Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards and the rebuilt life

What pops to mind first, strangely enough, is Elizabeth Edwards playing with her kids.

It was at some campaign event back in 2004, when her husband was trying to be vice president, and Elizabeth was out there playing the good wife, even though everybody involved, including John and Elizabeth, knew she was the smart one, the one who in a just world might have been the face on the ticket.

Instead she stood a little off to the side and a little in back, and her two small children were crawling all over her. She tried to keep them still but after a while she gave in and turned all her attention to them. She clapped for John when everybody else did. But her eyes stayed on the kids.

She died Tuesday at age 61.

From one angle this is perfect evidence that life is not fair. The husband cheated. The mistress had his baby. The aide told their secrets. And the one person worth rooting for in the whole depressing story suffered the most.

Before we drape her in white, we must be honest. She knew about the cheating husband by the time he ran for president in 2008 and still asked people to vote for him. She wrote a book that profited from the whole mess. And if another book on the ’08 campaign is to be believed, she was hard to deal with and sometimes a little nuts.

Balance that against these two facts:

1. Her husband humiliated her in front of the entire world.

2. She was living with cancer, and dying from it.

The cancer came first in 2004, at the tail end of that losing campaign. It returned in 2007, this time digging into her bones, and the doctors said they could treat it but not stop it. Imagine knowing that, on top of all the other things she knew.

More unfairness. In their wedding photos she’s as good-looking as he is. But as often happens, over the years his good looks hung on a little longer, and hers rounded and wrinkled.

But her eyes still glowed and she could still crack a joke, and there was no question who’d be better company over drinks.

They met at the UNC law school, and she became a bankruptcy lawyer while he went after personal-injury cases. Early in their marriage, they had two children, Wade and Cate. But in 1996, Wade died in a one-car wreck on the way to the family’s beach house. He was 16. After that John and Elizabeth quit life for a while.

Then they got up and faced the sun. They decided they wanted more children. And so she took fertility drugs, and she had Emma Claire when she was 48, and Jack when she was 50.

It happened over and over. Her life crumbled, and she made herself a new one. When you do that enough times, the pieces don’t all fit right anymore. But she pressed them together and moved on.

What does someone like Elizabeth Edwards live for? She must have thought she’d be First Lady, even though she knew she could’ve been more. Later she must have felt like a fool, even though she knew how many people still loved her.

Life is not fair, and Elizabeth Edwards is dead at 61. But she had four children, and she lived a fascinating life, and in the end she rose higher than the small people around her. If she had a chance to live that life again, I bet she’d take it.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Pretty good take, Tommy.

Without anger, recrimination or bile.

In a just world, she would have been even more, just as you say.

Thank you.

Connie Hale said...

Nicely done, Tommy.

Elizabeth Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi--what flak they've taken for the women who follow them and all the while try to sort out what it means to be female and powerful, strong and beautiful, a public figure and a private soul.

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth Edwards is the epitome of what most women are-strong and resiliant and fighting to the end.Most men would do well to remember that.God rest her soul-she will be missed.

Anonymous said...

She did what she had to do for her family and her children. It is what we as strong women do. RIP my dear sister, you will be blessed in the eternal kingdom.

Anonymous said...

Tommy, you did it again....put things in such a wonderful way as you always do in times like this...yes, Elizabeth was the one with brains, and class in spite of all the adversity, sorror and humiliation she was handed, it was Elizabeth that was the true winner. May she rest is peace and her young children see her as a shining example of the true way to live their lives.

Larry said...

There are Strong Broads in this world who inspire us.

I say Strong Broads as they are the kind of Women we use to see in the old movies who overcame the world as it was presented to them and made it what they had to all the while showing us we sometime overlook the little things in life.

My Mother was also one of these Strong Broads. I was young and did not understand why she was in the hospital so much. Little did I know that back then you died of Brest Cancer one Breast at a time as they removed them, and then eventually you succumbed to cancer as they had nothing else to remove.

To all you Strong Broads out there we admire you! I know I Do!!!!

Lisa said...

Thanks, Tommy. As usual, a very thoughtful and sincere article. Elizabeth makes me want to do better and hold my head just a little higher during the bleak moments.

Having lost a son myself, I can only imagine the incredible lightness she must have felt the moment she went to the other side and saw Wade again.

