Emotional Joe Biden makes hospice visitApril 15, 2023
Emotional Joe Biden reflects with son Hunter and sister Valerie at hospice plaque dedicated to late son Beau: President’s cousin in tears in quiet moment on his family tour
- President Biden visited an Irish hospice that bears his son Beau’s name Friday
- He visited in 2017 and spoke movingly to fundraisers about hospice care
- Biden ‘turned the sod’ in a groundbreaking ceremony for the $10 million facility
President Joe Biden made an emotional visit to a new hospice that bears his late son Beau’s name during his tour of Ireland on Friday, bringing his son Hunter and sister Valerie with him.
It was a close family moment, as they were greeted at Mayo Hospice in the west of Ireland by Laurita Blewitt, the president’s third cousin and a big fundraiser for the $10 facility.
Biden had visited in 2017 to ‘turn the sod’ at a groundbreaking ceremony but this time was able to see the plaque that carries his son’s name near the entrance.
They put their arms around each other and both Valerie Biden and Blewitt wiped tears from their eyes.
President Joe Biden visits the Mayo Roscommon Hospice in Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland, where a plaque bears his son Beau’s name.
They were joined in the moment of quiet reflection by Martina Jennings, chief executive of Mayo Roscommon Hospice Foundation, and Mike Smith, chairman.
They spoke together in hushed tones during a break in the day’s April showers.
Biden arrived from a visit to Knock Shrine along roads thronged by wellwishers, holding up red and green flags as well as the Stars and Stripes.
He was making good on a promise to return to the site, cementing his ties to an area where his ancestors once lived.
Last week, before the visit was confirmed Jennings described how he had discussed the hospice care that Beau received before his death, his help with fundraising and the promise she made in return.
‘We told President Biden that Beau’s name would be forever associated with this hospice , And it is. And that’s the reason for the plaque on the front door,’ said Martina Jennings, chief executive of Mayo Roscommon Hospice Foundation.
‘Both President Biden’s name and Beau Biden’s and it’s because they’ve used hospice services and they know them and he was passionate that Mayo should have its own hospice. His passion equaled ours.’
Biden has been invoking his late son on the trip, where he has been accompanied by Hunter Biden (to his right). Sister Valerie Biden Owns is to his left
Biden (L) embraces his cousin Laurita Blewitt (C) outside Mayo Roscommon Hospice and Palliative Care Center, in the West of Ireland
Biden’s own Blewitt ancestor left the area for the U.S. during the Great Famine
Crowds lined the streets at the St. Muredach’s Catheral, where Biden’s plans to speak
Martina Jennings, chief executive of Mayo Roscommon Hospice Foundation, at the plaque laid in memory of Beau Biden and commemorating Joe Biden’s 2017 visit to ‘turn the sod’
Biden visited in 2017 through a personal connection with fundraising efforts for a hospice in Mayo, and has stayed in touch with progress ever since
The White House kept the details under wraps until Thursday evening. Biden is scheduled to drop in between visits to Knock Shrine – a site of Irish pilgrimage – and a family history center.
Before the hospice opened in 2019, patients had to travel to the city of Galway or even Dublin more than three hours away. It meant patients ending their lives in six-bed wards far from home.
‘We just didn’t see that as dignified or respectful,’ said Jennings.
The connection with Biden came through the fundraising efforts of Blewitt, a well-known podcaster who also happens to be the president’s third cousin.
She had got to know him during his 2016 visit as vice president.
‘And she asked him to come back to turn the sod at the hospice the following year and be our patron and our friend I suppose really,’ said Jennings.
He arrived back in 2017, using a spade to dig the first ceremonial sod from the ground of what would become a $10 million facility with 14 in-patient rooms (with stunning views of the Irish landscape), as well as suites for out-patient treament.
Biden turned the first sod at a ceremonial grounbreaking for the new hospice in 2017
Biden was presented with a Mayo Gaelic football jersey by Jennings (right) and the president’s third cousin Laurita Blewitt, his third cousin, who still lives in the town of his ancestors
Jennings said Biden spoke movingly during his visit of the hospice care his son Beau (pictured here in 2009) experienced before dying at the age of 46 in 2015 from brain cancer
More important than the spade, said Jennings, was Biden’s personal account of the hospice care that helped his son Beau, who died of a brain tumor at the age of 46 just two years earlier.
‘It was the most emotional day,’ she said. ‘He was really casual and informal.
‘His words on the day really mirrored what we feel.
‘So he gets hospice … You know his family has been through hospice services.
‘And I think what really struck me was, although they had family support, and they got all the support they wanted hospice, he really felt for the people that didn’t have that support.’
He kept in touch with progress, sending a video message when the new building opened opened.
Now he has returned to see the place for himself.
A plaque marking Biden’s first visit, and immortalizing the name of his son Beau, takes pride of place at the entrance to hospice in Co. Mayo
The $10 million facility was funded entirely by donations and opened in 2019. It has 14 rooms for in-patients, as well as suites for outpatient services
Jennings said excitement was building for the president’s visit to the area on Friday. But during an interview last week said she did not know whether Biden would have time to see the hospice
READ MORE: How 27,000 bricks from Biden’s great-great-great grandfather helped build the cathedral where he’ll speak in Ireland
‘There’s so much excitement,’ said Jennings days before the visit was confirmed.
‘We will be so proud if he came to see it because we promised him when he came to turn the sod that we would deliver a sanctuary … not just a building.
‘And when you walk through the door you feel that this is absolutely a sanctuary of love and respect and compassion and care. All of those words.
‘We want him to see that we delivered on our promise.’
Friday brings Biden out west, to Co. Mayo, on the final day of his trip to the land of his ancestors.
His last public appearance in Ireland will be a speech outside St. Muredach’s cathedral in the town of Ballina.
About 20,000 people are expected for the president’s biggest public event of the trip.
And it all takes place outside a cathedral built with 27,000 bricks that were sold by Edward Blewitt, Biden’s great-great-great grandfather, before he left Ireland for the U.S.
The remains of the Blewitt home are still visible in the backyard of an art gallery.
Ballina is getting ready to welcome Biden to town, during the final day of his tour of Ireland
As many as 20,000 people are expected to turn out for a speech on Friday evening in front of St Muredach’s Cathedral. From there Biden will return to Dublin and then back to the U.S.
And Ballina is still home to the president’s third (like Laurita Blewitt), fourth, and fifth cousins … and even more distant relatives.
Dara Calleary, who grew up in the town and is now a government minister, said those living links made the visit — his third — all the more special.
‘What he did for our hospice really won hearts,’ he said. ‘So this is not just somebody coming for a photo opportunity.
‘He came, he lent his name to the fundraising. He lent his story and his life story to that.
‘And so I think people feel they know him in a they wouldn’t know any other U.S. president.’
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