Elizabeth Edwards, 61, lost her six-year battle with breast cancer today. She leaves behind her three living children, 28-year-old Cate, 12-year-old Emma Claire and 10-year-old Jack. Son Wade passed away in 1996 at the age of 16 in a car accident. She also leaves behind countless admirers who never met her, but admired her honesty, humor and fortitude.
Although one never recovers from the loss of a child, and Elizabeth suffered further misfortune in being diagnosed with breast cancer while raising two young children and also by the discovery of her husband’s affair and fathering of a child, she was most categorically not a victim. She was a working mother, raising her first two children while working as a lawyer. Later, upon the death of her son, she started the Wade Edwards Foundation. She then helped her husband begin his political career while giving birth to her two younger children (her last at age 50).
By now, most people know the rest of the story. John Edwards ran on the failed Presidential ticket of John Kerrey in 2004. On the day her husband conceded defeat, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite on-going treatment, she wrote two books, continued to raise her children and actively participated in her husband’s 2008 Presidential run. When the scandalous news of her husband’s affair broke, Elizabeth didn’t shy away from discussing it – on her terms.
Predictably, backlash against Elizabeth began. A nickname, “St. Elizabeth”, was coined. It was said that she considered herself her husband’s intellectual superior (she probably was), that she was frequently demanding (any surprise considering what she and her husband accomplished?) and her language could be profane. In short, Elizabeth wasn’t the warm and fuzzy sweet southern wife she appeared to be. To which I say — if that was your impression of Elizabeth Edwards, you weren’t paying attention!
Elizabeth Edwards wasn’t a saint. She was definitely imperfect in some ways and exceptional in others. Elizabeth Edwards lost her life at too early an age. Her children lost a mother at too early an age. There is no way to sugar coat that and make it any less depressing and heartbreaking than it is. We can, however, study Elizabeth’s life and look at how she dealt with adversity and perhaps learn a bit from her struggles. Perfection is out of reach for all of us, but we must never give up and we must never lose sight of what is most important in our lives. This was a duty that Elizabeth saw through to the end.