Sunday, December 27, 2009

Elizabeth Edwards and "Saving Graces"

I met Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Senator John Edwards, two years ago at the National Compassionate Friends Conference in Oklahoma City. She was the keynote speaker who I thought spoke eloquently and passionately to a crowd of 1,500 bereaved parents about the loss of her son and how it has affected her life.

After the speech, she went into the bookstore to sign copies of her book “Saving Graces.” I, along with probably 1,000 people, stood on line to have her sign and take a picture with her. The line moved very slowly and I walked to the front to see why. Elizabeth was asking each parent his or her child’s name and their story of what had happened. She then got up and hugged each one of them before signing the book with the parents and child’s name in the dedication.

“Wow,” I thought. “This is going to be a long wait, but how nice of her to make each parent feel so important.” After about an hour, her secret service men told her she had to leave, the plane was waiting for the trip to be on the Larry King Show that evening. She absolutely refused to do so until she spoke to every parent waiting in line (another 4 hours). From that moment on I knew she was a classy lady, and despite the fact that she was not well herself and had recently been told her cancer was not curable, my admiration for her grew and grew, especially after facing her husband’s infidelity in the public arena.

I wanted to sit down and read her book, but as things happen, it sat on my shelf for almost two years before I found the time. I have now finished it and admire this intelligent, sometimes witty, but always sincere and caring individual who has gone through what we all have gone through, the death of a child. How she deals with it is a lot of the focus of this book, in addition to her early life of trials and later triumphs. It is also a fascinating look at her husband’s campaigns for Senate, president and vice-president and how she supported him throughout.

What she says saved her life after her son's death is the community of people who surrounded and helped her when son Wade was killed in a car accident. She expresses in her book what we all feel: the raw emotions, the denial, the anger, the bargaining, the depression, and finally, the renewal. She never retreats from the fact that she thinks of Wade every day of her life and misses and will love him always.

Elizabeth found great support in online communities, and her belief in the power of community to make our lives better and richer is still ongoing today. She talks about (ASG), the newsgroup for the bereaved, as well as GriefNet, grief-parents and Tom Golden’s website on grief and healing. “You use these support groups for as long as you need to,” she adds.

She says it simply enough in her book to a mother who lost her son Christian: “At ASG I hope you find what you need. We have different emotions on any given day; all of us will be in pain on every day in which you feel pain… but it is the bond that allows us to be gentle with each other…do not misunderstand: no one else has lost Christian, no one else knows just what an incredible boy he is. But all of us are willing to learn that from you. There is no time, not months or years from now, that we will tire of him. With great regret, I welcome you to”

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