The Value of Human Decency: Grace, Gratitude and Generosity

I recently had the extreme good fortune to meet former Vice President Joe Biden and hear him give a deeply moving speech. The occasion was a celebration of the 70th anniversary of Visiting Nurses and Atlanta Hospice – a truly amazing organization that will be the topic of a future post as I am a huge fan of hospice. This post, however, is really about the importance and value of true human decency. Sitting in a room with several hundred people who are deeply dedicated to hospice and caring for others while you listen to Joe Biden will definitely make you think about that.

Biden filled his speech with three big ingredients: grace, gratitude, and generosity.


He began his talk by recognizing and thanking our Georgia Senator, Johnny Isakson. Biden acknowledged and recognized that he and Isakson are and have always been on opposite sides of the political spectrum but they share a deep and genuine friendship. A friendship and respect that transcends the current political climate and, I like to think, a friendship that is based on a common thread of inherent human decency. That’s the only political reference he made throughout the day — nothing more. The day, the occasion — a celebration of the complexities of life and death — was bigger than the cares of the current climate.


Most of his gratitude was directed to nurses, doctors and caregivers. He reflected on his own times in intensive care. “When you’re wondering if you can go on, doctors allow you to live, nurses make us want to live. You know so much, you help so much and those of us who have been the beneficiary of your love, your expertise, your professionalism, we owe you so much.”

He shared a story about the day his mother died and the help and guidance that was provided by the hospice nurses. They prepared him and his family for what would happen and told him that his mother was unlikely to die while he was in the room. His family told him to go into the bathroom and count to 100. He went in and counted to 60. When he came back into the room, she was gone.


One of the guests at the luncheon was a wonderful young mother, Jamie Dobbs. Jamie and her husband lost their 6 year old son, Brantley, to a very rare brain cancer in December. Brantley’s younger sister lost her best friend. Brantley’s story made national news when his wish – to live long enough to celebrate Christmas — went viral. Thousands of well-wisher from all over the world sent beautiful ornaments to Brantley and his family to help him celebrate with the Christmas spirit.

Jamie and the incredible pediatric hospice nurse, Lanise Shortell , were guests at our table and we were all able to meet and speak with Mr. Biden after the luncheon was over. Biden knew Brantley’s story and he invited Jamie to contact him about getting involved with the Biden Cancer Initiative. He gave her his personal card and an enormous hug. That gesture, that generosity, probably changed Jamie’s life. She told me that she now knew why she had been there, at that luncheon, on that day, when Biden gave her his card. She knew, with certainty, that Brantley had sent her so that she could make a difference for others. It was a beautiful moment brought on by a truly generous soul.

Grace, gratitude, generosity and true human decency.

Lanise Shortell and Jamie Dobbs