WASHINGTON – Jill Biden says writing about the “crushing” grief she felt after her son Beau died of cancer helped give her the emotional strength to carry on as she encouraged young people who have lost loved ones during military service to spill their feelings out onto paper.
“It takes courage to write,” she said Tuesday, “but it's worth it, because it helps us glue ourselves back together. It connects to those who carry their own grief, reminds us that we aren't alone. And you are not alone.”
The first lady opened up about her experience with the children and siblings of service members who lost their lives during military service after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The group is participating in a weeklong writing seminar at a ranch in Justin, Texas, sponsored by The War Horse, a nonprofit newsroom that publishes stories about the human fallout of military service.
Biden, a community college writing professor, said that, after President Joe Biden finished up his earlier service as vice president, a publishing company suggested she write a book about her life. She knew everything she wanted to write about, she said.
“But there was one thing I did not want to talk about: My son Beau," she said. Beau Biden, who was the son of President Biden and his first wife, died of brain cancer in 2015 at age 46.
Although she started writing the book two years after he died, she said "even the best memories were laced with pain. I felt like his loss was crushing me, and I worried that shining a light on it would only make it grow. So I told my team that he was off limits.
“But then one day I found myself writing words without thinking. ‘I’m shattered,’ I scribbled on a yellow notebook," the first lady said. She felt like a piece of broken china that that had been glued back together. “'The cracks may be imperceptible, but they're there. Look closely and you can see the glue holding me together.'”
She added that “there were days when I felt like it took all of my strength to keep my grief inside of me, but when I wrote, I didn’t have to. I could let it spill out, messy and melancholy and mad.
“It didn't make my sorrow smaller,” she said, “but it helped give me the strength to carry it.”'
The first lady joined the seminar by video as part of Joining Forces, her White House initiative to help support active-duty service members and veterans, their families and their caregivers. She asked the participants what led them to the seminar and about the importance of sharing their stories.
On Wednesday, also as part of Joining Forces and in conjunction with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Biden was hosting a screening of the documentary, “Unconditional: When Minds Hurt, Love Heals,” to highlight the caregivers of wounded, ill or injured service members or veterans.
Her memoir, "Where the Light Enters: Building a Family, Discovering Myself," was published in 2019.