Elizabeth Edwards was battling cancer when her husband, Irish American 2008 Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards, admitted that he was having an affair.
In her new memoir, “Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's Adversities,” which hits bookstores May 12, Elizabeth, 59, speaks in detail about the affair, and her anguish over her husband's infidelity.
Despite her anger and pain, Elizabeth stayed. Though John betrayed her with a “pathetic” woman (videographer Rielle Hunter, who Elizabeth never names in the book), and she felt he shouldn’t run for president in order to protect their family, she stood by her husband’s side throughout his bid for the presidential candidacy.
After the National Enquirer reported that John Edwards was the father of Hunter’s baby (Edwards denied paternity, and Elizabeth’s book does not mention the scandal), John went on to publicly admit his infidelity.
Elizabeth, who has incurable stage IV breast cancer, has not completely come to grips with her husband’s misdeeds, but she remains with him and their four children today, saying she’s comforted when: “I lie in bed, circles under my eyes, my sparse hair sticking in too many directions, and he looks at me as if I am the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. It matters.
We polled a group of Irish and Irish American women to see what they would do in the same situation. Would you be so understanding and forgiving if you were in Elizabeth Edwards’ position? Was Elizabeth wise to stay with John Edwards?
On the Irish American side, answers were mixed. Several of the women view Elizabeth as a brave woman who should be praised for her actions, while others see her as foolish.
Lorraine Fuchs, 26, of New Jersey, who’s engaged to be married, is on Elizabeth’s side, saying: “Elizabeth Edwards is a strong woman for staying with John Edwards after he had an affair. Especially since she is in the public eye and criticized for it. If being with him is what she wants, then good for her for following her heart!”
Jessica Sweeney, a 22-year-old college student in New York City, holds a different opinion. “I think she’s delusional ,” she said. “Ever heard of something called sweet talking? I think she’s foolish for staying and believing that he won’t stray again – because yes, he will.”
Jessica’s mother, Barbara, 53, thinks about the situation differently than her daughter. “Once again, this is proof that women are the stronger sex,” she said. “John Edwards was despicable to treat his wife with such disrespect, but it's not surprising that Elizabeth stayed with him. She's a woman who's dying and she is putting her children first, keeping the family together so that they don't have to deal with any more heartbreak.”
Ashley Wallace, 23, a New York City-based actress, thought of Elizabeth's children as well. "I would try to understand Elizabeth's choice as a mother because she was protecting her children from what is now an onslaught of publicity," she said. Wallace is, however, skeptical of Edwards' sharing of secrets in her book. She said, "Now that she is so willing to bring the affair to the public eye, I wonder if she truly has her family's health in mind. Perhaps it would be wiser for her to take time away from the media rather than invite more publicity into an already damaged family."
The Irish women we polled felt that Elizabeth should have dumped Edwards.
Brigid Corrigan, 63, a married woman from County Tipperary said: “I think she stayed with him for her own good and much as his. I think she was foolish to do so because he doesn’t deserve it, but she stayed because she wants to and she thought she was better with him than without.
“If he hadn’t been in the public eye, she could have easily told him to get lost if she was as devastated as she said she was.”
Susan Elliott, 30, of County Dublin had some choice words for Elizabeth as well. “Pathetic, maybe, but what best describes her is a woman in love. People do strange things and even stranger when they are besotted with a man. When the blinkers come off then she may realize that she is the pathetic one and not the mistress,” she said.
But some, such as Kathleen Overbeck, a 26-year-old Irish American from Minnesota, see the matter in an entirely different light. “Cancer is an ugly, unforgiving disease,” said Overbeck. “Elizabeth has found forgiveness in herself and beauty in the reflection of her husband's eyes. And if that brings her comfort, then it is comfort well-deserved.”