Joe Biden has weathered more family tragedies than any man should have to endure and, central to his story, is the death of his first wife Neilia, the mother of his two sons, Beau and Hunter Biden.
How did Neilia Biden die? She perished in a car accident at the young age of 30 along with the couple’s 1-year-old daughter Naomi. Joe Biden has spoken openly throughout the years about the crushing grief he faced when Neilia and Naomi died – and, again, when Beau Biden died at 46-years-old from brain cancer.
It’s an almost unfathomable set of tragedies. Joe Biden brought up both family tragedies in the first Democrat debate when he talked about the need for better healthcare. “I can’t imagine what it would have been like not to have adequate healthcare,” he said, referencing his first wife and daughter’s deaths and how his two sons were injured.
When his son had terminal cancer, said Biden, “I can’t fathom what would happen if they had said the last six months you’re on your own.”
These are the candidates who will appear on stage at the September 12, 2019 Democratic presidential debate: Former Vice President Joe Biden; Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; former Obama Housing Secretary Julián Castro; former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
What time is the 2020 Democratic presidential debate on? It will air from 8-11 p.m. ET on ABC and Univision. It’s the third presidential debate, and all eyes will be on Joe Biden as challengers try to knock him off his perceived frontrunner’s perch. According to NPR, to get into this debate, candidates needed to demonstrate that they had “2% in at least four Democratic polls, either nationally or in early states, as well as 130,000 donors from at least 20 states and at least 400 in each state.”
The debate is being held at Texas Southern University.
Here’s what you need to know about how Neilia Biden died.
Neilia Biden Was Driving to Get a Family Christmas Tree When the Crash Occurred
It was 1972, and Joe Biden had just been elected to the U.S. Senate in Delaware when his first wife, Neilia Hunter Biden, decided to take the couple’s three children to get a Christmas tree. Neilia and young Naomi didn’t survive the trip. Sons Hunter and Beau were in the car but survived the accident.
According to Politico, the Biden vehicle was struck by a truck carrying corncobs as they journeyed to pick out a Christmas tree.
Despite comments that Joe Biden has made over the years about drinking and driving being linked to the crash, according to Politico, the driver of the truck, Curtis C. Dunn of Pennsylvania, was not accused of drunk driving or any wrongdoing in association with the crash.
“For whatever reason, Neilia Biden, who was holding the baby, ended up in the right of way of Dunn’s truck coming down a long hill,” Politico reported. A friend of Biden’s who looked into the accident at the time told Politico, “She had a stop sign. The truck driver did not.”
In 2008, the then-deceased Dunn’s daughter Pamela Hamill demanded an apology from Biden, according to Newark Post Online. He died in 1999. She was upset that Biden had claimed that Dunn was drinking, when police did not find such.
Police determined that Neilia Biden “drove into the path of Dunn’s tractor-trailer, possibly because her head was turned and she didn’t see the oncoming truck,” according to the news site.
“I just burst into tears,” Hamill said to Newark Post Online. “The story already is tragic enough, why did he have to sensationalize it by saying my father was drunk? My family is outraged.”
Biden Has Described Neilia as His ‘Very Best Friend’ & ‘My Sensuous Lover’
Over the years, Biden has discussed his great love for Neilia, including to the author Kitty Kelley. “Neilia was my very best friend, my greatest ally, my sensuous lover,” he told her in 1974. “The longer we lived together the more we enjoyed everything from sex to sports. Most guys don’t really know what I lost because they never knew what I had.”
According to The New Yorker, Neilia was “the daughter of diner owners in upstate New York” when she met Joe Biden in 1966. He was in law school when they married.
Joe Biden was able to find love again, to Jill Tracy Jacobs Biden. At the time, she was an English teacher, and they met on a blind date in 1977, Politico reports. Americans know her as their former Second Lady. The couple has a daughter, Ashley Biden, together.
Biden Has Discussed His Overwhelming Grief on Public Occasions
Biden spoke about the loss to a group of soldiers’ families, describing how the pain made him understand why some people contemplate suicide. His second wife, Jill, and the passage of time allowed him to endure the grievous loss. He has discussed the tragedies in circumstances that allow him to help others suffering grief because he has walked in their shoes.
In the 2012 talk, Biden said, according to ABC News: “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’d been to the top of the mountain and they just knew in their heart they’d never get there again, that it was … never going to be that way ever again.”
He explained that the grief was a “black hole,” but it’s possible to forge on, saying, according to ABC, “Keep thinking what your husband or wife would want you to do. Keep thinking what it is, and keep remembering those kids of yours, or him or her the rest of their life, blood of my blood, bone of my bone, because, folks, it can and will get better.”
In 2017, Biden spoke about his grief in his book, saying, “The pain had seemed unbearable in the beginning, and it took me a long time to heal, but I did survive the punishing ordeal. I made it through, with a lot support, and reconstructed my life and my family. When I talk to people in mourning, they know I speak from experience. They know I have a sense of the depth of their pain.”
Biden Would Later Suffer Another Terrible Family Loss
As if the death of Neilia was not enough, Joe Biden would eventually lose another family member far too young, his charismatic politician son, Beau, who died of brain cancer, only 46-years-old.
According to his obituary, Beau died in 2015. “It is with broken hearts that Hallie, Hunter, Ashley, Jill and I announce the passing of our husband, brother and son, Beau, after he battled brain cancer with the same integrity, courage and strength he demonstrated every day of his life,” Joe Biden said.
At the time of his death, Beau Biden was planning to run for governor. According to The Associated Press, he was a lawyer, a member of the Delaware National Guard and former Delaware attorney general. His full name was Joseph Biden III.
According to CNN, Joe Biden called his son “quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known.” Beau Biden served in the Iraq War. He was survived by his wife, Hallie, and the couple’s two children, Natalie and Hunter.