by Elizabeth Edwards
Elizabeth Edwards was the wife of John Edwards, a Democratic senator, an unsuccessful presidential primary candidate in 2004 and 2008, and running mate for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. Elizabeth was a popular and sympathetic public figure because of the death of her son at age sixteen in a car accident, her courageous battle with breast cancer, and revelations of her husband’s ongoing affair during her health struggles.
Elizabeth Edwards published the book Saving Graces in 2006, two years after she was diagnosed with cancer and the same year her husband began his infamous affair with Rielle Hunter, which he did not publicly admit to until August of 2008. I am laying out the dates carefully because I found it a bit confusing as Edwards begins telling her story at the same place in her life that she ends this book. Also, because she was such a family-oriented person, I had to wonder at what point in her painful saga was she unknowingly being betrayed by her husband. There is no foreshadowing of the affair.
No spoiler alert is needed on this review. Edwards in this memoir is sharing very personal insights into the events of her life up through the close of her treatment for the cancer that was discovered in November of 2004. The facts along with all the rumors of the time are readily available on the Internet.
I must warn potential readers that the first half of this book is a very difficult read. Most of it deals with the very raw grief which Edwards and her family experienced upon the sudden and unexpected death of her sixteen year old son Wade in a car accident. Although the distance of time helps, when she wrote the book she was still experiencing deep sorrow over his absence. Although Elizabeth Edwards worked as a lawyer, author and speaker, the job that was most important to her was that of mother. She loved the presence of her children and their friends filling her home. She loved interacting with them. When Wade died she seemed to lose a part of herself, of her reason for living. I hope the writing of this book proved cathartic for her. Her grief is so real and so painful that I had to put it aside for a few days.
Upon returning to Saving Graces I was relieved to find a turn of focus away from the pain of Wade’s death and toward the future as Elizabeth and John Edwards decide to extend their family and continue to be deeply involved in political races. Even reading about her first battle with cancer was not as painful as the discussion of the aftermath of her son’s death. Though fearful of losing to breast cancer, Edwards knew it was something she could fight. Speaking of the diagnosis she said “…it wasn’t, by a sad and huge distance, the worst news we had ever heard. Wade’s death had spared us that…”
As the United States is currently pushing toward presidential elections, I found glimpsing the campaigns from behind the scenes to be an interesting endeavor. It made me like Elizabeth Edwards better and most of the rest of the political players and the process even less. That outcome was certainly not Edwards’ intention or attitude in writing, but I am too jaded to view the political process through her rose-colored glasses of “John (Edwards) just wants to help people” (not a direct quote, but a phrase that certainly reflects her thoughts). In my opinion, based on later evidence available after this book was written, John Edwards had one goal–to enrich himself. His desires were for money, power, sex, and the flattery of younger women. During the last half of the book, I kept wanting to yell across the pages to Elizabeth that she was living in a house of cards about to collapse on her. I wanted to warn her that her wonderful family man was going to cheat on her, destroying the family she adored so much. I wanted to shout out a danger signal–this man you thought you could count on is going to pay you the ultimate disrespect while you are on the campaign trail telling others how wonderful he is.
Saving Graces has a very appropriate subtitle: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers. In the first half of the book, the solace and strength come from others who have lost children. In the second part, she shares the outpouring of love and concern she received when she publicly announced her battle with cancer.
Elizabeth Edwards wrote another book, Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities, which continues her story including the return of cancer and the Hunter affair. Although Edwards is a good writer and I sympathize with the tremendous pain she endured physically, mentally, and emotionally, I just don’t know if I will choose to read her detailing of it in Resilience. It seems bad enough that she had to live it.