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Posted at 8:00 PM ET, 12/ 7/2010

Elizabeth Edwards

By Joel Achenbach

Just three years ago, John Edwards was running for president. His wife, Elizabeth, was always a positive presence on the campaign trail -- despite the frenetic pace, and her husband's desire to campaign literally through the night in a desperate attempt to generate momentum.

We don't really know the people we cover, usually (we certainly didn't know John Edwards). But Elizabeth Edwards seemed uncommonly at peace with the tough hand she'd been dealt in life. She was the brave person we'd want to be. She'd lost a 16-year-old son in a car accident, and then had cancer, and then the cancer returned -- terminal. Remind me, did she ever act bitter? Didn't she have the right to bitterness? Many of us get bitter over parking tickets and disappointing sports teams. She kept her spirits up even when, after everything she'd already gone through, her husband turned out to be a liar and a lout for the ages. She suffered misfortuned enough for an entire zip code.

She had her critics, too. Behind the scenes she might not have been quite such a paragon of equanimity. She knew her husband was a cheater in 2006 but kept up the public image of domestic contentment, for example. But no one knows what it's like to be in someone else's shoes. No one knows all the factors that go into their calculations. What I know is that she seemed like one of the most impressive people we've seen on the political stage in recent years -- smart, resilient, upbeat. And tough! There was a tough lady if there ever was one. She managed to smile through grim times.

The sad moment of her passing gives us an opportunity to acknowledge her remarkable courage and -- the perfect word in the obit in The Post -- grace.

By Joel Achenbach  | December 7, 2010; 8:00 PM ET
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Beautiful, Joel. I'm sad today.

Posted by: Yoki | December 7, 2010 10:44 PM | Report abuse

And which of us is the picture of equanimity? Behind closed doors, when we care passionately for The Other.

Posted by: Yoki | December 7, 2010 10:56 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Joel, can I put in a request now for you to write something about me -- nice or otherwise, as you consider appropriate -- when my time comes?

This is very moving. I like the way that you don't try to brush off normal "negative" traits that are a part of the complexity of being a real person.

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 7, 2010 11:42 PM | Report abuse

How history would be different if John Edwards received 5% of the press investigations that went after Sarah Palin....

Posted by: Delongl | December 7, 2010 11:43 PM | Report abuse

Although John Edwards proved a disappointment, he arrived on the political scene with a degree of gravitas and public spirit that's been largely missing this year. I suspect we can attribute much of that gravitas to Elizabeth.

Tonight I happened to watch a film depicting Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima's effort to make his suicide an aesthetic theatrical event. It didn't work out that way.

Elizabeth Edwards' unsought illness and death indeed showed grace.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | December 8, 2010 12:04 AM | Report abuse

I feel bad going so immediately off-Kit, particularly this Kit, but I know that there are many boodleurs (especially DaveoftheCoonties) who will want to see this movie, a visualization of the entire 2010 hurricane season:

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 8, 2010 12:23 AM | Report abuse

Grace indeed.

Posted by: MiddleofthePacific | December 8, 2010 1:08 AM | Report abuse

Elizabeth Edwards, I prayed for you!


Pain breaks not the calm of the sweet twilight of age, for strength made perfect in weakness bears up with patience under it all. Ripe fruits of choice experience are gathered as the rare repast of life’s evening, and the soul prepares itself for rest.

The Lord’s people shall also enjoy light in the hour of death. Unbelief laments; the shadows fall, the night is coming, existence is ending. Ah no, crieth faith, the night is far spent, the true day is at hand. Light is come, the light of immortality, the light of a Father’s countenance. Gather up thy feet in thy bed; see the waiting bands of spirits!

Angeles waft thee away. Farewell, beloved one, thou art gone, thou wavest thine hand. Ah, now it is light. The pearly gates are opened; the golden streets shine in the jasper light. We cover our eyes, but thou beholdest the unseen, adieu, beloved, thou hast light at even-tide, such as we have not yet! AMEN!

