Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers

Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers

by Elizabeth Edwards


$13.46 $14.95 Save 10% Current price is $13.46, Original price is $14.95. You Save 10%. View All Available Formats & Editions


She charmed America with her smart, likable, down-to-earth personality as she campaigned for her husband, then vice-presidential candidate John Edwards. She inspired millions as she valiantly fought advanced breast cancer after being diagnosed only days before the 2004 election. She touched hundreds of similarly grieving families when her own son, Wade, died tragically at age sixteen in 1996. Now she shares her experiences in Saving Graces, an incandescent memoir of Edwards’ trials, tragedies, and triumphs, and of how various communities celebrated her joys and lent her steady strength and quiet hope in darker times.

Edwards writes about growing up in a military family, where she learned how to make friends easily in dozens of new schools and neighborhoods around the world and came to appreciate the unstinting help and comfort naval families shared. Edwards’ reminiscences of her years as a mother focus on the support she and other parents offered one another, from everyday favors to the ultimate test of her own community’s strength—their compassionate response to the death of the Edwards’ teenage son, Wade, in 1996. Her descriptions of her husband’s campaigns for Senate, president, and vice president offer a fascinating perspective on the groups, great and small, that sustain our democracy. Her fight with breast cancer, which stirred an outpouring of support from women across the country, has once again affirmed Edwards’ belief in the power of community to make our lives better and richer.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767925389
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 08/14/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.25(d)

About the Author

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, a lawyer, has worked for the North Carolina Attorney General’s office and at the law firm Merriman, Nichols, and Crampton in Raleigh, and she has also taught legal writing as an adjunct instructor at the law school of North Carolina University. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Read an Excerpt


October 21, 2004

My face was tilted toward the stream of water from the shower-head. Water spilled from the corners of my closed eyes as my fingers outlined the unfamiliar lump in my right breast. Around and around again, I traced its edges. Try as I might, it wouldn’t go away. How could I have missed something this size when I showered yesterday? Or the day before? Or . . . but it didn’t matter. I’d found it today, this lump, firm and big on the side of my breast. I kept my eyes closed and finished rinsing my hair.

Until that moment–until the lump–October 21, 2004, was meant to be an ordinary day, if such a thing can exist on a campaign trail two weeks before a presidential election. An 11:00 A.M. town hall meeting at the Kenosha United Auto Workers hall. A rally later that day in Erie, Pennsylvania. Scranton in time for dinner, and Maine by sunrise the next morning. I would speak to at least two thousand people, prepare to tape a segment for Good Morning America, discuss Medicare premiums with senior citizens, talk college tuition with parents, and, if it was a very good day, influence at least a few undecided voters. Just another ordinary day.

But I had learned long ago that it was typically the most ordinary days that the careful pieces of life can break away and shatter. As I climbed out of the shower, I heard the door to my hotel room click shut. I knew instantly who it was, and I was relieved. “Hargrave,” I called out from the bathroom, wrapping myself in a towel, “come feel this.” Hargrave McElroy was my dear friend of twenty-three years, my daughter Cate’s godmother, a teacher at the high school my children had attended, and now my assistant and companion on the road. She had agreed to travel with me after John had been named the Democratic vice presidential nominee. I had previously chased away a couple of well-intentioned young assistants who aroused my desire to parent them instead of letting them take care of me, which was wearing me out. I needed a grown-up, and I asked Hargrave to join me. She had no experience on campaigns, but she was a teacher and what’s more, the mother of three boys. That’s enough experience to handle any job. Choosing Hargrave was one of the best decisions I would make. She instinctively knew when to buy more cough drops, when to hand me a fresh Diet Coke, and, I now hoped, what to do after one discovers a lump in her breast.

Hargrave pressed her fingers against the bulge on my right breast, which felt as smooth and firm as a plum. She pressed her lips together and looked at me directly and gently, just like she was listening to a student in one of her classes give the wrong answer. “Hmmm,” she said, calmly meeting my eyes. “When was your last mammogram?”

I hated to admit it, but it had been too long, much too long. For years, I had made all the excuses women make for not taking care of these things–the two young children I was raising, the house I was running. We had moved to Washington four years earlier, and I had never found a doctor there. Life just always seemed to get in the way. All lousy excuses, I knew, for not taking care of myself.

“We better get that checked out as soon as we can,” Hargrave said.

