The Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, NC where Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral was held this afternoon was all dressed for Christmas, a happy accident and fitting tribute, as it was revealed that the mother of four loved decorating and shopping for the holiday. Indeed, Elizabeth Edwards was described by those who eulogized her as a middle-class warrior; a woman whose personality ran the gamut from tireless and caring advocate for those who are suffering to the average mother who could live on four hours of sleep with the help of Diet Coke and trips to the outlet mall.
Edwards’ friend of nearly 30 years, Hargrave McElroy, described Elizabeth as a sincere, caring person and an “avid listener to those who were touched by her story.” McElroy detailed the ways in which Elizabeth touched people as she traveled across the country, adding that her friend ”knew Target and TJ Maxx coast to coast.” McElroy depicted Elizabeth as “a pro at loving her family” and “at looking at the bright side,” someone who believed that ”we will become fulfilled in life when we know who we are and live through our genuine, authentic self.”
McElroy said, “Elizabeth never knew a stranger. In every new encounter Elizabeth recognized a new friend – even protesters.” As promised, members of the Westboro Baptist Church picketed near Edenton Methodist, the same church where Wade Edwards’ funeral was held 15 years ago, but were blocked from getting too close (as they have been at other funeral services they’ve tried to target recently) by a human chain of over 200 people hoping to protect Elizabeth’s friends and family from having to witness such hatred in their time of grief.
The pastor of Edenton Methodist minced no words in regards to his distaste for Fred Phelps and his followers, who are mostly family members, saying, “It must bring the Lord great sadness to see people promoting hate in his name.” Fred Phelps is quoted as saying Elizabeth is “going to hell because she admitted to doubting her faith when her oldest son died in 1996,” ABC News reports.
Glenn Bergenfield, who has known Elizabeth since their days at the University of North Carolina Law School, told the congregation Elizabeth would be remembered for ”her immense gifts, her boundless, bottomless energy… her intelligence… and her unusual humor.” He said nothing she did “was in any way fueled by ego” and recalled her youthful beauty, saying, “She was gorgeous, not law school good looking, but big world, head turning, walk into a pole gorgeous.”
Bergenfield talked about how Elizabeth would call his kids directly to find out what was going on in their lives, and how she convinced his daughter to take a cooking class as a teen. He read a touching note from his daughter, describing how Elizabeth spent 10 hours one day sorting Cate, Jack and Emma’s baby clothes for re-use. His daughter gleaned much from Elizabeth’s wisdom, noting that Elizabeth had taught her to “live like it’s important, like it’s happening right now.”
The first mention of Elizabeth’s estranged husband John came in Bergenfield’s eulogy, in reaction to Wade’s death. Bergenfield said their children “adore and love and trust” their Dad, as if to assure those gathered and the public at large that despite his previous missteps, John would “take good care of his kids.”
In perhaps the most poignant moment of the service, Bergenfield, who is the Godfather to Elizabeth’s youngest son, Jack, described how Elizabeth used to tend the unkempt graves next to her son Wade’s in the hopes that “there were mothers who would come after (her) to tend to Wade’s grave when (she) no longer could.” Bergenfield promised that he and others would say Elizabeth’s name out loud, as she always had considered the speaking of a person’s name to be a sort of blessing.
John Edwards sat in the front row of the church next to his daughter, Cate, who gave the final eulogy before the closing prayer. Cate was very poised, sharing bits of advice her mother had given her, like, “You’ll almost always regret prints, but you’ll never regret wearing solids” and “Never marry the first boy you date.” She also read an excerpt of the “dying letter” her mother had written to her children, including the line, “All I ever really needed was you.” Cate closed her remarks by trumping her mother’s usual parting words to her children, saying, “I love you more mom, I really, really love you more.”
During a lovely and religious homily, the pastor said Elizabeth read the entire bible while visiting at Wade’s grave and called for privacy for the Edwards family, saying, “Out of a sense of Christian charity and common decency, let this be one of our better moments – leave these folk alone.” The final procession was led by Elizabeth’s casket, as the family and other mourners exited to a soaring rendition of Joy to the World. The grace and dignity exhibited by everyone who stood at the podium today, summoned out of a great respect for the beloved figure being honored, is a testament to the way Elizabeth Edwards was able to provide comfort and joy to those she knew and loved, and indeed everyone she met.