Elizabeth Edwards, the estranged wife of former Democratic North Carolina Senator and Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards died today, at the age of 61, after a grueling six year battle against cancer. Edwards, it was announced yesterday, learned over the Thanksgiving holiday that her cancer had spread to her liver. Her doctors recently advised Edwards against further treatment and she returned home to be surrounded by her family as she passed.
Edwards faced not only cancer, but public humiliation when it was revealed that, even while she was sick, her husband carried on an affair with campaign aide Rielle Hunter; an affair that ultimately resulted in Hunter’s pregnancy. The Edwardses separated earlier this year and were planning to divorce.
It has been reported that John Edwards was among his wife’s bedside visitors in her dying days. If so, it is difficult to imagine what must have been going through his mind.
Does John Edwards regret cheating on his cancer stricken wife? Would he had been more, or less, likely to stray had his wife been healthy? How does he feel today as the mother of his children passes at a young age from a horrible disease?
Marriages of all sorts require work. No matter how deep the love, and no matter what the socio-economic status of the people involved, for two people to commit to each other for a lifetime, until death do them part, is the greatest commitment one can voluntarily make to another person. It’s a different type of commitment than the one a parent makes to a child, in fact. There is nothing so great as a mother’s love, it is said. In many ways, this makes the devotion and care that a parent demonstrates to their children easier, actually.
But to stay with the partner and continue to honor him or her through the years takes a lot of work and will power. It takes a special devotion that is not always physical or involuntary. It is realizing after the vows have long since been exchanged that the initial burst of chemical excitement eventually subsides for everybody and that the ability to recapture it through work and love and respect is not something we’re all born with, but rather something that is learned.
The years move fast, even when they appear not to be. Marriages test everyone. The easy way out, of course, is to use power and position, much as John Edwards likely did, to enjoy the cheap thrill that comes so easily with somebody new. But that ‘cheap ‘ experience is actually anything but. It comes at a huge cost to one’s soul, and likely the soul of the one betrayed. Even if the fling is never found out (and likely most never are), there is likely a deep and spiritual cost on levels none of us can fully comprehend while it’s happening.
As John Edwards stood and watched the mother of his children disintegrate from the ravages of cancer, I wonder. Was Rielle Hunter, or any other woman, even remotely worth it?
What will John Edwards do tonight?
I know what I’ll do tonight. I’ll look at my beautiful wife and realize that one day, hopefully a long time from now, that one of us will sit alone after the other one passes. And I know I’ll remind myself that the memory of what was, and the sense of accomplishment that building our partnership year by year and challenge by challenge will bring, will allow whichever one of us is left to sustain. She or I will look back at a life resulting in the ultimate happiness that only a lifetime of devotion, sacrifice and honesty can bring.
This devotion has manifested itself already in the happiness and innocence of our young children; ultimately it will in our our grandchildren someday. And I, or she, will be so very thankful that we resisted temptation and stayed true to each other, and just as importantly to ourselves. And we’ll love each other forever after.
Elizabeth Edwards’ passing today reminds me of this. The pain and anger that she must have felt in her dying months is, therefore, not in vain.