I had a feeling she meant that very morning, but that was not going to be possible. We had less than two weeks before the election. Undoubtedly people had already gathered in the union hall to listen to the speakers scheduled before me, and there were young volunteers setting up for a town hall in Erie, and–as the King of Siam said in the musical–“et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.” My lump would have to wait; the ordinary day would go on as scheduled. Except for one thing. Today, I planned to go shopping.

The previous evening, I had spotted an outlet mall on our way to the hotel. We had spent the night in a Radisson–a fact I discovered that morning when I read the soap in the bathroom. Since I started campaigning, it had been a different hotel in a different city each night. We would arrive late, traveling after it was too late to campaign, and we would enter and exit most hotels through the same back door used to take out the trash. Unless the trash dumpster bore the name of the hotel, I’d figure out where we were only if I remembered to look at the soap in the bathroom.

As soon as we spotted the outlets, Hargrave, Karen Finney–my press secretary–and I started calculating. The stores would open at ten, and it was a ten-minute drive to the UAW hall. That left about forty-five minutes to shop. It wasn’t a lot of time, but for three women who hadn’t been shopping in months, it was a gracious plenty. Despite the lump and everything it might mean, I had no intention of changing our plan. We had all been looking forward to the unprecedented time devoted to something as mindless, frivolous, and selfish as shopping. The clothes I had in my suitcase that day were basically the same ones I had packed when I left Washington in early July, and it was now nearing November in Wisconsin. It was cold, I was sick of my clothes, and, to be honest, I wasn’t particularly concerned about the lump. This had happened before, about ten years earlier. I had found what turned out to be a harmless fibrous cyst. I had it removed, and there were no problems. Granted, this lump was clearly larger than the other, but as I felt its smooth contour, I was convinced this had to be another cyst. I wasn’t going to allow myself to think it could be anything else.

In the backseat of the Suburban, I told Hargrave how to reach Wells Edmundson, my doctor in Raleigh. With the phone pressed to her ear, she asked me for the details. No, the skin on my breast wasn’t puckered. Yes, I had found a small lump before.

At the Dana Buchman outlet, I looked through the blazers as Hargrave stood nearby, still on the phone to Wells. I spotted a terrific red jacket, and I waved to Hargrave for her opinion. “The lump was really pretty big,” she said into the phone while giving me a thumbs-up on the blazer. There we were, two women, surrounded by men with earpieces, whispering about lumps and flipping through the sales rack. The saleswomen huddled, their eyes darting from the Secret Service agents to the few customers in the store. Then they huddled again. Neither of us looked like someone who warranted special protection–certainly not me, flipping through the racks at manic speed, watching the clock tick toward 10:30. Whatever worry I had felt earlier, Hargrave had taken on. She had made the phone calls; she had heard the urgent voices on the other end. She would worry, and she would let me be the naive optimist. And I was grateful for that.

She hung up the phone. “Are you sure you want to keep going?” she asked me, pointing out that our schedule during the remaining eleven days until the election entailed stops in thirty-five cities. “It could be exhausting.” Stopping wasn’t going to make the lump go away, and exhaustion was a word I had long ago banished from my vocabulary.

“I’m fine,” I said. “And I’m getting this red blazer.”

“You’re braver than I am,” she told me. “From now on, I will always think of that blazer as the Courage Jacket.” Within minutes, she was back on the phone with Kathleen McGlynn, our scheduler in D.C., who could make even impossible schedules work, telling her only that we needed some free time the next Friday for a private appointment.

While I bought a suit and that red jacket, Hargrave set up an appointment with Dr. Edmundson for the next week, when we were scheduled to return to Raleigh. Through the phone calls and despite her worry, she still found a pale pink jacket that suited her gentle nature perfectly. All the plans to deal with the lump were made, and the appointments were days away. I wanted to push it all aside, and thanks to Hargrave and the thirty-five cities in my near future, I could. We gathered Karen and headed out for that ordinary day.

The town hall meeting went well–except at one point I reversed the names of George Bush and John Kerry in a line I had delivered a hundred times, a mistake I had never made before and never made after. “While John Kerry protects the bank accounts of pharmaceutical companies by banning the safe reimportation of prescription drugs, George Bush wants to protect your bank account. . . .” I got no further, as the crowd groaned, and one old man in the front good-naturedly shouted out that I’d gotten it backwards. “Oops.” I said it again, right this time, and we had a good laugh. I looked at Hargrave and rolled my eyes. Was this how it would be for the next week? Fortunately, it was not. We flew to an icy Pennsylvania, where the two town halls went well enough, or at least without event. I had my legs again. And then on to Maine for the following day.

