As with Joe Biden, I know exactly what it is to survive through the loss of two close family members, but three? I can’t imagine and I can’t even let myself think of it.
I read about Beau Biden’s funeral and I cried. So did many people, but my tears were a little different than most. When you’ve lost a child of your own and then read about another parent losing their child, your tears are as much for yourself as they are for the people experiencing the new loss.
Many years ago, in a grief group set up for people who have lost children, one father talked about how we were members of a club we all wish we weren’t part of. And yes, that’s true. But there’s a certain distinction in it also that’s hard to describe – maybe like people who have been in combat in a war and know what a horrible experience it is but also know it shaped them and that what they are today is a result of that horrific experience.
My husband and I had the added misery of having lost two children, many years apart. And my first reaction to hearing about the death Beau Biden, former Delaware Secretary of State the son of Vice President Joe Biden, was that Joe Biden now had more losses than we had – and my respect and liking for him grew because I know exactly what it is to survive through two huge losses, but three? I can’t imagine and I can’t even let myself think of it.
And then there’s the fact that Beau was an adult, a father himself. Some people might think that losing your adult child is easier than losing a young child, but it’s not. Our first loss was our son who, at almost three years of age age, had a stroke, and died when he was almost seven. That was an unimaginable loss, nothing could be worse.
But when we lost our 18-year-old daughter almost exactly eight years later, I knew that I had been wrong – it could be worse. It was worse. With her, we had all those extra years for our love to grow, our hopes to grow, our plans to grow. We had already imagined her wedding. Our daughter had called us the day before her death and said to me: “Mom, I think I met THE ONE!”
Joe Biden has lost not only his son, but also the father of his grandchildren and a man who, as many people have said, had a lot of exciting and wonderful things in his future. Joe Biden has lost a part of his legacy, a part of his immortality. And he has lost another huge chunk of the core of his being.
Because that’s what it’s all about. Our children are somehow inside us. I’m not talking about biology and pregnancy, but how they are part of our, – of my – emotional core, part of who we are, part of who I am. Before I lost two of my children, I was a whole person. Not perfect, not even perfectly well-adjusted, and certainly not perfectly aware. But I was fine. Losing two children tore big pieces out of me and it took some equally big pieces of time and effort and therapy and more children to make the necessary repairs to my core.
I now have a good life with two wonderful (and different as the sun & moon) daughters, my more-than-half-my-lifelong dedicated-to-others partner and husband and a series of lovable dogs. I have my interests and my comfortable home and my pleasant routine. There are many things that make me laugh, sometimes so hard that I cry (among them the dry wit of my youngest daughter and books by John Scalzi), and there are even more things than there used to be that make me cry not from laughter but from empathetic sadness. But I am repaired and I function extremely well.
But underneath it all is that deep bed of sadness and the terrible knowledge that one more loss would be it for me, irreparable. I couldn’t do it.
But Joe Biden just did.
For almost 20 years, Marti Teitelbaum used her doctorate in public health working for the Children’s Defense Fund, producing most of their numbers on children’s health, disability, health insurance, Medicaid, and immunization. Marti is the mother of two high-energy young women (a twenty-something dedicated social worker, and a 15-year-old emerging band photographer), and is married to a psychiatrist who devotes half his work life to a child mental health clinic.