The End Of Elizabeth Edwards' Painfully Public Life

Illustration for article titled The End Of Elizabeth Edwards Painfully Public Life

Now that Elizabeth Edwards has stopped treatment for cancer, maybe she'll be freed, at least, from other people's interpretations of her life. Or maybe we're just in for more Rorschach tests, where she stands in for other people's suffering.

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Of course, Edwards chose a public life; she encouraged her husband to run for office even after she was sick, and she wrote a memoir. And her husband's narcissism and bad decisions dragged her into the tabloids. Maybe we need these public figures to project our pain and rationalizations upon, but there was something creepy about the way that Elizabeth, like Hillary Clinton before her, was transmogrified into whatever anyone else wanted her to be. She was always gracious about it anyway.

There was Judith Warner's proclamation that Elizabeth being "fat" and "old" (in the words of other women) made her a heroine: "Her story made them believe something good about themselves. It was a kind of Everywoman's fable: behind the imperfect physical shell, a gem of inner beauty resides. And is loved and recognized." (If we're going there, Sadie said it best in an earlier post: "If anything, Elizabeth Edwards served to humanize her husband, not because she was an ugly sad-sack but because he seemed so patently false, so instantly creepy, that finding someone relatively normal and down-to-earth at his side provided a measure of relief to a public who wanted to believe...It was not his making her look good, but the other way around.")

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And once her story made people feel bad for her or for all women whose husbands cheated on them with embarrassing people (or even non-embarrassing people), which like Hillary maybe made them love her more, a sort of underminer-y love. And there was her vilification in books like Game Changer.

She hasn't just been a wife or an alleged campaign harpy. We can also choose to read her as a lawyer and a health care policy expert and a mother. And we can read the words she's written herself — at least after all this, she deserves the last word.

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.

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Elizabeth Edwards' Health Is Deteriorating, Stops Treatment [Digital Triad]
Earlier: Elizabeth Edwards Is Actually A Monster And Other Things We Learned From New York
Why Women Loved Elizabeth Edwards: She's "Fat," Looks Old

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DISCUSSION

I've posted on this earlier, but my mother went through an eerily similar battle with cancer. She was initially diagnosed with stage III breast cancer until it spread to other organs, all with a philandering now-ex-husband (not my father, btw) and young children to look after... The connection deepens being that I'm from the same town as the Edwards and Elizabeth and my mother saw the same oncologist, so it goes without saying that Elizabeth Edwards' struggles have been very personal to me.

When I shared this article with my step-mother (who was very close to my mom), here is what she had to say:

"Like you, I'm so sad that Elizabeth Edwards seems to be near the end of her life. But I can't help thinking (as I have all these years) that she had the very best medical care money could buy and all the connections needed to get that care. Her doctor, of course, is the same doctor your mom had, [name omitted]. I *think* Elizabeth E's prognosis may have been a little better than your mom's when first diagnosed but here she is, saying goodbye to the people she loves, 6 or 7 years after her cancer was found. What this confirms for me is that your mom (who lived 8 years) had excellent care & the same cutting-edge treatments that a presidential candidate's wife would get. It also confirms that your mom and Elizabeth Edwards are both two tough, awesome women. "

Ultimately, cancer hits indiscriminately of class or the hand one is dealt in life. Please have yourselves checked regularly, and I strongly encourage everyone to consider participating in your local Susan Komen Race for the Cure, if not for someone you know who is directly affected, to show support to those still fighting the good fight!