Distaff Footnotes Elizabeth Edwards
I felt enormously sad hearing of Elizabeth Edwards’ death after a 6 year battle with breast cancer. It wasn’t so much her dying; we all get to do that, one way or the other. But what saddened me was the newspaper/TV obit summing up that suddenly reduced an extraordinarily complex life and a complicated woman into a cliché: The Betrayed Wife. The Cad Husband. End of Sentence.
So that’s what it always comes down to, I thought. That’s always it. That’s what her 61 year struggle came down to. Nine words. And that’s how history will remember her; footnoted into the lead in a bad Lifetime TV movie of the week. Stuck with what others dumped on her, stuck with what she chose to accept, ultimately defined by others and reduced to a few sentences that may or may not capture some of the complicated life she lived, or explain the complicated woman she had to have been.
And so it will be for all of us. A few lines in an obit, and our complex, often contradictory lives will be so quickly reduced to shorthand, our memories boxed into nine words or less. Mrs. Smith. Wasn’t she the one who . . . .? Mr. Jones, that’s the guy that . . . . And, finally, Ms. . . . who?
Well, R.I.P. Those people she helped by her candid discussion of her breast cancer will remember one Elizabeth. Those who benefited from her honesty in discussing her complex marriage will remember another Elizabeth. Those who were helped by her public work on the state of U.S. health care will have known a third Elizabeth. All parts of the whole.
Who I hope now is resting in peace.