BY SUSAN ESTRICH
I don’t care what they said about her in Game Change. Bitchy? Who wouldn’t be? Difficult? She had a right to be.
She lost a son. She stood by her husband as he pursued his political ambitions. He cheated and lied. She still stood by. She must have known. She chose to look away.
Nuts? Almost surely.
But in a world full of carbon copies of dutiful spouses, full of men who do it and women who silently take it, never the wiser, there was something honestly, refreshingly, painfully true about Elizabeth Edwards. The Edwards kids lost their mother. America lost a woman of valor.
Elizabeth Edwards was easy to connect with. You saw the early pictures, and you got it. She loved him. She continued to defend him. She brought gifts for his child.
Is there a woman alive who cannot identify? Is there a heart that doesn’t break?
According to news reports, he got takeout for visiting relatives as she lay dying. Useful, I guess.
Elizabeth Edwards was not a perfect woman. Not even close. But through her imperfections, her losses, her pain and grief, her extra 10 pounds, her raw humanity, she touched a nerve in this country and especially in all of us, the women of her generation, who understood her compromises, tasted their bitterness and shared her ridiculous hopes.
So it wasn’t to be. Big surprise. Tell me something I can’t figure out.
Knowing that, what would you do differently? Not marry him? Not stand by him? Maybe nothing. What does that say?
She did all kinds of things wrong. She didn’t get regular mammograms. I don’t know why. She didn’t kick him out or give him the ultimatum or choose to see through the lies the lawyer in her must have recognized as just that. You see what you choose to see.
She chose hope over common sense.
And how stupid was he? How stupid and shortsighted and ultimately cruel for a man who, my guess is, never meant to be any of those things, who ended up loving her, as he always had, who ended up hurting her, hurting his family, in ways he never meant to.
When Elizabeth Edwards’ most recent book, Resilience, came out, one of my friends had a theory that its purpose was to ensure that he never ended up with her. John Edwards with Rielle Hunter, I mean. If Elizabeth could write it, if she could put her version down, perhaps it would be enough – enough humiliation, if nothing else – to make him understand that whatever else he did, he could not end up with “her.” Or maybe not.
I don’t think I want to know how this turns out. No more glam shots in the oversized white shirts while the wife is dying of cancer. Thanks, but no thanks. We don’t need a national soap opera. Most of us have enough of that within our own families.
The loss of Elizabeth Edwards, a woman who stood tall and strong and should be remembered for doing so, should be an occasion to remember just how fragile and tender and easily broken we human beings are, and to remember just how careful one should be in the face of such fragility.
– Susan Estrich’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer