Saving Graces by Elizabeth Edwards

Grace has been defined as generosity of spirit; a capacity to tolerate, accommodate, or forgive people; dignified, polite and decent behavior. To my mind, this is exemplified by Elizabeth Edwards, author of the memoir, Saving Graces.

Home and hospitality are key elements of Edwards’ life. This no doubt had its roots in her childhood as part of a military family, when moving often and establishing new homes and new friendships were part of everyday life. “Because of the way I grew up,” she writes, “because time and time again I had to walk into a classroom where everyone else knew one another, I had to find a way to make enough connections to make my life work. I understood early in life that I needed them. So I thrust my hand out. Like my father taught me. And I found out what they liked and talked about that. Like my mother had taught me. We just had to recognize the sameness among us and build on that for our community. We didn’t have to be the same; we just had to recognize what a great blessing we could be to one another.” That basically sums up the premise for her life and for this book.

Reading Saving Graces is like having a series of conversations with the author. The book is written in her very personal, narrative style. She speaks directly to the reader in a friendly, informal tone, candidly sharing thoughts, opinions and emotions. One gets the sense that she might have been chatting with a good friend or neighbor; in her mind, she may be doing just that.

Many readers will have become familiar with Edwards through her husband John’s run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. At a time in our society when political campaigns are fodder for gossip and malice, the Edwards were open and welcoming, even transparent with their public image. Basically, it was a case of what you see is what you get. Everywhere they went seemed to be an extension of home, replete with hospitality and hugs.

Edwards takes the reader through her childhood, college years and marriage to John in 1967 fairly quickly, with her conversational anecdotes interspersed. When she comes to the topic of their son Wade’s untimely death in 1996, the momentum slows down. She expands on her grief process, how she handled it, how it affected her, what she learned from it about herself and about life. The emotions she shares are often raw and painful. That she shares them so publicly may be an indicator of her courage and inner strength. She senses that her way of grieving may seem excessive to others, but she does not apologize. Instead, she notes, “Whatever we do—going or not going to our children’s graves, sleeping with a toy, or closing the door to their rooms—has only to be what we each need, what we require to make it through each day without them. There is no other yardstick.”

In ensuing chapters, Edwards writes of life as it inevitably moves on—good days and bad. She acknowledges that the loss of Wade forever changed their lives and impacted many of their future decisions as a family, from rearranging the rooms in their home to deciding to have more children.

The next chapter of their life, as well as the next chapters of her book, was devoted to politics—John Edwards’ Senate race, almost being chosen as Gore’s running mate in 2000; losing the 2004 presidential nomination, then running as the vice presidential candidate with John Kerry and losing that bid as well. She talks about their staffs throughout each campaign as extended family.

Then came the cancer found in the last days of the 2004 campaign and announced the day after the election. Again, it was the author’s “connections,” her immediate family and her extended families from throughout her life, which sustained her and gave her hope in the form of thousands of letters, cards, e-mails, and gifts.

Edwards mentions so many names throughout her book. Just when one might wonder at this, she explains. “I know that my father’s great gift to me, of reaching out and pulling people toward me, has made this life possible. Because from each one, I have taken something—and I hope that I have also given back—and that meant that I could weather the next storm.”…”I’ve had a good life and I just want to thank you for it.” This book is really a long thank-you note spanning all the years of the life of this remarkable woman.

A gracious woman always sends a thank-you note.

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