Elizabeth Edwards remembered as comforting mother, political sage at funeral
RALEIGH, N.C. - Elizabeth Edwards was recalled Saturday as an idealistic law student who challenged professors, a political sage who offered advice at every turn and a matriarch who comforted her family even as she was dying of breast cancer.
Edwards's funeral drew hundreds to Edenton Street United Methodist Church, where she once mourned her 16-year-old son, Wade, after he died in a car crash in 1996. She was to be buried next to him during a private ceremony.
Speakers reflected on a multifaceted personality: Edwards, 61, was an intellectual who frequented discount clothing stores such as T.J. Maxx, she was a fiery competitor without an ego, and she was a public figure who won the private confidence of virtually everyone she met.
"There aren't words that are good enough," said daughter Cate Edwards, 28, whose eulogy contained a passage from a letter her mother spent years preparing to leave to her children after she was gone.
"I've loved you in the best ways I've known how," the letter said. "All I ever really needed was you, your love, your presence, to make my life complete."
Former North Carolina senator John Edwards, her estranged husband, did not speak. The couple had four children together. John Edwards sat alongside Cate, 12-year-old Emma Claire and 10-year-old Jack.
Their oldest daughter talked of how her mother comforted those around her as she lay dying - at one point barely able to speak - while she held her daughter and John's hands, looking back and forth to each, repeating, "I'm OK. I'm OK."
"She was way more worried about us than we were about her," Cate Edwards said.
She talked of her mother's strength and grace and also of her witty advice about everything from clothing (there are always fewer regrets wearing solids than patterns) to marriage (don't settle for the first boy you ever meet).
The memorial brought several political figures, including Sen. John Kerry, who led the Democratic presidential ticket in 2004 that included John Edwards.
Among the people who gathered on a nearby street hours before the funeral was Barbara Fields, a 65-year-old Raleigh resident who never knew Edwards personally but was impressed by how she handled adversity.
Fields, a 10-year breast cancer survivor who wore a pink scarf with breast cancer logos, said she found comfort in books and speeches by Edwards about the fear and sleepless nights that come with fighting the illness.
"She just carried herself with a quiet dignity," Fields said.
Elizabeth Edwards was first diagnosed with cancer in 2004, a day after the Kerry-Edwards ticket lost to George W. Bush in that year's presidential election. Doctors declared her cancer-free after grueling treatments, but the disease returned in an incurable form in 2007. She died Dec. 7.
Her last years were tumultuous ones, made difficult by her husband's affair and eventual admission that he'd fathered a child with the mistress. John and Elizabeth Edwards separated about a year ago.