CHARLOTTE, N.C.—In the days since her book was published, Elizabeth Edwards has gone from one interview to the next, from Oprah Winfrey to Diane Rehm to Charlie Rose, talking about the pain of losing her son and her battle with breast cancer.
She's answered questions about her son's life, relived his car accident in 1996 and shared stories about grief and healing.
Sometimes, she said, she feels the tears coming, and hopes the interview is almost over.
"Honestly, even though it's necessary to tell my story of grief, I don't want it to be about me," she said on her way to another airport. "I want it to be a larger message about how we need one another. If I break down, I don't think I become as good a messenger."
Edwards' book, "Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength From Friends and Strangers" (Broadway Books; $24.95), is a frank memoir about loss and accepting support.
Edwards, 57, and her husband, former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., rarely spoke of their son's death during her husband's 2004 run for president or during his bid for vice president as Sen. John Kerry's running mate. In her book, she describes the tragedy in detail.
Wade, 16, had been on his way to meet his family at the beach for spring break. A gust of wind blew his car from the road; it fishtailed, then flipped.
"If I make myself think back on that night and on the next days, I can see everyone, I can bring everyone back," Edwards wrote. "But it is so hard to do it without also bringing back that pain. The heat of it. The chill of it. What's important and what's not? People came, that's what's important. They were there."
Edwards found support through an Internet group for the bereaved. Some days, she shared her sorrow. "I have no strength to face his death," she wrote in a post three weeks after what would have been Wade's 17th birthday. "Even comfort about his death brings me to the floor. I cannot look it in the eye. ... I don't know how many days without him I have left inside me."
Other days, she vented:
"I used to think that the greatest gift you could give a child was the sense that anything was possible. Now that gift has a horrid twist: Anything is possible."
She visited her son's grave daily, talking to him, reading letters to him, taking his SAT score when it came in the mail. When what would've been Wade's last year of high school began, she read aloud every book on the senior reading list.
"I went every day to Wade's grave," she wrote, "... because that was what felt right to me."
At age 46, she decided to undergo fertility treatments and have two more children. Emma Claire was born in 1998. Jack came two years later, when the Edwardses' oldest daughter, Cate, was a high school senior.
Politics is part of Edwards' story, too.
She describes meeting with Secret Service agents to learn what to expect. She tells how her friends helped fix up Cate's bedroom in Raleigh, thinking the Kerrys might spend the night. (They didn't. "But now Cate has nice new bed linens," she wrote.)
Two weeks before Election Day in 2004, she discovered a lump while taking a shower in a hotel room in Kenosha, Wis. After John Kerry delivered his concession speech, Elizabeth and John Edwards left for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
Though she feared cancer, Edwards wrote that she'd "already been through the worst," that nothing will ever be as bad as losing a child. "The worst day of my life had already come."
She went through chemotherapy, then surgery followed by radiation.
At times, she wrote, "there was no part of me that did not feel beaten."
Other times, facing bruising and bleeding, hair loss, nausea and mouth sores: "I could not wait to get started. I wanted to be a warrior."
By that March, the number of e-mails from strangers and friends had reached 65,000.
The book's message is simple: Family is all around us, in strangers and friends, a "sea of support," nourishment to help in the next storm.
"I hope (readers) will take that away from the story," Edwards said. "Start including people in your lives that otherwise would be invisible and find out how rewarding that is. ... It sounds naive, but it's 57 not-always-easy years that have been made easier because I was good to people. And when I needed it, they were good back."
Explaining her faith, Edwards said, was the part of the book she "fiddled with" the most.
She believes in a God who lets human actions and nature take their course.
"The other option—that he set up the world so that he could intervene when he wanted to—that God is a very hard God to accept if your child dies."
Edwards admitted that she felt worried before "Saving Graces" reached stores. Reporters who traveled with her during the presidential campaign often described her as honest and down to earth. In the book, that openness sometimes makes her words difficult to read.
"I wanted it to seem like a conversation with people," she said. "But right before it came out, it was very scary. I don't know any other way to be, but you don't know how this candor will be received. I don't want to tell you all the adjectives that I didn't want to hear."
In the book, Edwards wrote that "life has found its cadence again." Her cancer appears to be gone. Her oldest daughter has started law school. Her younger children are busy with school and sports. John Edwards seems to be a probable 2008 presidential candidate. And the family has moved into a new home in Orange County, N.C.
At first, Elizabeth Edwards said, she worried about emptying Wade's room in their old house. But a hole in a washing machine hose started a flood and she had to rush to save his belongings.
"In order to save his stuff, I had to get it out," she said. "Where I thought it was going to be so hard, I was relieved to get it out of his room."
Still, grief is unpredictable. Ten years away from her son's death, there are days when she's "just a puddle."
"Something will trigger it, and you have no idea what it's going to be. You can walk right through the obvious thing—and then a pile of shirts at Abercrombie & Fitch will do you in."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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