Elizabeth Edwards was laid to rest today at Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, alongside her beloved son Wade, after a moving memorial service at the Edenton Street United Methodist Church. Edwards, who died at age 61 after a very public six-year battle with cancer, was remembered as compassionate, smart, determined, brave and completely committed to her family and an extended family that came to include millions of Americans. "Every single thing she would do," her daughter Cate Edwards said, "she did to the fullest possible extent."
"She grabbed on to life and wouldn't let go," said Glenn Bergenfield, a law school classmate and long-time friend, said.
Hargrave McElroy, another of Elizabeth's close friends and the woman who traveled with her during the 2004 election campaign, when John Edwards was on the ticket with Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, said that, "Above all, Elizabeth was authentic. She was real."
On the internet at night and campaigning by day, Elizabeth met many other women and men who shared their stories — and their grief — about losing children in the same way that Elizabeth and John lost Wade when he was killed in a freak car accident in 1996, at age 16.
The fact that Elizabeth Edwards so unmistakably cared about others helps to explain why so many Americans came to care so much about her as she fought back, first from the loss of her son, then against cancer and for the last two years from the shock of learning about John's infidelity and paternity of a child with another woman. John and Elizabeth have been separated, but he was with her in her final days and attended the service today with Cate, who is 28, and the two younger Edwards children, Emma Claire, 12, and Jack, 10. John sat with them. He did not speak. Gov. Bev Perdue attended, as did John Kerry, his wife Teresa, and Vicki Kennedy, Ted Kennedy's widow.
Elizabeth wasn't perfect, everyone said. She could be blunt. She liked things done her way. She was critical, but she was first of all self-critical. And always, she was funny and forgiving, and she was on your side. "None of it," Bergenfield said, "was ever fueled by ego."
As you doubtless read, a few professional haters came in from somewhere else to picket the Edwards memorial. Their pathetic efforts don't warrant attention. What does warrant attention is the way Raleigh reacted — hundreds came out in the rain and cold to peaceably affirm that Elizabeth Edwards was Raleigh's first lady to the end. The Raleigh Police Department was smart to clear the block in front of the church and move the idiots two blocks down to the corner of Edenton and Salisbury streets. They put a long barrier on the opposite corner, and behind it several hundred people gathered with signs, flags, pink ribbons, Carolina blue scarves and shirts (Elizabeth, a UNC and UNC Law grad, was a huge Tar Heel fan) and their memories They were young, old, black, white, gay, straight, peaceniks and military vets. Periodically, they'd cheer as a car would pass and honk or cheer for them. Otherwise, they chatted quietly with one another as they stood witness that Raleigh loved Elizabeth Edwards and wasn't about to see her memory tarnished.
I heard one woman say to her friends as they unfurled their signs, "Elizabeth would love this. She was a scrapper."
She definitely was that.
Elizabeth fought first for her family, and later she fought alongside John in a series of political campaigns that were all about persuading Americans to treat each other as family — with compassion and a helping hand for people who need our help.
Raleigh showed its pride in her today. And we did ourselves proud.