, just to function as a normal person. Then all day at work I have to fight against the urge to crawl under my desk with a blankie and box of chocolates.

It’s exhausting, really. Living a normal life through the fog of grief is absolutely exhausting. It’s like running a marathon through a wall of Jell-O while trying to do all your other daily tasks. It’s hard and it’s messy. And it makes you weary right down to your bones.  

As a member of the grief community (yes, there’s a community – you’ll find it when you need it) I sincerely appreciate Biden’s candor during his announcement. Time and time again, our society fails to respect the fact that grief does not end when the funeral is over. For those closest to the deceased, the hard times have only just begun. Even someone who seems ok – walking, talking, smiling, laughing – still staggers when nobody’s looking.

1 comment:

  1. As usual, u have hit the nail on the head. HARD. I didn't know that Biden had lost do many loved ones until I read this. And you're also right that grief doesn't go away after the funeral is over. We still have to remember that for the bereaved it will never be business as usual ever again and that even though everything looks fine on the outside they will always need that support. Well said indeed!!


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