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Jill Biden recalls when her ‘faith was shaken’ after son Beau died from brain cancer

The first lady recalled how she felt "betrayed" and "broken" following her son's death in 2015 and how she regained her faith during a 2019 visit to a South Carolina church.
Jill Biden
Jill Biden discussed her faith journey during a visit to Brookland Baptist Church on Sunday.Daniel Leal-Olivas / Pool via Reuters

First lady Jill Biden shared in an emotional speech on Sunday how she regained her faith in God after the death of her son Beau in 2015 left her feeling "betrayed" and "broken" to the point where she wondered if she would ever feel joy again.

Biden made an appearance at Brookland Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Charles B. Jackson Sr. as the church's pastor and to surprise the woman who helped her regain her faith — the pastor's wife, Robin Jackson.

A visit to the church in 2019 in which Robin Jackson asked Biden to be her "prayer partner" had a profound effect on the first lady as she still struggled to heal from her son's loss. Beau Biden, her son with President Joe Biden, died at 46 from brain cancer.

Jill Biden, Beau Biden, Hunter Biden
First lady Jill Biden reflected on how her faith was badly shaken by the death of her son Beau (left) at 46 from brain cancer in 2015. Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

"In 2015, my faith was shaken," she said while getting choked up. "For over a year I watched my brave, strong, funny, bright young son fight brain cancer. Chemotherapy, operation after operation, weight loss. But still I never gave up hope. As a mother, you can’t.

"I had to be strong for my children and for my husband. But most of all for my son, Beau. I had to be strong for him. Because in the middle of it all, he was being strong for us. So I kept going. Every day, I put one foot in front of the other, and despite what the doctors said, I believed my son would make it."

Beau Biden, who had served as the attorney general of the family's home state of Delaware, was married with two children when he died.

"In the final days I made one last desperate prayer and it went unanswered," Jill Biden said. "After Beau died, I felt betrayed, broken."

She said her minister occasionally wrote her emails inviting her to attend services following Beau's death, but she couldn't bring herself to do it.

"I couldn’t even pray," she said. "I wondered if I would ever feel joy again."

Jill Biden
Jill Biden wore a custom necklace featuring Beau Biden's name while holding a video conference with U.S. military families at the White House on April 7. Tom Brenner / Reuters

A visit to Brookland Baptist Church in the summer of 2019 changed everything.

"While we were worshipping, and I remember this so clearly, because we were sitting right there, Robin came up to me and she sat beside me and she said, 'Dr. Biden, I would like to be your prayer partner,'" Biden said. "I don’t know if she sensed how moved I had been by the service. I don’t know if she could still see the grief that I feel still hides behind my smile. But I do know that when she spoke, it was if God was saying to me, 'OK, Jill, you’ve had enough time. It’s time to come home.'

"And in that moment, I felt for the first time that there was a path for my recovering my faith. ... In the depths of our brokenness, we can start to believe that healing ourselves will never be possible. And the truth is, we’re right. We can’t heal ourselves alone. But with God all things are possible. Robin’s kindness, her mercy and grace pushed past the calluses on my heart and like the mustard seed, my faith was able to grow once again."

The president and first lady frequently honored Beau Biden during Joe Biden's successful presidential campaign in 2020. The president gave an emotional speech at the Major Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III National Guard/Reserve Center in Delaware the day before his inauguration in January, and visited Beau's grave on the morning of Election Day last year.

The 2019 trip to Brookland Baptist Church came while Joe Biden was competing for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"It brought me comfort in the long days of the campaign trail," the first lady said in her speech. "And you all know how hard they were. It brought me joy when I saw how strangers could sacrifice for each other. It reminded me of what was at stake, not an election, not a partisan battle, but a country in need of healing."

Jill Biden said the church "changed my life" and helped "shape the course" of their journey to the White House.

"Robin’s kindness, Pastor Jackson’s leadership, and the work of each member of this congregation speaking out for justice and compassion and unity, it has grown into something bigger than any one of us," she said.