May God bless her remaining children and family - even John.

Anonymous said...

First ladies are supposedly to be slender attractive and well dressed.
The reason John Edwards lost in 2004 was becuz all election tv ads depicted her as fat and slopping down at Wendys 24/7.
Was she an advocate for obese females who dont wear makeup or dress fabulous?
Even Bush and Obamas wives deck out to the max for their husbands because it makes them look good in the media.
Eliz Edwards was a flop but she loved the spotlight to the end so that was a weird contrast.

Had she lost down to 120lbs, worn makeup, dressed classy not only would John have won in 2004 but he wouldnt have run around on her. She was the blame for it all. No sympathy.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I always loved the fact that she looked so human. You could see the intelligence in her eyes

Anonymous said...

RIP Elizabeth. Take the hand of Wade, he's been waiting for you, and begin your new journey.

tommy tomlinson said...

Well now... First of all, thanks to all of you who made thoughtful comments on this column. But I do want to take a closer look at the comment from Anonymous 7:35.

I'd say it's pretty despicable... nothing like taking cheap shots at a dead woman. But is it something we ought to delete? Or does it fall in the bounds of fair commentary? Let me know what you think.

Margarita said...

Well put, Tommy. And I'm glad you also mentioned the fertility drugs too.

Brenda Dillon said...

I believe that Anonymous 735 falls into the category you mentioned at the end of your story: "...in the end she rose higher than the small people around her." Anonymous 735 is indeed one of the smallest people.

Lynne Stevenson said...

Anonymous 7:35, I hope and pray that you never have to survive the aftermaths of death of a child, adultery, cancer, or having your entire life fall apart in a media fishbowl! When you have walked a 1/10th of the way in Elizabeth Edwards' shoes maybe you will be able to criticize her every move. Until you have a clue, don't vent your poison on someone who can't fight back...I have survived the aftermaths of losing a child, adultery and cared for two parents who had cancer, as well as survived it myself, so I can comment on this probably better than you can imagine...DELETE THAT ONE, TOMMY,PLEASE, it is clear that they have NO HEART OR SOUL...BTW, Anonymous, whoever you really are, I am not ashamed of indentifying myself and always leave my REAL name on here, too bad you don't have that same level of humanity for someone else and chose to hide behind a pseudonym...

Chuck Porter said...

Why let one despicable comment ruin your wonderful post. It is your blog - I say cut Anonymous 7:35

Punsalan said...

How eloquently said Tommy. As for Anonymous 7:35, that is their personal opinion and probably should not be cut. As everyone can see from the other posts, it makes Anonymous 7:35 look all the more ridiculous. If this person were to endure such a tragedy, I would think he/she may have a different take. Anonmous 7:35, you must be uneducated and therefore can not understand, so no sympathy for you either.

Jon Putnam said...

Beautifully done. I'm not very old in this life, but Elizabeth Edwards to me is the epitome of what a strong woman should be. As my mother laid dying in CMC I remember reading to her Elizabeth's book on hope and dealing with cancer. She was a figther until the end, and shines as a perfect example of love in a broken world. If we all had a little of her light, spirit, and love in our life and in our world we would be much better because of it.

DeDe said...

As usual Tommy you have an amazing perspective of her life. She was an incredible woman who had frailties like all of us but lived her life to the fullest and showed all of us how to die. Yes, a classy, great "broad".

As for Anonymous 7:35. So it's her fault for her husband not only losing the nomination but cheating as well? Not attractive enough? Then explain Halle Berry's and Sandra Bullock's mates cheating on them. Surely, they are attractive enough even for you. Like all cheaters, John cheated because he could,not because his wife wasn't attractive/didn't understand him/didn't satisfy him.And,shame on you for your bigotry.

God bless Elizabeth and the family and friends who are truly better for having been part of her life.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous 7:35. A person like Elizabeth Edwards rises above you in all faucets of life. You are a pitiful person to make such comments about anyone (alive or deceased). Whether a person is as attractive as another person has no bearing whatsoever on how you are suppose to love, treat or respecct another individual. There is a special place in HE** for you.

Anonymous said...

Well done, Tommy. I applaud you. As for Anonymous 7:35, I say leave his comment. It reveals what and how he thinks, and Anonymous has shown himself to be a small, pathetic person.

