Joe Biden is a champion for aphasia awareness. His new memoir, Promise Me Dad, released November 14th, covers a year in the life of the former Vice President. While balancing the duties of his office, his attention was also on his son and Beau’s brain tumour diagnosis months earlier.
Vanity Fair recently provided an excerpt from the book, one that features Beau’s aphasia.
Beau Biden and Aphasia
It’s Thanksgiving, 2014, and the Biden clan has gathered to celebrate the holiday together. Joe Biden describes Beau’s first day on Nantucket:
He was easily fatigued and increasingly shy about interacting with people. He was losing feeling in his right hand, and it wasn’t strong enough for a good firm handshake, and he had been wrestling with a condition called aphasia. Radiation and chemotherapy had done some damage to the part of his brain that controlled the ability to name things. He had been going from his home in Wilmington to Philadelphia most days for an hour of physical therapy and occupational therapy and then an hour of speech therapy, all above and beyond his regular chemo treatments.
A brain tumour causes Beau’s aphasia. He uses circumlocution, speaking around the missing word, in order to convey his thoughts:
It was slow going, but he never showed frustration. Nobody in the family, or among his friends, or among his staff at the attorney general’s office, saw him angry or down. It just took a little patience, and a few extra words when he couldn’t recall “mayor”: “You know, that guy who runs the city.” Or “dinner roll”: “Pass the, you know, the brown thing you put the butter on.”
It’s a bittersweet excerpt, one that ends with Biden’s wish that Thanksgiving that we now know didn’t come true. Beau died in May of 2015, almost halfway between that last Thanksgiving and the one that would never come.
Biden’s book is being released this month, and we’ll be looking at it as a future online book club selection. The title comes from Beau’s request to his father: “Promise me, Dad. Give me your word that no matter what happens, you’re going to be all right.” It’s a promise difficult to keep. Biden tackles the aftermath of losing his son, continuing his public work.
The book’s description addresses the fact that aphasia knows no boundaries. It can affect anyone — from a doctor to a school teacher to the son of the Vice President.
This is a book written not just by the vice president, but by a father, grandfather, friend, and husband. Promise Me, Dad is a story of how family and friendships sustain us and how hope, purpose, and action can guide us through the pain of personal loss into the light of a new future.
Image: Melissa Ford