4 minutes with... Jill Biden
New York magazine|March 1-14, 2021
Grieving with the First Family.
By Olivia Nuzzi

SHE DIED JUST as I arrived at the wrong hospital. It was Wednesday afternoon, February 24, and the First Lady, Jill Biden, was making her first official trip outside Washington to tour the labs of the Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. My brother called again. At a different hospital 900 miles away, doctors could not revive our mother. She was gone before I could find the parking garage. She was 59.

In the auditorium, the First Lady talked about her friend Winnie. In 1993, the same year my mother had me at age 30, not much older than I am now, four of Dr. Biden’s friends were diagnosed with breast cancer. “Three of them survived,” she said. “Winnie did not.” I’m sure I’m not the first daughter consumed by the brutal irony of this disease; the very parts of my mother that sustained my life helped end hers. Winnie had three children. “As the Gospel of John says, ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it,’” the First Lady said. It was Winnie’s death, she added, that led her to found the Biden Breast Health Initiative. “Out of sorrow, we found purpose.”

If other politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose, Joe Biden does both in eulogy. For five decades, his pain has been a most unusual political asset, a cynical gift disguised as a curse. Looking back, it seems obvious it would deliver him to the presidency at our darkest moment. His inauguration on January 20 felt like a memorial. With no crowd behind the gates at the fortress of the Capitol, and a gulf of six feet between each chair, it was still and silent as he swore the oath of office on the site of the January 6 insurrection, inheriting an America in the grips of sickness and mourning. The five weeks of the Biden era have been a neverending wake, presided over by a spiritual leader of a secular government, a foremost authority on sadness.

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