Posted by: sheriffali | December 8, 2010 1:24 AM | Report abuse

The saddest part of this is the two young children -- 11 and 13, I believe -- that Elizabeth Edwards leaves behind. Her elder daughter is grown, but those two kids now have no mother and a creep for a father.

Let us hope for two things. First, that John Edwards keeps his head down, stays out of the public limelight, and tends to those two children above all else. Second, that the media allows him to do this and doesn't succumb to the temptation to rehash all of John's "sins."

He may be a creep, but he's the only parent those kids have. They need to be able to rely on him and look up to him.

Posted by: haveaheart | December 8, 2010 2:18 AM | Report abuse

Very lovely tribute Joel. I would say that her upbeat attitude was probably what helped her endure what she went through. Bitterness and hate only add to your burden, there is a very freeing quality in being able to release that.

My condolences to her family.

Posted by: dmd3 | December 8, 2010 7:23 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, you all.

Welcome, haveaheart, I share your sentiments.

Thank you Joel, for your thoughts on Elizabeth Edwards and selecting such the wonderfully descriptive word as "Grace".

Many thanks, somewhat belated, to her for her advocacy work in the field of health care. Those of us who have treatable cancer and those of us who are in remission and those of us who have loved ones with cancer can say "well done, well done, dear sister".

Posted by: VintageLady | December 8, 2010 7:29 AM | Report abuse

Good night, sweet princess, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

I realize that doesn't scan, but it seems appropriate. Grace and peace, what a wonderful legacy for her children. The way Elizabeth overcame the problems in her life is indeed worthy of our admiration.

For the sake of Jack and Emma Claire, I hope the creep doesn't get involved with the mistress again.

Posted by: slyness | December 8, 2010 7:58 AM | Report abuse

Except of course John is also father to another child, that is equally entitled to having a father in its life.

Posted by: dmd3 | December 8, 2010 8:06 AM | Report abuse

These were the best words about the death of Elizabeth Edwards that I have written. Joel is respectful, but avoids the lazy hagiography our culture seems to mandate for those who have died. From what has been reported she clearly had her faults, and that her husband cheated does not necessarily make her a more noble person. But I never saw anything but the grace Joel mentions when in public. I always got a kick out of the way that she didn't seem to be the typical political wife. She was a unique and refreshing presence, and her loss is, indeed, a tragedy.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | December 8, 2010 8:10 AM | Report abuse

SCC that I have read! Joel's words are the best that I have read! Sheesh.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | December 8, 2010 8:14 AM | Report abuse

Elizabeth Edwards' death has made me very sad. My heart is with her family.

I thought it was interesting when I read yesterday that she began going by Edwards after her son died. She said she was taking his name, not necessarily her husband's.

I can't imagine the heartbreak she went through then and in the ensuing years. She was blessed with a lot of happiness and sadness and died way too young.

Posted by: -TBG- | December 8, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse

We certainly need more Elizabeth Edwards these days, so to lose one is very sad.

*trudging-on-through-a-Hump-Day-that's-bleak-despite-the-bright-sunshine-outside Grover waves*

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 8, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse

dmd3, what I hear Slyness saying is that Elizabeth's children have no mother and need their father now, perhaps as never before.

My husband and I were talking about this just a few minutes ago, the fact that Edwards really has four children, including his ileigitimate child. Who is to say that he does not support and keep in touch with that child? Who is to say that all his children are not acquainted with each other? What I personally feel is that he must be both father and mother to his three legitimate children until all of them are mature enough to be on their own, because a marriage at this time to anyone would shine a harsh light on these children who are coping with the loss of their mother. The need whatever normalcy he can give them.

Posted by: VintageLady | December 8, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

RD... you made my day. I hadn't even noticed your mistake because I knew what you meant. When I looked back after your SCC I really did laugh out loud.

Thanks! I needed that.

Posted by: -TBG- | December 8, 2010 8:24 AM | Report abuse

SCC: They need whatever normalcy he can give them.

