The XX Factor

The Tragic Elizabeth Edwards

News broke Monday that Elizabeth Edwards’ cancer is past the point where treatment would be effective. She is at home in North Carolina with her family, including estranged husband John. I’ve always been sympathetic to Elizabeth , as she’s a smart, admirable woman who has been so unlucky in life: Her oldest son Wade died as a teenager; she’s had cancer for the past six years; her husband had a cruel, extremely public affair.

In her memoir, Resilience , she recognizes that her circumstances are unfortunate-“My life, at some level, is tragic,” she writes-but the ugly events themselves aren’t the saddest part. Though other observers may disagree , Edwards says that before all those bad things happened to her, her “chosen reality” was an “old-fashioned world of private passion and unadorned beauty and a life constructed around things of purity and purpose.” You could see some of that purity and purpose in her fight for health care reform . Though she was indeed resilient in her fight against cancer and her dedication to her causes and her family, the most tragic part of the Edwards story is that the old-fashioned world she desired was completely and thoroughly destroyed.