My Buddy Joe…

One of the greatest honors of my life, as surreal as it was, was being invited to the White House to meet Vice President Joe Biden as he presented a screening of Rebirth to an audience of college students for the tenth anniversary of the attacks. I flew into Washington DC on a red-eye flight from Los Angeles after doing The Talk on CBS with Ling and Jim, and sleep-deprived and emotional, I was feeling a bit loopy, but excited for the incredibly humbling opportunity to meet such a great man. We were placed in a back room off to the side of the stage and when he arrived, he immediately made us feel welcome and took the time to personally introduce himself to each of us. After he shook Brian Lyon’s hand, he moved toward me and shook my hand and introduced himself– the details of what was said elude me, because at one point, with his charming and fast-talking ways, he placed his forehead against mine and all I could think was-

Holy cannoli I am touching foreheads with the Vice President of the United States of America!!!

I gave him Sergio’s Tribute Book and he moved on to Ling, gave her a kiss on the forehead, then Tim, and Jim. As you can see in the pics, I was completely awe-struck. I so wish the photographer captured that moment when our foreheads touched- I probably was cross-eyed…

Vice President Joe Biden talks with the subjects of a documentary called Rebirth, before a screening in the South Court Auditorium at the White House, September 7, 2011. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

Vice President Joe Biden talks with the subjects of a documentary called Rebirth, before a screening in the South Court Auditorium at the White House, September 7, 2011. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

When the introductions were over, Vice President Biden told his staff to give us a tour of his office after the screening, and then we were ushered out to the stage. IMG_4349

Here is the video of the Vice President introducing us and the film.

Though the camera never pans over in the video, Ling, Brian, Tim, and I, were on the right side of the stage facing the audience of college students, as shown in the picture. It’s probably a good thing you can’t see the blubbering mess I became after he said this:

“Jim made a truly remarkable film, as you’re about to see. It takes the whole sweep of the last ten years and filters it through five incredibly compelling stories you’re going to learn more about. Stories about the resilience of the American spirit, about the courage of people who have been through hell and the death of their loved ones and who have made a life from it. I must tell you, we were talking inside; I admire them for being here. Having lost a wife and daughter shortly after I was elected as a 29-year-old kid to the United States senate when they were broadsided by a tractor-trailer, and my two sons left in very bad shape, I didn’t have the courage they had. I didn’t have the courage to re-live those experiences by talking about highway safety and all the things that could have been discussed. And it was not the truck driver’s fault that this happened. But the point of it was, I didn’t have the courage to handle it because the truth is this is a bittersweet day for all of them because the truth is this is a bittersweet day for all of them because no matter how long, and some of you who have lost a mother, a father, a brother or a sister, you know no matter what, when there is a memorialization of their loss you re-live it immediately. It’s not like a it’s a distant memory; you re-live it. And so I just want to thank you, I want to thank you all for having the courage to go through this process over the last ten years and be here because I know from personal experience in different circumstances there is nothing easy about it. But you give hope to millions of people who are suffering through tragedies of their own and loss of loved ones right this very moment.”

As someone who had experienced loss, he truly empathized with the roller coaster of emotions I was experiencing in the theater. And just when I pulled myself together, we left the stage and were seated in the audience to watch the film, which made me cry even more. Once the film was over and we answered questions from the students in the audience, we were given a tour of the White House with a bonus tour of the Vice President’s office. By that time my head was pounding and I was deliriously giddy to mask the intensity of the grief I was feeling:


I flew back home to Miami that afternoon, and a day later flew to New York for the opening of the memorial and tenth anniversary ceremonies. It was an exhausting week, and when I returned home, I found this letter in the mailbox:

Letter From My Buddy Joe

Letter From My Buddy Joe

How much do I love my buddy Joe?!

But wait– he’s even more awesome!

When I was preparing for my trip to Camp Widow West 2013, I wanted to do what I could to drum up media attention for the camp because I saw firsthand how helpful it was to the widowed community when I attended Camp Widow East a few months before. I wrote an article for the Huffington Post about camp and sent the following email to the amazing woman who took care of us when we met the Vice President:

From: Tanya Villanueva Tepper 
Sent: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 11:30 PM
To: xxxxxxxx
Subject: We met at the White House 9/11 “Rebirth” Screening… 

Greetings xxxxx-

 It’s been quite some time since we met in 2011, and I am hoping this e-mail finds you and yours well. 

 I am writing to you with the hopes that you can pass along this message to Vice President Biden. 

 Recently I have been collaborating with Project Rebirth and another non-profit organization, the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation (SSLF), in an effort to bring hope to the widowed community. 

 The SSLF has done incredible work in building a community of widows and widowers from all over the world to support and encourage each other as they try to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of loss. Their signature weekend-long program, Camp Widow, is changing the lives of men and women by “providing practical tools and valuable resources in an atmosphere infused with understanding, camaraderie, and hope for the future.” 

 For more information about the program, I recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post:

 As one who has also walked the long and painful journey through grief, Vice President Biden would appreciate the gift of Camp Widow to others who are struggling on the journey. With his support, we could hopefully generate some press attention so that other widows can learn about this amazing resource and get the support they need. This weekend, Camp Widow will be held at the San Diego Marriott, and the Mayor of San Diego will be declaring June 28th Camp Widow Day. If there is any way Vice President Biden could shed light on this publicly, we would be most grateful.

Please email or call me at xxxxxxxx if you have any questions. Thank you so much for your time and attention.

Wishing you all best always,


 I didn’t expect an answer, but figured it was worth a shot. And two days later I received this:
130628 Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, Camp Widow
Oh from the bottom of my soul, I love love love my buddy Joe!!!! 🙂

Read more about the Rebirth screening at White House.

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