Posted by: VintageLady | December 8, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

I hope all of his children do know each other. The circumstances of his youngest's birth should not affect their relationship.

It can be done the right way. I know this because I have seen it done the right way and I'm in awe of the folks who manage to make it work for the kids. I think everyone benefits, too.

Posted by: -TBG- | December 8, 2010 8:28 AM | Report abuse

Tim, thanks for the hurricane video. We need to count our blessings. Despite a busy season, there was relatively little destruction. On the other hand, Florida and perhaps other areas missed needed rain.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | December 8, 2010 8:35 AM | Report abuse

Thank you, VintageLady, for saying that. You put it much better than I ever could.

Posted by: slyness | December 8, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

I did mean it as a general reminder about the youngest child (I have an issue with the term illegitimate).

I too hope the children know each other as siblings, the circumstances that led to the child's birth might not have been what many approve of, or anyone, but it happened and making the best of the situation can help the children.

There was an unfortunate story in the papers here recently giving an update on Trudeau's youngest child, born to a woman he had a brief affair with. This child has always been kept out of the spotlight and expressed a desire to be left alone. The story followed her to school (University in the US). It was a pointless story, yes her father was a huge presence in Canadian politics and history but she, to date, has had no role and I don't believe should have been bothered.

For the Edwards children I wish them all the privacy they desire, so they can grieve and then grow.

Posted by: dmd3 | December 8, 2010 8:54 AM | Report abuse

But no one knows what it's like to be in someone else's shoes.

Keep that in mind when judging John.

Posted by: OneWhoSpeaksTruth | December 8, 2010 9:12 AM | Report abuse

You got it just right. Thank you, Joel.

Posted by: mat00 | December 8, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Slyness, I apologize if it seemed I was critical of your post, I am far from unbiased on this topic, and they are my shoes I have walked in but are probably very different from anyone else.

Posted by: dmd3 | December 8, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

I dunno, RD, when I read Joel's piece I wished I had written it too. This expresses very well the genuine sadness, and complexity, of Elizabeth Edwards's death. Grace is indeed the word.

Posted by: Ivansmom | December 8, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

'Morning, Boodle.

Another painful one from Andy Boroweitz:

Wealthiest .0000001% Hail Tax Deal

Billionaires Praise Obama Move

GENEVA (The Borowitz Report) - President Obama’s deal to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich drew rave reviews today from the wealthiest .0000001% of Americans, who pronounced the deal “a total home run.”

“When we first heard about the deal, we were like, this is too good to be true,” said multibillionaire Thurston Howell IV, a spokesman for the richest .0000001%. “But when our butlers read the plan aloud to us during the cocktail hour, we were incredibly stoked.”

The 29 plutocrats who make up the nation’s wealthiest .0000001% were at their annual meeting at Mr. Howell’s villa in Geneva, Switzerland, when news of the President’s deal was first released.

“Bill Gates and Warren Buffett were the first to hear about it, and then the news just kind of trickled down, if I may use a favorite phrase of ours,” Mr. Howell said.

“The President deserves credit for recognizing what the wealthiest .0000001% have known for years,” he added. “Our cost of living has soared astronomically, especially when you consider how expensive it’s gotten to control the outcome of elections.”

In response to critics who have said that Mr. Obama’s decision to extend the tax cuts represents a change in his position, Mr. Howell said, “If I may coin a phrase, that's change I can believe in.”

Elsewhere, to commemorate Pearl Harbor, Republicans attacked someone from Hawaii and won.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | December 8, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

What a bunch of hypocrites.
Yes, Elizabeth Edwards was everything Joel said and more, much, much more, she was insightful and savvy, domineering and exacting in her expectations of how her husbands campaign should be run, and how her life should be run, in other words, Elizabeth Edwards was her own person, she was a strong woman, she had a brain and she used it, she also had cancer.
I wonder how many kind words about her would be expressed had she not had cancer?
Andrew Young does not stand alone when it comes to feeling threatened or just plain put off by a woman in the political arena who insists on being heard. I have seen many of you trash the exact same "type" of women at the drop of a hat, just as Andrew Young did in his book, so why the sympathy now, oh, have you all reconsidered your opinion? Maybe the next time a woman with a brain is in the forefront, and that overwhelming urge comes over you to trash her, you can just pretend, for the sake of fairness, that she has cancer. Elizabeth Edwards is going to be missed by many for a long, long time.

