The day before she died from incurable cancer, Elizabeth Edwards posted on her Facebook page: “I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces — my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope.” Her second memoir Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities is the expansion of that sentiment.
Elizabeth Edwards wrote Resilience not long after the world found out about both her husband John Edwards’ affair and Mrs. Edwards’ impending death from breast cancer. The preceding years had been characterized by constant changes in public opinion toward her: she was loved as the plain-but-capable, self-described “anti-Barbie” wife of her Ken doll husband, then loved more when she revealed that she had breast cancer, diagnosed the day after her husband’s running mate John Kerry lost the 2004 election. Then she was vilified when allegations were made that she was allegedly a shrew, one that was verbally abusive to both her husband and his campaign staff in the 2008 election, damaging her reputation as “Saint Elizabeth”. Then her cancer, once in remission, returned, this time spreading to her bones, and she died and was loved again.
Those expecting that this book would unveil Mrs. Edwards’s feelings about her husband’s affair, about his mistress Rielle Hunter, or about the love child that they had together (the discovery of whom was the immediate cause of Mrs. Edwards’ separation from her husband) will be disappointed. The issue is addressed only obliquely. Resilience is not the sensationalistic book that the public, and perhaps her publishers, had hoped for. Mrs. Edwards is remarkably taciturn about any scandals. But for those that want to know what made Mrs. Edwards persevere in her darkest days, this might begin to answer those questions.
Even though her husband’s affair must have been her most public humiliation, it wasn’t the worst to have happened to her, if Mrs. Edwards’ words are to be believed. The event that she continually returned to in her writing, the one that seemed to define her life, was that of her son Wade’s death. He was sixteen when the car that he was driving flipped, killing him. After that, there was her father’s debilitating stroke and later his death, and her cancer, in remission until she found out that it had spread, incurably.
This book is called Resilience because it is about just that, both the author’s resilience and that of assorted other people that she came across in her life: grieving parents that she met online after Wade’s death, breast cancer survivors from pink ribbon events, even an aspiring geisha disfigured in Hiroshima that young Elizabeth knew as a child of the military living in Japan. In an often repeated quote, Mrs. Edwards once said, “Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.” This book recounts Mrs. Edwards’ constant attempts to do just that throughout her life.