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The Healing of Narrative: The Gift of Elizabeth Edwards

Elizabeth Edwards was a role model for building a healing narrative.

Elizabeth Edwards' gift, and one of the reasons why the nation mourns her death, was showing the healing that comes after a trauma, the building of a narrative of what it means. People looked to Elizabeth as a role model, and most importantly her children needed her to find a way to get past her disappointment and adversity and make sense of what betrayal means. She was courageous enough to tell a nuanced story. Of course, we will never know her most private thoughts.

As a public person and writer, you always chose what you are willing to share. I am aware of how important it is to be authentic and honest but also kind, as I wrote a memoir In Her Wake examining a controversial family story. My mother had an affair, divorced my father. She died by suicide when I was four years old after she lost custody of her children. Now, forty-seven years later, I am a child psychiatrist, mother and daughter. I spent 18 years trying to understand a story that, when I was younger I looked to blame someone for and felt ashamed of. Divorce, affairs, suicide - these can often generate in those left behind a need to understand by assigning blame. Shame surrounds these types of events as children struggle with what to say. But from the outside it looked as if Elizabeth Edwards chose to hold her husband accountable while forgiving him enough to not fight a battle that she wouldn't be around to win. She made meaning by degrees as we do all of our lives. She chose to take the upheaval in her life as an opportunity for repair. Her suffering was organized and worked through so that she could build a story as she saw it and wished to be seen by others.

I imagine Elizabeth Edwards' children will be left with unanswered questions, as in any trauma, although their mother left behind a gift. They have her words and the respect she garnered from her intense desire to make sense of a setback, a nakedness that revealed her vulnerability. As a parent now I know that my closest times with my children are when they see how I maneuver when I am trying to be strong when I am hurt. My prayer for all children who have lost someone they love is that they come to find the comfort that love lasts longer than death.