Sweet Sweet Elizabeth

By Marsha Tennant

Sweet Sweet Elizabeth

My granny always said that southern women were gentle and pretty on the outside and strong as a plow mule on the inside. That was surely Elizabeth Edwards. Since she arrived on the national scene a few years back I have followed her as she traveled some stormy waters. There was something about her grit that caught my eye. She made no excuses for who she was or what she thought. She spoke in quiet but determined words. Her daughter, Cate, reminded us of that in her recent eulogy for her mother in Raleigh.

There are famous people we find fascinating, and others we are drawn to because of a common thread. Saving Graces, Elizabeth’s first book, was my hook. I watched her on Larry King Live. She talked about how she had navigated her life so far. She was beating her cancer, and I was sure that her attitude was a significant component in her recovery. It was when she mentioned the loss of her son, Wade, that I came to full attention. She told how she had gone to his grave armed with books to read to him – share what she thought he would like. She cared for the graves around him and spent endless hours “in the dirt.” A mother grieves in her own way and time she said.

That was our common thread. She had put into words what I had not been able to do forty years before. Go Elizabeth! Wade was a teenager when she had to say good-bye. My son, Blane, was a baby. She said she knew there were those who thought she was behaving in a peculiar way – but it was her way. NO apologies. Forty years ago I had gathered every blanket given to me at baby showers and made my husband and mother promise that they would wrap our baby in all of them. I wanted him warm and safe in his tiny white casket. I would wake in the night and go out to his grave and sit with him so he wouldn’t be afraid. I know – made no sense. But a mother doesn’t have to make sense. Elizabeth was so honest and open about what she had done. She gave me such a gift.

In her next book, Resilience, my admiration exploded. The cancer returned, and John waffled, and she discovered he wasn’t the man she and millions of others thought he was. How in God’s name could she find mercy and forgiveness in the midst of facing cold hard facts about her mortality? I read and reread the book – underlined words and phrases. Although I was facing nothing like she was at the time, there was wisdom about how we choose to spend our days. Hate and anger would only hasten her demise. She would not feed the cancer. Once again, she gathered her strength and grit for her children. She would be the beacon of safety for them as they faced the storm.

I have to admit that I don’t think I would have shown that type of courage and forgiveness. I even yelled at her words a few times when she cut John much more slack than I thought he deserved. “You have cancer, let him have it!” But those would have been my words, not hers. In several more interviews she spoke of the “love” child, and how she deserved to be loved and happy. The adults had made the choices. Elizabeth blew me away with her ability to rise above the others.

Watching the celebration of her life at her funeral only verified the admiration I had for Elizabeth. Friends spoke of her “authentic” self and how she believed her major roles in life were to be a good mother and serve. Several times I heard the message of “live each day” repeated. She was REAL – not reality show material. Even when the media circled around her 24/7, she maintained her dignity and did not speak ill of those who had wronged her.

So that is why Elizabeth Edwards is my celebrity of choice. Long after she is gone her message will still be resonating among the talk show hosts and Sunday morning programs. That is staying power…sweet sweet Elizabeth.

About this writer

  • Marsha Tennant Marsha Tennant is the author of the children’s book, Margaret, Pirate Queen. She was recently published in AARP Bulletin and Mary Jane’s Farm. She and her husband retired and moved to the beach from Calabash in an attempt to downsize and spend time with their new grandson. A second Pirate Queen book is circling while porch sitting these days!

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One Response to “Sweet Sweet Elizabeth”

  1. Eileen Patonay says:

    How very well said. A lesson for all.

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