Firefighters in dress uniform. Governors, lawmakers and diplomats in business suits. An elderly man carrying a folding chair to ease the wait in line.
A somber, sometimes stricken Joe Biden warmly greeted each and every one who came with a hug or handshake of condolence for the vice president as he braces for burying his son Beau on Saturday.
To one grown man accompanying his elderly father to pay respects to the grieving Biden family, the vice president shared a few minutes of quiet talk before poignantly reminding the son: “Your most important job is to take care of pop.”
In four long, emotional hours of calling on Thursday in Delaware’s Legislative Hall, where Beau’s flag-draped casket lay in honor, and again at Friday’s public viewing at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church in the Biden family’s hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, the vice president heard from person after person who saluted Beau – a former Delaware attorney general, Army National Guard officer and Iraq war veteran – as a good man.
Biden sadly – and, at times, holding on to his son’s casket – answered each one with a heart-heavy agreement: “He was a good guy.” Beau died of brain cancer last week at age 46.
The vice president, his wife Jill, his widowed daughter-in-law Hallie and his young grandchildren – Natalie, 11, and Hunter, 9 – visibly struggled through the public ceremonies of grief that will culminate in a funeral Mass on Saturday, with President Obama delivering the eulogy.
To one man at Thursday’s viewing, Biden said, “Sure, I remember you.” But then he added, “I can’t remember your name. I don’t remember my own name sometimes.”
Finally, as he slowly processed out through Thursday’s crowd, shaking every outstretched hand in his path, Biden expressed his gratitude for the support he feels to one small group.
“I want to make sure you all know how grateful I am,” he said. “You guys are holding me up.”