Elizabeth Edwards died on December 7th, 2010, following a long battle with cancer. She is most renowned for her position as the wife of John Edwards, candidate for Vice President of the United States in 2004.
However, this is not who Elizabeth Edwards was and this book explores the layers of her life which defined her. It is one of those books that is both beautiful and extremely difficult to read. It traces the tragedy of her son’s death, her own battle with cancer and the myriad of other events which shaped her. Edwards is eloquent, refined and her writing is graceful beyond description. At times I felt that she belabored her point somewhat, but I cannot complain about this as I have never experienced all that she has and therefore I cannot comprehend the therapy that this writing would have been for her.
Essentially, this book is about Edwards’ own resilience and the resilience that exists, somewhere, in each of us:
“Too many times I have had to use my father’s strength – or my mother’s grace as she stood beside him – as a touchstone. I suspect we each have someone like him, someone whose personal courage in the face of impossible odds inspires us to do something we thought we could not do, who reminds us that what seems like a mountain in front of us can in fact be climbed. My father was an imperfect man in many ways, but maybe it was better that he was imperfect and that I knew he was, for I learned that perfection was not a requirement of resilience. This was Dad, and if could decide to live, so could I.”
It is this sentiment that follows Edwards throughout this book: “I write this book as if that is the beginning and end of what I did, but it is only a small slice of the middle, a place that is hard to reach, and, in reaching it, only a stepping-off place for finding or creating a new life with our new reality. Each time I got knocked down, it took me some time just to get to acceptance, and in each case, that was only part of the way home.”
The book is peppered with stark revelations: “And yet I am, more because I am the one who raised them than that I had some extraordinary skill, the very best mother for my children, and because they raised me, they are the very best children for me.” Her journey through tragedy takes her to this place of acceptance, where Edwards can let go of the old story of her old life and write a new one.
“I have said before that I do not know what the most important lesson is that I will ever teach my children… I do know that when they are older and telling their own children about their grandmother, 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.”
This book taught me many things, but one thing that stands out above all others is that Elizabeth Edwards was a great woman and her death is a loss to all who were never privileged to know her.