Goodbye, Elizabeth


On Monday,  they said,  ‘Enough!’  No more torturous chemo.  No more! She went on FaceBook and posted what we now know was her goodbye.  As a staunch opponent of FaceBook,  I must rely on a quote in the newspaper as to the content of that post.  It didn’t sound like an immediate goodbye.  It sounded like an announcement of gratitude.

You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces – my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined. The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And, yes, there are certainly times when we aren’t able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It’s called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful. It isn’t possible to put into words the love and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day. To you I simply say: you know.

  And I was glad for her.  Having endured both chemo and radiation treatments,   I long ago said,  ‘Enough!’  and thankfully it worked for me.  In my case, the disease was much less dastardly than the treatment.  All too often it is the treatment that causes the heart to stop because it takes such a mighty toll on the body.  When I heard the announcement I felt an involuntary flash of anger at the doctors who had put her through so much. That was irrational.  Those awful treatments did prolong her life,  and gave her hope.  She even campaigned for her husband throughout much of the treatment process and when the election was lost she went back to what should have been a less chaotic life.  When it was exposed that her husband had  taken a mistress, Elizabeth stood beside him and defended him. I even remember that she once said,  “Cancer does not damage just the patient,  but the whole family.” When the ‘other woman’ gave birth to a baby girl, John swore to her he was not the father.  When it came to light that he lied,  she refused to divorce him,  though she did have the papers drawn up,  and pursued a legal separation. Then she wrote another book.  She wrote through the anger,  through the pain,  and she answered Oprah’s question,
“ Do you still love him?”  with an ambiguous,

“That’s a tough question.”  that made us know that she did.

Elizabeth died today,  Tuesday, December 7, 2010.  The cancer spread to her liver,  and it was one last blow she couldn’t weather. It makes me wonder,  more than with most deaths,  “Why?”  Why should any one person  have to suffer all the heartaches that Mary Elizabeth Anania Edwards endured throughout her life.

Born July 3, 1949 to a military family,  she faced the heartache of loss at an early age.  All too often,  just when she had made friends,  her father was reassigned and they had to move.  Most devastating for her was when they moved in the middle of her senior year at high school.  That did not keep her from excelling and she continued her studies at MaryWashington College,  and then to the Univ. of North Carolina where she received a law degree.

It was during her years at  Univ. of  N.C.  that she meant John Edwards who would become her husband.  They were married July 30th, 1977.  Both John and Elizabeth practiced law.  He soon became a multi-millionaire from the malpractice cases that he won.  In the early years there were two children,  Wade and  Catherine.  In 1996,  Wade, age 16 was killed in a car crash just three weeks  after being honored at the White House by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton as  a finalist in the National Endowment for the Arts essay contest.

When Wade was killed,  both Elizabeth and John quit working.  For almost three years they lived in the fog of their grief.  I am not sure exactly what turned things around for them,  but they began their rebirth by creating a Wade Edwards Scholarship Endowment.  They became regulars at fertility clinics deciding that they wanted more children.  At the age of 48 Elizabeth gave birth to Emma Claire  and two years later to a boy named Jack.

On  the  same day  the Kerry/Edwards ticket conceded defeat in the presidential election of 2004,  Elizabeth was diagnosed with breast cancer.   She faced the battle with courage and concern for others. I can not say she lost the battle,  more like she was relieved of  duty. Always in the hands of God,  for the first time in too many years to bear,  she rests free from pain. Her rest is well earned.