Elizabeth Edwards is a portrait of grace and resiliency under fire. She has been through far too much in her 61 years and now it seems it may be ending too soon with the latest news that she has made the decision to stop breast cancer treatment.
Our hearts break for her, but especially for her children. Any mother knows that leaving our children too soon is second only to the nightmare of losing one of them. And now Elizabeth will likely experience both. Her son Wade was killed in an accident as a teenager.
Now her young children are facing the unimaginable, a tragedy no child should have to deal with and, as they move forward, they will deal with a stunning number of people who just don't get it. They are lucky to have had such a mother, though. Judging from the "goodbye letter" she wrote on Facebook, she will not forget to do the same for her children.
As someone who also lost my mother far too young, I feel for Jack, 10, and Emma Claire, 12. I hope for their sake that they have aunts and uncles and relatives who are generous of mind and spirit and who can actually be there for them.
But if they don't (and few do), I hope that their mother is building a legacy of letters and videos so they still have a piece of her with them. What might we say in the same position? Here are some things I imagine I would want my children to know:
- Learn to ask for help: You don't have to do everything on your own and asking for help is an art form. Do it and do it often.
- Help others: If you aren't generous, you can't expect others to be so. Give of yourself, not because you expect something in return but because you genuinely love.
- Listen, but follow your own path: Lots of people say things that are stupid and judgemental. You can ignore them. Be independent.
- Fight: When you see ignorance, fight it. Never stand idly by and let people say racist things. Stand up for what you believe in.
- Love people: Losing a parent young will scare you off love. It will make you think it isn't worth it. But it is. It always is. Find people to love and who love you and you won't regret it for a second.
- Drop people, too: Old friends are great, but they are also sometimes dead weight as we grow. Learn to tell the difference between the friends who really matter and the ones who need to be dropped.
- Travel: No matter how many PhDs and masters degrees we get, travel is the most important part of any good education. Travel and travel often. Travel widely. Learn other languages and become part of a bigger world than just your small city or town or neighborhood.
- Say yes: Nod your head at life. If a friend asks you to a party where you know no one, do it anyway. Accept dates with unlikely (albeit not dangerous) people. Think outside your little world and be open.
- Challenge yourself: Don't just walk a mile when you can run it. Always strive to be better than you think you are in sports and in life. Shoot as high as you can and don't let anyone tell you that you can't get where you want to be.
- Ignore: If you are bold and brave and outspoken, you will hear a lot of crap. Ignore it. Seriously, turn your ears off, don't read commentary, don't answer your phone. Do not let dumb people affect your sense of self. Only listen to the people who speak to you with respect.
- Pursue love first: A successful career is an amazing thing, but love matters more. Most things don't mean much unless you have a strong foundation in your home. Let your family be your foundation and then you can do anything career-wise.
- Lose the anger: It would be very easy to become trapped in the questions. Why did this bad thing happen to ME? Why did I lose my mom? Don't be a victim to it. Losing a parent young is a tragedy, but it will not define who you are. Be grateful for the things you do have -- a loving (albeit flawed) father, strong and capable siblings, intelligence, and a bright future. Grieve and be sad and remember, but don't lose yourself in the anger.
- Value yourself: People who always put others ahead of themselves end up unhappy. Put your own oxygen mask on first. Always. Even when you are the parent. You have to be happy and sane and well rested and exercised and fed. You can't forget yourself in a sea of obligation.
- Mom love survives: Even if you don't believe in heaven or hell, you should believe in the power of mom love. It can do just about anything. Even if we aren't together in a physical sense, you still have me, somewhere in there even if it's just the unconscious memory of an extra blanket in your crib. Mom love endures.
- Exercise: It will keep you sane. Make it a high priority.
- Keep learning: Learning doesn't stop with school. Pursue high degrees, challenge yourself, but always be open to more. Learn guitar at 50! Take French at 38! A lifelong love of learning keeps life interesting,
I could go on and on. One thing is clear: no matter how sad it is that they are losing their mom far too young, they have had a role model that few get.
Elizabeth Edwards embodies so much strength and intelligence. Many of the pieces of advice mentioned above aren't things she will have to tell her children. They are qualities she has shown them by example, picking herself up after her son's death and starting the Wade Edwards Foundation for her son, leaving her philandering husband when he finally told her the truth about his affair. She has been a model of strength, compassion, and familial love her whole life.
Her kids will know that.
What would you tell your children faced with this?
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