Well-Being Mental Health

How Joe Biden’s grief may have shaped the leader he has become today

joe biden grief, how grief affected biden, biden getting over grief
Ashley Biden, Jill Biden and Joe Biden Getty Images

Story at a glance

  • Everyone experiences grief differently.
  • Seeing Joe Biden discuss his losses can be inspirational to others.
  • Experiencing grief could enable him to empathize more with others.

Joe Biden has spoken in the past about significant losses that he’s suffered, including the 1972 car accident in which he lost his wife and young daughter and his son’s death following a battle with brain cancer in 2015. According to a 2019 profile on Politico, grief may have even become his “superpower.” So how could grief have shaped Biden as a person and a leader?

The loss of a child is one of the most profound losses and feels out of step with the natural course of life, says psychiatrist Ravi Shah of Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City. Research has suggested that people who have lost a child are at more risk of depression than people who have lost a spouse or a parent. One study found that focusing on restoration instead of loss was associated with better adjustment.

It’s difficult to fully understand Biden’s grief without speaking to him directly as a health professional. Everyone differs in terms of how they experience something, says Florida-based psychologist Marsha Brown. You can’t know exactly what they’re going through because you’re not that person.

“Your circumstances are different, your loss was different,” Brown adds. “But you can imagine or you can put yourself in that position or you can empathize more so with other people.”

Biden’s losses may have made him better able to relate to others, especially those he serves as a politician. “For some people losses like that can make it very difficult to open themselves up to other people,” says Brown. “Some people though, when they experience grief, or they experience loss…it helps them to be more empathic to other people.”

Empathy can help build trust, like Biden’s exchanges with Mark Barden, who lost a child in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, according to Politico.

People who haven’t experienced a significant loss may think that, once time passes, it’ll feel more like a tragic memory. But that may not be the reality for people going through the loss. “Tragedies like the loss of a loved one, whether it’s parents, a child, a spouse, whatever the case may be, it never goes away. It’s never something that just is…a distant memory,” says Brown. “There’ll always be something missing.”

The person may be able to function again, but the loss will always be with them.

For Biden, he’s been able to move on after his losses, and he’s found family and success in his career, something that can provide inspiration to people who also have lost loved ones. The fact that he has been open about his grief at times makes grief more accessible and could be helpful for people who are suffering through something similar.

If you have a friend or relative who is going through a period of grief, it’s important to listen to them, says Brown. Let them know that you acknowledge what they are going through and pay attention to cues to know if they want to talk about it or if you should give them space, says Shah.

Remember that feeling sad is a normal emotion, and people need the time and space to get through the grieving process.