Where the Light Enters: Building a Family, Discovering Myself
“‘I am a mother and a grandmother, a friend and a teacher, a wife and a sister. Every scene on those walls, every role I’ve played, has taught me so much about what family means.’”
Strength often shines through adversity.
Jill Jacobs Biden’s parents met in New Jersey where her mother, Bonny Godfrey, worked at a drug store soda fountain and her dad, Donald Jacobs, was a World War II soldier. Her parents came from rather different backgrounds, and Biden often says that her father’s Italian side of the family was much warmer.
Biden has four sisters, and she was the oldest in the family of five girls. She tells a sweet story of how her dad caught her smoking at 15 and made her smoke three whole cigars. Though it made her terribly ill, she continued to smoke for many years because of her rebellious nature.
“I didn’t stop smoking. It wasn’t that I particularly liked doing it so much as I didn’t want to be forced to do, or not to do, anything.”
Biden got married for the first time in 1969, at the age of 18. Her then-husband was interested in politics—she was not. While attending U of Delaware, she met Joe Biden’s first wife, Neilia. When Joe Biden won the senate race in Delaware, Neilia and their 13 month-old daughter were killed in a car crash in December 1972. He was left to raise two young boys, Beau and Hunter.
Jill Biden had subsequently gotten divorced. Joe Biden managed to get her phone number and called her for a date in 1975, having seen her as a model in an ad campaign for the New Castle County Parks and Recreation.
Joe Biden’s family was physically affectionate while hers were not. “In truth, I’m a bit of an introvert, and I sometimes found all that affection draining.”
After several proposals over the years, she finally agreed to marry Joe Biden. When reporters insisted on calling her the “stepmom,” the whole family set them straight—“We don’t say ‘step.’” She had a fierce bond with both Beau and Hunter from early on.
In 1981, Biden gave birth to her biological daughter, Ashley. “There was no denying that she was my daughter: she tested me just like I tested my dad. And as a result, we fought all the time.” Nonetheless, she loved all her children equally.
An introvert, she had to force herself to be sociable at political events for her husband’s sake.
In 1988, Joe Biden suffered an aneurysm and for a while, his survival was touch and go. She began to run miles to cope with the stress of her husband’s illness, their aging parents, and her son’s leaving for the war in Iraq.
In 1993 when four of her close friends were diagnosed with breast cancer, Biden formed the Biden Breast Health Initiative.
They decided as a family that Joe Biden would run for president in 2008. “It may be his name on the ticket, but all of us . . . have to talk to reporters, show up at rallies and deal with the scrutiny. So we decide together.” Though Biden did not win the nomination, he was later asked by Barack Obama to run with him as his vice-president.
Biden became a “Nana” at the young age of 42. The importance of family is clear. “We have a rule: no matter what we’re doing . . . if the kids call, we pick up.”
Son Beau was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a rare and aggressive brain cancer in 2013. After his death, Jill began to question her faith. Through many friendships and emails from her pastor, while she has for many years since Beau’s death remained absent from her church, she is beginning to rebuild her beliefs.
Throughout this memoir, the reader feels Biden’s fierce caring, yet independence. She never wanted to be just “Senator Joe Biden’s wife.” She was the “first Second Lady to hold a full-time job while in the White House,”—a full-time position teaching at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria—a position that was encouraged by her husband.
It is clear this is a book of observations—how Biden views life, her children, her husband and the world. “I am a mother and a grandmother, a friend and a teacher, a wife and a sister. Every scene on those walls, every role I’ve played, has taught me so much about what family means.”
Where the Light Enters: Building a Family, Discovering Myself by Jill Biden is a warm, lovely, and often remarkable story of one of the most popular second families in modern times.