Posted by: shutoz | December 8, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Better (link below--except the last graf, and longer). More honest and less St. Elizabeth-ish, which Elizabeth Edwards knew she was not. And written by a woman, Melinda Henneberger.

How to eulogize a complicated (educated, talented) woman living a complicated life--or to push from the brain the words written about Elizabeth in Heilemann and Halperin's best-seller? And, truly, one must consider the comment from OneWhoSpeaksTruth at 9:12.

Posted by: laloomis | December 8, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse


Better--except the last graf (link below, and longer).

Posted by: laloomis | December 8, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

For lovers of the Borowitz Report:

Posted by: yellojkt | December 8, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

In six or seven years on this Boodle, I don't EVER recall anyone "trash[ing] the exact same "type" of women at the drop of a hat," shutoz. {Much less at the drop of a hat.] Oh, sure, we've trashed Sarah Palin and Anne Coulter -- but if you think they are "the exact same type" of woman as EE, then you're seriously off your meds.

Do you have any concrete examples? Or do you just want to fling the word "hypocrite" around and then disappear?

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | December 8, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

New Kit!

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | December 8, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

This is such a sad day, my heart is still hurting. I really hated that the last years of her life were filled in turmoil. From what was revealed, she was a great woman, mother and wife. JOHN EDWARDS should be ashamed of himself.

Posted by: Relkarmom | December 8, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Three problematic statements:

1) "But no one knows what it's like to be in someone else's shoes."

2) "Keep that in mind when judging John."

3) "How history would be different if John Edwards received 5% of the press investigations that went after Sarah Palin...."

The first one is Joel's. It's the kind of conventional wisdom thing we all say without examining it too much, but by and large I don't think it's true. There are plenty of situations when we know EXACTLY what it feels like to be in that person's shoes. There are plenty of situations that are very common, whether medical, phsychological, marriage-related, or whatever, that are similiar enough that we can "kinda sorta" understand what that person is going through. It's probably only the really unique, unusual, one-of-a-kind things that we may have difficulty empathizing with. Probably none of us really knows what it is like to be in an airline crash on the top of a mountain chain like the Andes and what it feels like to consider cannibalism as a survival tool. Or to be trapped in a coal mine for 70 days. But on the other hand, yes, many, many of us know what serious marital difficulties feel like, many of us are quite familiar with philandering husbands (or, hypothetically, wives), and many of us are familiar with serious and/or terminal diseases and death of a loved one. I just did a mental count and discovered I know at least nine women whose husbands are or were reasonably serious jerks. (On the list were one or more Boodlers, as well as three women in my own extended family group, including one daughter and one daughter-in-law.)

The second statement I have no idea how to interpret. Does it mean we cannot form judgements about John?

Ditto the third statement: I have no idea what it means. In both #2 and #3 I can kinda sorta hazard a couple of guesses, but I really don't wknow what either one actually intends. We could speculate, but I don't see the point; I think we'd be projecting if we did. Only the two writers know what they intended, and they expressed themselves ambiguously.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | December 8, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Both Edwards were sleazy ambulance chasing lawyers, getting rich off the backs of others!

Elizabeth even hid her husbands affair during his Presidential campaign. A very misguided position!

She deserves no acclaim!

Posted by: jjcrocket13 | December 8, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

It appeared to me that Johnny Edwards doubled-down on the class warfare stuff just when his personal scandals should have been in the news.

Oddly, the National Enquirer broke an important political scandal, and they were still refused the Putlitzer. Most people said any New York Times or Washington Post journalist could have broken the news.

But no respectable news publications would print the news.

