BEFORE MY FEET even hit the floor yesterday morning, there was a text on my iPhone from an old friend saddened about Elizabeth Edwards' grave medical condition.
A few hours later, a colleague stopped by my office for a chat. As she leaned against the doorway, I knew what was bothering her before she said a word. Edwards' imminent death from breast cancer weighed heavily on all of our minds.
When word of her death reached us in the late afternoon, we felt bereaved.
She may have been a public figure, but we felt as if we knew her and understood her. It's not a stretch to call her a classic everywoman or even an archetypal figure. Edwards was the sister, girlfriend, co-worker, or neighbor with the gorgeous, charming and ambitious husband who, from the outside, had everything - until you found out the real deal. And once you realized what Edwards had dealt with during her 61 years, it made you line up even more firmly on her side:
There was the death of her beloved son Wade, at age 16 in a car accident.
There was her decision to stop practicing law and to bear more children late in life with the aid of fertility treatments.
There was the self-involved, carefully coifed husband with his sights set on moving into the White House.
There was the 2004 breast-cancer diagnosis as her husband campaigned for the vice presidency with Democrat John Kerry.
There was the recurrence of the cancer and her husband's decision to push on in his bid for the presidency.
There was the shock of realizing that her husband was having an affair with a skanky videographer on his campaign staff.
And the dismay of learning that the love of her life had fathered an out-of-wedlock child with Rielle Hunter, who flaunted the liaison by posing semi-nude in a magazine spread.
That's a whole lot of heartache for one short lifetime. From what I've read, Edwards was no angel, but she sure didn't deserve the hell and humiliation that her lying, poor-excuse of a husband put her through. She could have lashed out publicly but she never did. From all accounts, she was a mother to the end, putting her children's needs foremost.
She knew they would need their dad more than ever after she was gone.
It doesn't seem fair that after everything she endured the last few years, he's the one who gets to go on with his life. Life's not always fair. But I'm sure that powers well beyond me understand why.
Looking back, I think that her dignity is what we'll remember about her, as well as her concern for the less-fortunate and her insistence that adequate health care should be a right of every American and not a privilege.
Thankfully, she lived long enough to see the passage of national health-care reform.
"Elizabeth Edwards became an archetypal figure of a woman who suffered from breast cancer and infidelity at the same time she, in essence, was cheated out of life," said Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman's Seven Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life.
"She tried hard to keep her chin up and act with resiliency. We wanted to see her win. She represented the primal force of a woman who was outspoken, intelligent and maternal. We wanted her to transcend."
"Her life story had much to teach us about personal empowerment in the face of adversity" Mandel added. "She continued to advocate for the poor and showed us that it's not how many years one has left to live that matters, but the life one puts into those years."