Debra Ruder Communications

Writing that matters

Her days were well spent

Elizabeth Edwards, who died yesterday at age 61, touched so many of us with her strength, candor, and sense of hope in the face of adversity — from her teenage son’s death to breast cancer to her husband’s infidelity. What has really resonated with me was her commitment to live life to its fullest, including after announcing in 2007 that her cancer had spread and, although treatable, was no longer curable.

Every day, she believed, should be “a day well spent.”

Told by her doctors recently that additional treatment wouldn’t help, Mrs. Edwards chose to forego it and focus on being at home with her loved ones. On Monday, this gracious author, lawyer, political advisor, and mom posted a comforting message on Facebook, noting that she was sustained throughout her life by her family, her friends, “and a faith in the power of resilience and hope.”

Her choice was a gift to her family, in my opinion. Additional medicine might have made Mrs. Edwards feel miserable and deny her the chance to die with dignity and peace. It seems she did a wonderful job helping prepare her children for her eventual death, even (I heard) composing a “dying letter” to them over the years filled with motherly advice about choices they’ll make as they grow up.

Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston has shown that gravely ill people who receive less aggressive medical care have a better quality of life at the end. And avoiding aggressive, life-extending treatment (like going to an intensive care unit) can also make it easier for those left behind to cope after the loss. Discussing end-of-life issues with one’s doctors is key to this happening.

Elizabeth Edwards made many wise and valiant choices in her life and shared many of them with us. For that we can be grateful.