R.I.P., Elizabeth

I just read, yesterday morning, that Elizabeth Edwards announced that “future cancer treatment would be unproductive” and that she had only months or maybe even weeks to live. And then she died. That same day.

I’m so sad. For her. For her kids. She’s suffered a lot already (let’s not even mention her jackass husband and all the suffering he brought into her life). She wrecked up my childish yet dogged desire to believe in a limited amount of suffering in one person’s life. I wanted to believe that losing my mom would be the worst thing to ever happen to me. So far it is, but when I look at Elizabeth’s Edwards’s life, and the fact that  her 16-year-old son was killed in a car crash, I am smacked in the face with the reality that there is no limit to the amount of suffering in one’s life.

Obviously, I don’t know her, but she seemed to have a lot of class, regardless of politics or religion or her jackass of a husband. She lived most of her life in relative obscurity, practicing law and raising the family she vowed to create after Wade was killed. My heart breaks for her remaining children. Cate, who is in her late twenties, will likely become the mama to Emma Claire, 12, and Jack, 10. All three of them will have to navigate the treacherous terrain that is life without their mama.  No matter how old you are, you never stop wanting your mom. Former press secretary Jennifer Palmieri said about Elizabeth, “Any room she walked into, she made it a home.”

That’s a real talent.

Elizabeth faced her breast cancer publicly and bravely. She was diagnosed in November 2004 and made headlines when she urged her jackass of a husband to continue his presidential campaign despite her Stage IV cancer.

Stage IV. That’s as bad as it gets, and the fact that she wanted him to continue his dream despite the tumor in her breast and the spots on her rib, lung & hip, is the epitome of selflessness.

She was brave, and she was a fantastic example to cancer patients everywhere that life goes on. Despite diagnosis, life goes on. Despite treatment, life goes on. Despite surgery, life goes on. Despite complications, life goes on. Despite John Edwards making a fool of himself and a mockery of all that his family held dear, life goes on.

And life did go on for Elizabeth. She worked hard: raising her family, writing 2 books, advising President Obama on health care reform, and doing her best to make a difference–for her family, for countless cancer patients, and for herself. Although she was all these things: attorney, author, advisor, advocate, she said often and proudly that her job was to be a mom.

She knew her cancer wasn’t curable, but treatable. She did all the right things and tried to stay strong, despite life on the campaign trail.

Her final statement reflects upon the kind of person she was and the sheer strength she embodied:

“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.”

In a 2007 interview she spoke realistically about her cancer, saying, “When I was first diagnosed, I was going to beat this. I was going to be the champion of cancer. And I don’t have that feeling now. The cancer will eventually kill me. It’s going to win this fight.”

Her cancer did win, but she is a champion nonetheless. Rest in peace, Elizabeth.

9 Comments on “R.I.P., Elizabeth”

  1. Jody Hicks says:

    Hear, hear. Very well said, as usual.

  2. Trevor Hicks says:

    Nicely done, Nancy. I think independent of her politics we can all admire Elizabeth for her public strength and dignity in coping with a life that certainly didn’t turn out the way she had hoped. Interesting for to reflect on her life, at least what I know of it. She had levels of professional success, wealth, fame and influence far, far beyond what ordinary people experience. Yet she also dealt with highly elevated levels of pain, loss and public humiliation that most of us can’t imagine.

    I’m assuming John Edwards shouldn’t count on your vote in the future?

  3. Susan Christopherson says:

    I agree, she really was an amazing woman. I was watching the news this morning, and found it particularly touching that she has made a book for each of her kids over the last several years once she was diagnosed. It is a book of instructions on basically everything she wanted to teach them (right down to how to core a head of lettuce properly!). She knew her time was limited, and gave them this incredible gift! And, how admirable that she did everything she could not to taint her children’s view of Mr. Jackass Edwards. Oh, the things she could have told them to make them hate him! But, she loved them so much, and knew they’d have more time with him than with her, and she didn’t want them to be in a situation where they hated the one remaining parent. Amazing. Just amazing.

  4. Tamara Lambert says:

    Hi, Nancy
    I just realized that this is your blog! I know, I’m not the quickest study! You are so funny and great with words. I remember you in high school and you even made Mr. Miller’s AlgebraII class hilarious. I think I sat by you on purpose if memory serves. Anyway, I love your blog, and it wasn’t until I heard the news about Elizabeth Edwards’ passing that it occured to me that “done” doesn’t necessarily mean “done” when referring to cancer treatment. Then, your blog post reminded me again that, no matter how happy and healthy and light-hearted a survivor may seem…..
    You’re certainly looking great and I am hoping the very best for you and your family.

  5. Ed says:

    Life goes on indeed. During bad times we fear we won’t survive, life goes on. During good times we wish would never end, life goes on. Good, bad, boring, exciting, painful or joyous, the only certainty is that life never stops. It grinds on inexorably. Make the best of it. Oh, and some of us never stop wanting our dads either. Cancer sucks.

  6. […] to learn of other women’s death from the disease we share. When this damned BC menace claimed Elizabeth Edwards, I was saddened and more than a little sick to my stomach at the stark realization that this […]

  7. […] BC warrior Elizabeth Edwards knew a thing or two about resilience. In fact, she wrote a book called Resilience: The New […]

  8. Beth Burrows says:

    Hi Nancy,

    I just discovered your blog after being recently diagnosed with Stage II IDC. I’m running the gauntlet right now after a bi-lateral mastectomy and DIEP reconstruction. About to start Tamoxifen (yay!..scoff). Your post on Elizabeth Edwards piqued my interest. She was such an inspiration to my thirty something self, long before I would experience my own diagnosis. There is a quote from Elizabeth that has been my own personal mantra since I first read it. I believe she said this around the time of her jackass husband’s infidelity being made public: “They will be able to say that she stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her away-and it surely has not-she adjusted her sails.” -Elizabeth Edwards

    • Hey Beth, I sure thought I had replied to you but I guess I didn’t — I apologize! I’m bummed to hear about your diagnosis and Tamoxifen; I hope you are doing well. Thanks for reading my post.

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