Note from Katie: I wrote this blog post early this morning; I have just learned that Elizabeth Edwards passed away this afternoon. She is now forever reunited with her beloved son, Wade. My deepest condolences to the Edwards children on their tragic loss.
About 11 months ago – last January – I became so disgusted with the way the media was covering two new books targeting Elizabeth Edwards that I wrote a lengthy blog post entitled “For God’s Sake, Leave Elizabeth Edwards Alone.” In this blog post, I expressed my admiration for the graceful way Ms. Edwards had handled unimaginable personal pain, including her ongoing cancer battle, her husband’s humiliating infidelity, Rielle Hunter’s pathetic public pandering, and worst of all, the tragic death of her teenage son, Wade.
I wrote in part:
All candidates’ wives these days are portrayed by the campaigns behind their husbands as smart, funny and spunkily independent. But Elizabeth Edwards needed no spin from anybody else to make the case that she actually was (is) smart, funny and independent. She put herself out there, often without handlers, as a REAL blogger and a speaker and an author, and she did things that other smart, funny and independent women have only dreamed of being tough enough to do, like the time she gracefully yet thoroughly kicked Ann Coulter’s ass on live television.
And then there were the circumstances of Elizabeth Edwards’ life as a mother. Her oldest child died in a car accident when he was only 16. Then, less then 10 years later, she was diagonosed with a cancer that is likely to take her away from her two youngest children before she gets to see them grow out of teenagehood. As a mother of four children myself, I simply cannot imagine losing my teenage son in a car accident. And I cannot imagine facing the reality that my youngest children might lose me before they are old enough to care for themselves. But the idea of having BOTH of these tragedies befall me and my children is really just….it’s a whole different level of nightmare.
If either one of those things DID happen to me, I think I might just crumble, as so many parents do when tragedy of this magnitude befalls their families. But Elizabeth Edwards didn’t crumble; instead she did what motherhood calls us to do every day, which is get back up and put our own problems and hurts and disappointments to the side, and show our children what we’re made of, and thus, what they are capable of. Elizabeth Edwards did this, only she did it on a scale and with an energy that a lot of American women could only sit back and observe in awe. We didn’t admire Elizabeth Edwards because she was some kind of pity case; we admired her because she was a case study in personal and maternal strength.
Imagine my surprise when Elizabeth Edwards herself took the time to comment on my blog post, writing simply, “Thank you for a too generous portrait of me. (Yes, it did make it into my inbox.)”
(And yes, I am certain it was actually she who wrote the comment).
When I wrote that blog post on January 30 of this year, expressing my admiration for the way in which Ms. Edwards continued to deal with personal tragedies of the most profound kind, I never could have imagined that exactly five months later, I, too would lose my teenage son, Henry – my oldest child, the light of my life. Since Henry’s death six months ago, I have more than once looked to the way in which another bereaved mother, Elizabeth Edwards has lived her life on her own terms, continued to actively raise her other children, and honored her son’s memory with the Wade Edwards Foundation. Her public message of grace, resilience and faith in the face of pain and loss is one that speaks to me, as I know it has to so many other American women.
No woman wants to be forced to look for a role model in how to conduct herself after the loss of a child, but for those of us unlucky mothers who are dragged kicking and screaming into this most horrifying sisterhood in the world, there are few more inspiring modern role models to be found than Elizabeth Edwards. She is a mothering heroine to me.
As terrible as it is to lose a child, I know that the pain of being forced to leave behind children who still need you is a mother’s second worst nightmare. And yet, even after all she’s already been through, Elizabeth Edwards now finds herself facing this new heartbreak; she is having to say goodbye to her three children, two of whom are still very young. Those of us who admire her publicly will never know what private words she has chosen to help her son and daughters face and deal with their mother’s untimely death, but I have absolutely no doubt that her children will be as comforted and inspired by what she has to say as her admirers have been comforted and inspired through her writing, speaking and unapologetic progressive activism.
The world needs more mothers who are more like Elizabeth Edwards. I aspire to be one of them.
Peace be with Elizabeth Edwards and her family.
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