When grieving with those who lost loved ones in a building collapse, President Joe Biden invoked the car crash that claimed members of his own family decades ago. When explaining his decision to pull troops from Afghanistan, he remembered his veteran son. When discussing the importance of education, he recalled the teachers who helped him overcome his childhood stutter.

And when he met with Queen Elizabeth and then Vladimir Putin on a recent trip abroad, he couldn’t resist bringing up his mother with both of them.

The personal has always been the political for Biden. Far more than his recent predecessors, the president publicly draws on his own experiences when he makes connections with voters and considers his decisions. Many politicians make their background a central component of their political identity, but Biden is particularly prone to draw links between his own life story and the day-to-day workings of his presidency.

And the strongest connection is often the saddest one.

Few public figures speak as powerfully on grief as Biden, who lost his first wife and baby daughter in a car crash and later his adult son Beau to brain cancer. In the first months of his term, he has drawn on that empathy to console those who have lost loved ones, including the more than 600,000 who have died in the COVID-19 pandemic.