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At his side at the Friday morning service was his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, the woman the president-elect says “made me start to think my family might be whole again.”

President-elect Joe Biden has marked the 48th anniversary of the accident that took the lives of his first wife and baby daughter by attending Mass at the church where they are buried. The campus of the church contains a large parish cemetery. After Mass, the Bidens walked to the gravesite markers to pay their respects.

Neilia Biden and the couple’s 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, were killed when their car was struck by a tractor-trailer as she took the kids to pick out a Christmas tree. Sons Hunter and Beau—a year and a day apart in age, at 3 and 4—were seriously injured.

Joe Biden had just been elected to the Senate and was in Washington setting up his new office at the time of the accident.

Jill by His Side

At his side at the Friday morning service in Delaware at St. Joseph on the Brandywine, a Roman Catholic church, was his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, the woman the president-elect says “made me start to think my family might be whole again.”

But in truth, it wasn’t quite that simple.

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“Jill was wary. I was almost ten years older and had two sons. She was just starting her own career… I didn’t introduce Jill to the boys right away, but once I did, they hit it off, and she was happy to include them in some of our dates,” Biden wrote in his 2008 memoir Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics.”

In the book, Biden recalls that “by the time the first holidays rolled around, Jill was already integrated into our lives.”

Then came the big surprise.

The president-elect recalls that one morning the next year, Beau, 7, and Hunter, 6, walked into his bathroom while he was shaving. He could tell they had something serious they wanted to talk about.

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“You tell him, Hunt,” Beau said to his brother.

“No. You tell him.”

Finally, Biden recalls, Hunter spoke up: “Beau thinks we should get married.”

“What do you mean, guys? Beau?”

“Well,” Beau said, “we think we should marry Jill. What do you think, Dad?”

“‘I think that’s a pretty good idea,’ I told them. I’ll never forget how good I felt at that moment.”

A Healing Love

In 1977, two years after they met, the Bidens married. Joe proposed to the public school teacher five times before she accepted. Jill then became a loving mom to Beau and Hunter.

“At 26 I worried, how do you make a broken family whole? But Joe told his boys, ‘Mommy sent Jill to us,’” she remembered during an event held at José Martí Park in Little Havana in Miami, Florida, in October. “Love holds a family  together. It makes us flexible and resilient.” It’s the same way, she added, that you make a country whole.

In 1981 the Bidens had a daughter of their own, Ashley.