Anonymous said...

In 2004 John Edwards barely lost the primary to unpopular Swift boater MA Senator John Kerry who then lost to Bush in spite of 2 very unpopular wars especially the costly one in Iraq after Saddam had nothing to do with 911.

It is not far fetched to assume that had Ms Edwards been more chic slim and supportive of her husband as a subordinate potential 1st lady he would have won the primary and beaten the very unpopular Bush who was in the 30s in popularity.

John Edwards would have ended both wars immediately as he stated and prevented the worse economic tragedy in US history as is occuring today. Edwards would have also helped his home state of NC in great ways had he beaten Bush out in 2004. He would have also saved hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.

Yes. Ms Edwards was part of his downfall and created the infidelity situation by her lack of assistance to her husband and her lack of class in attire and body conditioning. This was one factor that led to the 2007 infidelity.

All wives throughout history of presidential candidates are extremely important to their husbands success and ditto for the reverse as Bill Clintons infidelity probably caused Hillary to lose the primary in 2008.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 7:35 just shows how small and narrow minded he/she is. Great article that tells it like it is--a lady full of grace and dignity. RIP Elizabeth.

eljay said...

Excellent, as always, Tommy. She has become a role model for all women, showing how it is possible to hold your head up high and face the world even as your own is crumbling around you. The world misses you, Elizabeth Edwards, and those who would judge you by your appearance are the losers, indeed.

Lisa said...

So I assume Anonymous 735 and 305 are the same person?

Regardless, I couldn't agree less with these comments. I think most voters (esp women) would have more of a connection with Elizabeth due to her appearance (if that were a factor). She looked NORMAL. She was a middle-aged woman, a mom. And her grace and charm won you over. However, I didn't feel the same way about her husband and didn't vote for him. Because of him, not her.

Ridiculous.

Larry said...

Yes the cowards do come out when they do not have to put their names to their comments.

Anonymous said...

Outstanding article. Elizabeth would've like it very much. Wish she could have made it a few more years. She deserved a few more good years.

Anonymous said...

Such ignorance. So when your ex-US Senator husband runs for the most powerful position on earth with its 7 billion occupants in an American nation of 300 million with a 15 trill GDP economy 3 times the size of the rest of the worlds plus a high tech military that rules the planet you should act just act normal and be your boring drab fat overweight burdered with kids self never wearing makeup or dressing nicely?

Sorry but this is not your everyday routine small time bumpkin hillbilly trailor park event. Even John Kerrys billionaire wife ( Heinz out of Pittburgh ) commented what a slob she was causing probs in 2004. She was on target.

Slender high maintenance equisite dressers Laura Bush and Michelle Obama had zero to do with their husbands winning? Are you kidding? Sounds like typical small minded backwater southern hick mentality in Charlotte NC. Jimmy Carter ring a bell?

stfree said...

Well now... First of all, thanks to all of you who made thoughtful comments on this column. But I do want to take a closer look at the comment from Anonymous 7:35.

I'd say it's pretty despicable... nothing like taking cheap shots at a dead woman. But is it something we ought to delete? Or does it fall in the bounds of fair commentary? Let me know what you think.

What do I think? I'd say it's way worse than despicable. It's not commentary - just egregious slander with some sophomoric speculation thrown in. Don't rise to his (and I'm sure this is a "him") bait.

stfree said...

Well now... First of all, thanks to all of you who made thoughtful comments on this column. But I do want to take a closer look at the comment from Anonymous 7:35.

I'd say it's pretty despicable... nothing like taking cheap shots at a dead woman. But is it something we ought to delete? Or does it fall in the bounds of fair commentary? Let me know what you think.

What do I think? I'd say it's way worse than despicable. It's not commentary - just egregious slander with some sophomoric speculation thrown in. Don't rise to his (and I'm sure this is a "him") bait.

James Inman said...

Tommy,
Thank you for putting Mrs. Edwards life into perspective for us. I like the fact that you key in on her love for her children because I think she identified herself as a Mother first. To suffer the loss of a child must have been as much as anyone could stand so no wonder she looked older than John, she bore that loss until the day she died. I think the last years of her life she held her head high and did not shrink from the public eye when so many of us (me most of all) would have hidden away.
I would also say that those who make hateful remarks and hide without any name should be deleted.