Joe Biden has had more than his fair share of personal tragedy in his life, none more traumatic than the loss of his wife and baby daughter and severe injury of his two sons when they were struck by a tractor-trailer while Christmas shopping in 1972.

When one of those two sons, Beau Biden, died of brain cancer last year, it was hard to contemplate the kinds of emotions the vice-president must have been experiencing. It was a punishing end to a period of health scares for Beau, beginning with a mild stroke in May 2010. He wasn’t diagnosed with cancer until August 2013.

When Beau suffered the stroke in 2010, he was serving as the Attorney General of Delaware, and the family initially thought that he would have to resign the position. This would have caused a financial hardship and it wasn’t clear what Beau’s future employment prospects were going to be. Joe and Jill made plans to sell their home in Wilmington.

It was at this point that President Obama got involved.

Describing in an interview with CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger one of his weekly lunches with Obama, Biden said he told the President he was worried about caring for Beau’s family without his son’s salary.

“I said, ‘But I worked it out.’” Biden recalled telling Obama. “I said, ‘But — Jill and I will sell the house and be in good shape.’”

Obama, Biden remembered, pushed back vehemently on the thought of Biden and his wife selling their home in Wilmington, Delaware.

“He got up and he said, ‘Don’t sell that house. Promise me you won’t sell the house,’” Biden continued, speculating Obama would be “mad” he was retelling the story.

“He said, ‘I’ll give you the money. Whatever you need, I’ll give you the money. Don’t, Joe — promise me. Promise me.’ I said, ‘I don’t think we’re going to have to anyway.’ He said, ‘promise me,’” Biden recalled.

Fortunately, after undergoing post-stroke cognitive tests, it was determined that Beau hadn’t suffered any losses and was competent to continue on as Attorney General. Joe and Jill didn’t have to sell the house or accept a gift from the president.

It’s heartwarming, though, to see how their friendship developed. We don’t get enough feel-good stories coming out of DC. Something as simple as two men building a bond based on mutual love and loyalty can stand out in this swamp.

And I guess I’m encouraged to know that the Biden family stands ready to reciprocate when the time inevitably comes to comfort the Obama family.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at