Joe Biden understands aphasia and has been a tireless advocate, spreading awareness through speeches and his new memoir.
For the next few weeks, we will be discussing Promise Me, Dad, Joe Biden’s account of balancing his duties in office, the decision to run for president, and his son, Beau’s, final year of life. Biden speaks candidly about Beau’s struggle with aphasia due to a brain tumour, and his frankness has helped spread awareness about aphasia to the general population.
The Bidens understand aphasia. They have seen aphasia up close and personal; the experience of someone they love.
We’ve chosen this book because it is a perfect segue into our committed support for caregivers. Joe Biden writes eloquently about this position: the high points and low points of helping a loved one struggling with language.
But it is a different sort of book, not just because it covers a lot of political ground that we won’t discuss as part of this book club selection, but because we know the ending of the story, and it is not one of recovery but rather one of loss.
Biden’s caregiver journey may be different from other stories we’ve read so far about life after a stroke, but there is a lot that can be gleaned by reading the words of someone who is unapologetic in honouring deep feelings and letting love guide their decisions.
The title of the book comes from a promise that Beau begs his father to make. On page 201, Beau is beginning to accept the possibility that he may die. He asks his father to make a promise, one that is impossible to keep and impossible not to follow: That life will continue regardless of what happens.
“But you’ve got to promise me, Dad, that no matter what happens, you’re going to be all right. Give me your word, Dad, that you’re going to be all right. Promise me, Dad.”
“I’m going to be okay, Beau,” I said, but that wasn’t enough for him.
“No, Dad,” he said. “Give me your word as a Biden. Give me your word, Dad. Promise me, Dad.”
Beau isn’t the first person to ask his caregiver to promise that life will not fall apart if the worst happens. In this case, Beau is referring more to his cancer, but it’s a promise that people after a stroke or traumatic brain injury or primary progressive aphasia have asked of their caregiver, too.
Promise me that this won’t be it. That this won’t define everything that comes afterward.
It’s what Beau needs to hear in order to keep fighting his fight, and it’s a promise that serves as a guide for Biden’s caregiving more than foresight into the future. When you know the end point is that you need to be okay, you make all decisions beforehand with that frame.
We hope that you’ll join us for this latest installment of our online book club.
Image: Marc Nozell via Flickr with a Creative Commons license