Elizabeth Edwards died yesterday after a long—and very public—battle with cancer. Edwards has been praised for her advocacy of health care reform and the dignity with which she faced a disease that has touched virtually every person in one way or another. She’s also been criticized as pathetic for staying with a cheating husband (until his cheating was proven as fact and she started taking media heat), among other things (her allegedly nasty temper, for example).
You know, it’s always sad when somebody dies, and …
… the reports are almost all tilted in a positive direction “out of respect for the dead.” I get that, I totally do.
My mother is right around the same age as Elizabeth Edwards. Between that, her status as a staunch Democrat, her career in the medical field, and the fact that she has experienced a great deal of personal loss from cancer, I thought she’d be pretty shaken up by Edwards’ death (she was kind of inconsolable when Peter Jennings passed).
We had a really interesting conversation about Elizabeth Edwards tonight, one that gave me both insight into my mother and into the impression that Edwards left with women in her age group (if my intelligent, educated, and nurturing mother is any indication).
Was Elizabeth Edwards a martyr who played her life’s tragedies as carefully as a poker hand for the ultimate sympathy gain, or was she a victim of circumstance who allowed her personal experiences to serve as an inspiration to others?
Well, a lot of big names had some good things to say about her.
“In her life, Elizabeth Edwards knew tragedy and pain,” [President] Obama said in a statement. “Many others would have turned inward; many others in the face of such adversity would have given up. But through all that she endured, Elizabeth revealed a kind of fortitude and grace that will long remain a source of inspiration.”
The president called her a tenacious advocate for fixing the health care system and fighting poverty. “Our country has benefited from the voice she gave to the cause of building a society that lifts up all those left behind,” Obama said.
Vice President Joe Biden said Edwards “fought a brave battle against a terrible, ravaging disease that takes too many lives every day. She was an inspiration to all who knew her, and to those who felt they knew her.”
[John] Kerry called her “an incredibly loving, giving and devoted mother” who fought cancer with “enormous grace and dignity.”
Also speaking out on the eve of Edwards’ death was Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Clinton, one of John Edwards’ rivals for the Democratic nomination in 2008, said the country “has lost a passionate advocate for building a more humane and just society,” while the Edwardses’ family and friends “have lost so much more — a loving mother, constant guardian and wise counselor.”
“Our thoughts are with the Edwards family at this time, and with all those people across the country who met Elizabeth over the years and found an instant friend — someone who shared their experiences and offered empathy, understanding and hope,” Clinton said in a statement.
There’s a certain irony to Clinton’s inclusion here as she’s no stranger to the concept of a philandering husband.
The thing is, Hillary Clinton did not play the victim. She made the intentional choice to stay married to Bill, cigars and semen stains on dresses notwithstanding, but you never got the impression that she expected the world to feel sorry for her. Many consider her to be a cold, calculating bitch, but she owns her achievements.
Elizabeth Edwards will be remembered as a cuckold and that breast cancer chick. It’s very sad when you think about it.
It’s especially sad when you consider some of the challenges she’s faced beyond cancer and her husband getting a campaign worker pregnant, such as the death of her sixteen-year-old son, Wade, following a car accident.
And perhaps the value of family is the legacy that we can take from Elizabeth Edwards, if you think about it a certain way.
Edwards was surrounded by her estranged husband and their three children—Cate, Jack, and Emma Claire—as well as siblings and friends when she died at home in North Carolina. The family also requested that donations be made to the Wade Edwards Foundation in her memory, connecting once again a mother with the son she lost long ago.
“Today we have lost the comfort of Elizabeth’s presence but, she remains the heart of this family,” the family said in a statement. “We love her and will never know anyone more inspiring or full of life. On behalf of Elizabeth we want to express our gratitude to the thousands of kindred spirits who moved and inspired her along the way. Your support and prayers touched our entire family.”
Edwards herself sent what equates to a public goodbye on her Facebook page after learning that continued treatment was futile.
“The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered,” she wrote. “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.”
So rest in peace, Elizabeth Edwards. I wish I could have better understood you, a public face made all the more enigmatic because your private pain was splashed all over tabloids … I wish that I could have felt some connection to you instead of getting the impression that I somehow knew you less after finding out about your cheating husband (who I consider sort of a male version of Sarah Palin, by the way—all hair and teeth with no substance) and your cancer fight.
Martyr or victim, you’ve certainly left your mark.