Raise your glass to the hard working people
Let's drink to the uncounted head
Let's think of the wavering millions
Who need leading but get gamblers instead

Spare a thought for the stay-at-home voter
His empty eyes gaze at strange beauty shows
And a parade of the gray-suited grafters
A choice of cancer or polio

And when I look into the faceless crowd
A swirling mass of grays and
Black and white
They don't look real to me
Oh, don't they look so strange?

Let's drink to the hard working people
Let's think of the lowly of birth
Spare a thought for the rag-taggy people
Let's drink to the salt of the earth

Posted by: blasmaic | December 8, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Interesting to see the sugar coating of a very angry, spiteful woman because she died. If you watched the interviews she gave the last two years you knew that she enjoyed milking John's infidelity for payback. While John Edwards is no saint let's hope that vitriolic woman has finally found some peace in death that she never found in life.

I commend her public work for helping other cancer victims. Yet her personal life was a mess and it showed.

Posted by: Desertdiva1 | December 8, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

"What I personally feel is that he must be both father and mother to his three legitimate children until all of them are mature enough to be on their own..."


Happily, Edwards's elder daughter is already grown. I believe she's a lawyer. She will almost certainly be a rock for the two younger ones.

It's very sad about the fourth child. How the Edwards family will manage that situation only they can know.

Posted by: haveaheart | December 8, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Elizabeth Edwards by her example, taught many people how to live with a very serious and sometimes fatal disease. It must have been even more difficult for her since she had to deal with her illness in full view of the public. God rest her soul and may she have the peace and tranquility she looked for in this life.

Posted by: Listening2 | December 8, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Amazing the difference in "Comments" when a Democrat dies vs anyone on the right. Not only in the treatment of the person by the Post but I only saw one mildly offensive comment. Can you imagine what our loving and graceful liberal friends will write upon the death of any major conservative figure from the Pope to Dick Cheney (I hope a long way off for both). No class.

Posted by: j751 | December 8, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Only one mildly offensive comment? Which one was it? Was it the one which referred to the dead woman as a "sleazy ambulance chasing lawyer" or the one that called her a "very angry, spiteful woman" and "vitriolic"? I'm just curious as to what constitutes a mildly offensive comment.

Posted by: kguy1 | December 8, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Thinking of family matters, beyond John Edwards's children, Urban Meyer is resigning his position as Florida's football coach, on the logic that 25 years in Division 1 is enough. I suspect his desire to spend more time with family is genuine, not the usual excuse.

In figuring out John Edwards, it's worth placing him in the context of the gamut of private behavior among public figures. A fair number of politicians seem loyal to their wives, but being a member of Congress creates temptations and opportunities for double-dealing.

Possibly the most unconventional of political marriages was of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | December 8, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

I just think it's a shame that the poor woman had to die for folks to say nice things about her. It wasn't that long ago that her estranged husband's people were all, oh, she is such a BWITCH, it's her fault he cheated, and that was pretty much the last thing that was publicly said about her until the day before she died. I know that in John Edward's bottomless creepiness there is not one shred of remorse for the way he treated her and allowed her to be treated by his henchpeople, but if he had a grain of integrity, which he does not, he'd never be able to look at himself in a mirror again.

Posted by: nicekid | December 8, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I cherish my memories of this wonderful woman, and am happy that there are people such as she to reaffirm our faith in humanity.

Posted by: bertram2 | December 8, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Bless you, Elizabeth. We love you!

Posted by: Glassyeyes | December 8, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Joel ......

"She knew her husband was a cheater in 2006 but kept up the public image of domestic contentment, for example."

Yeah, right. But if she and her sleaze had been Republican you'd surely have known and told us that she lied to the public and was an enabler, at best. She put personal interests before the public good. She helped to promote sleazy John for president regardless of his obvious character deficiency.

I find your view to be irreconcilable with good and responsible government. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Posted by: Hazmat77 | December 8, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

If you can't say something good, don't say anything at all.

Posted by: notohypocrisy | December 8, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

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