Elizabeth Edwards, given the news by doctors that further treatment of her breast cancer would be of no benefit, accepted the verdict with grace and courage. Forced to face her husband’s infidelity in the public arena, and their subsequent separation in the spotlight, she handled the prospect of her death in much the same way, offering encouragement, via Facebook, to others in similar situations and thanking the public for its support through all three experiences.
At home in North Carolina with family and friends, Edwards, who died Tuesday at 61, wrote earlier this week, “The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. And, yes, there are times when we aren’t able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. … 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.”
Her estranged husband, John Edwards, was at her side Tuesday, as were the couple’s three children.
His revelation of an affair with a campaign worker — and his denial, then admission, that he fathered her child — must have been devastating. But Elizabeth Edwards survived.
Friends and family surely marvel, as we have over the past few years, at Edwards’ emotional stability despite the instability in her personal life.
Edwards was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, in the last days of the John Kerry-John Edwards Democratic campaign for the White House. Never a traditional “political wife,” her sharp political mind made her a valued adviser and strategist for her husband’s political career. When her cancer recurred in 2007, she encouraged John to continue his bid for the 2008 presidential nomination. After that loss came the admission of his affair.
Edwards held her head high throughout it all. She continued to do so through her illness, with a strength and serenity that were as admirable as her determination to prepare her children for a life without their mom, to instill positive memories and to leave a reminder, even when facing adversity, of the power of laughter.
Edwards came into her own as an author and an advocate for health care reform, not as a celebrity but as a woman who, like millions of other women, was fighting a battle she knew — as much as anyone can know — she would most likely lose. But she fought with dignity and what she called her three saving graces: family, friends and faith in the power of resilience and hope.
She lived each day as it came. And when there were no more, she went in peace.
Bonnie Williams is an editorial page writer for Scripps Howard News Service.