Elizabeth Edwards was Only Human

“When my father died, he became a saint,” a neighbor told my mother last week. “According to my mother anyway. I said ‘who the hell are you talking about?’ That’s not the guy I knew . . .”

She was cautioning my mother, who had just lost her best friend, against obliterating the memory of the departed by postmortem make-over.

Post-mortem make-over seems so universal and alluring a phenomenon I am surprised it has not spurred a reality show.

Because that is where the fallacious thinking and the indignity done to all involved belong, when one makes of the dead what they were not. And some day that could be you.

I would much rather be remembered as I am than be so forgotten in death as to be lionized.

And yet that is what has happened to Elizabeth Edwards, as if she hadn’t been through enough ignominy already. Not to mention misery.

She had a good life, and then, like a Greek tragedy, the good life turned on her brutally, showing, like an optical allusion the outline of all that seemed bright a ghastly picture of hubris. I am sorry for her. I am sorry for all of us that life doesn’t deliver the gifts and hopes we choose to believe are ours forever.

I don’t think she was any worse than the rest of us, but I also don’t believe she was any better. She campaigned by her husband’s side for the Democratic party’s nomination for President of the United States at a time when the stakes for our country and for the world could not have been higher. She did this although she knew, as we all then knew before the election season was over, that her husband had broken his vows of marriage to her during the campaign, after she, his life partner, the mother of their children had been stricken with a deadly illness. He didn’t, fortunately, but no thanks to anyone who kept that secret, prevail. If he had, it is safe to say that this country, and many of the world’s troubles would rest on the shoulders of President McCain and Vice President Palin.

Who else would have kept that secret? Perhaps any of us. Perhaps not. Keeping that secret, for whatever sad and possibly self-serving reasons was human. But it does not exalt her. It taints a life that may otherwise have been in every way worthy and deserves to be remembered as it was,  no better, because then it truly vanishes.

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