On Friday, Joe Biden observed a tragic anniversary where he visited the gravesites of his first wife, Neilia, and daughter, Naomi, who were both killed in a horrific crash 48 years ago.
The president-elect, 78, visited their graves at a cemetery just outside of St. Joseph on the Brandywine Roman Catholic Church, in Wilmington, Delaware.
He was then joined by the incoming first lady, Dr. Jill Biden, and their daughter, Ashley Biden, 39, and her husband, Howard Krein. According to The Associated Press, the Bidens attended morning Mass before taking walk out into the cemetery.
The story of the crash and how the grief changed the family is a major part of Biden’s biography. On Dec. 18, 1972, Biden had just pulled off a victory in his first Senate campaign and was in Washington, D.C., prepping his staff when he discovered the tragic news.
Neilia, then 30, was driving home with their three young kids after holiday shopping when the family station wagon collided with a tractor-trailer in an intersection outside Wilmington. The two shared 13-month-old Naomi and sons Beau, 4, and Hunter, 3.
“A Christmas tree, briefcase, telephone index cards and literature from Biden’s Senate campaign were thrown from the car,” according to a local news report at the time. The station wagon itself “was demolished.”
Then-Sen.-elect Biden, who was also 30, received a call that his college sweetheart and their young daughter were dead.
“By the tone of the phone call, you just knew,” he shared with a group of families of fallen U.S. soldiers in 2012. “You just felt it in your bones: Something bad happened.”
Beau and Hunter survived the crash but were badly injured. Biden left D.C. to rush to his sons’ hospital bedside, where he was sworn in as a senator the following January.
“I remember looking up and saying, ‘God,’ as if I was talking to God myself, ‘You can’t be good, how can you be good?’” he recalled in 2012. “For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide. Not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts, because they had been to the top of the mountain, and they just knew in their heart they would never get there again.”
Biden married now Dr. Jill Jacobs five years after the crash. Joe has praised Jill for helping to stabilize the highs and lows after his family’s many tragic losses, including when his son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015.
“There are times when I couldn’t imagine how he did it — how he put one foot in front of the other and kept going,” Dr. Biden, 69, said at this year’s Democratic National Convention. The couple had daughter Ashley in 1981.
During her DNC speech, Dr. Biden cited her partner’s empathetic traits when comforting Americans who lost family in the novel pandemic.
“How do you make a broken family whole?” she said then. “The same way you make a nation whole. With love and understanding, and with small acts of compassion — with bravery, with unwavering faith.”
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
Mamas Uncut is THE online place for moms. We cover the latest about motherhood, parenting, and entertainment as well – all with a mom-focused twist. So if you're looking for parenting advice from real parents, we have plenty of it, all for moms from moms, and also experts. Because, at the end of the day, our mission is focused solely on empowering moms and moms-to-be with the knowledge and answers they’re looking for in one safe space.