I could tell by the look on the technician’s face that it was bad news. Hargrave and I–and the Secret Service agents–had ridden to Dr. Edmundson’s office as soon as we landed back in Raleigh the following week, just four days before the election. I had told Karen and Ryan Montoya, my trip director on the road, about the lump, and the Secret Service agents knew what was going on because they were always there, though they never mentioned a word about it to me or to anyone else. Ryan had quietly disappeared to my house in Raleigh, and the Secret Service agents respectfully kept a greater distance as Hargrave led me inside. I was lucky because Wells Edmundson was not only my doctor, he was our friend. His daughter Erin had played soccer with our daughter Cate on one of the teams that John coached over the years. His nurse, Cindy, met me at the back door and led me to Wells’ office, dotted with pictures of his children.

“I don’t have the equipment here to tell you anything for certain,” Wells said after examining the lump. Ever the optimist, he agreed that the smooth contour I felt could be a cyst, and ever the cautious doctor, he ordered an immediate mammogram. His attitude seemed so very positive, I was more buoyed than worried. As Hargrave and I rode to a nearby radiology lab for the test, I felt fine. One thing I had learned over the years: hope is precious, and there’s no reason to give it up until you absolutely have to.

This is where the story changes, of course. The ultrasound, which followed the mammogram that day, looked terrible. The bump may have felt smooth to my touch, but on the other side–on the inside–it had grown tentacles, now glowing a slippery green on the computer screen. The technician called in the radiologist. Time moved like molasses as I lay in the cold examining room. I grew more worried, and then came the words that by this point seemed inevitable: “This is very serious.” The radiologist’s face was a portrait of gloom.

I dressed and walked back out as I had walked in, through a darkened staff lounge toward a back door where the Secret Service car and Hargrave waited for me. I was alone in the dark, and I felt frightened and vulnerable. This was the darkest moment, the moment it really hit me. I had cancer. As the weight of it sank in, I slowed my step and the tears pushed against my eyes. I pushed back. Not now. Now I had to walk back into that sunlight, that beautiful Carolina day, to the Secret Service and to Hargrave, who would be watching my face for clues just as I had watched the image on the ultrasound monitor.

“It’s bad,” was all I could manage to Hargrave.

As the Secret Service backed out onto the road for home, Hargrave rubbed my shoulder and silent tears snuck across my cheeks. I had to call John, and I couldn’t do that until I could speak without crying. The thing I wanted to do most was talk to him, and the thing I wanted to do least was tell him this news.

I had mentioned nothing to John earlier, although I spoke to him several times a day during the campaign, as we had for our entire marriage. I couldn’t let him worry when he was so far away. And I had hoped there would be nothing to tell him. Certainly not this. I had promised myself he would never have to hear bad news again. He–and Cate, our older daughter–had suffered too much already. Our son Wade had been killed in an auto accident eight years earlier, and we had all been through the worst life could deal us. I never wanted to see either of them experience one more moment of sadness. And, after almost thirty years of marriage, I knew exactly how John would respond. As soon as he heard, he would insist that we drop everything and take care of the problem.

Sitting in the car, I dialed John’s number. Lexi Bar, who had been with us for years and was like family, answered. I skipped our usual banter and asked to speak to John. He had just landed in Raleigh–we had both come home to vote and to attend a large rally where the rock star Jon Bon Jovi was scheduled to perform.

He got on the phone, and I started slowly. “Sweetie,” I began. It’s how I always began. And then came the difference: I couldn’t speak. Tears were there, panic was there, need was there, but not words. He knew, of course, when I couldn’t speak that something was wrong.

“Just tell me what’s wrong,” he insisted.

I explained that I had found the lump, had it checked out by Wells, and now needed to have a needle biopsy. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” I assured him and told him that I wanted to wait until after the election to have the biopsy. He said he’d come right home, and I went there to wait for him.

Table of Contents

Kenosha     1
Jacksonville     20
Iwakuni, Japan     33
Zama     53
Chapel Hill     64
Raleigh     81
Raleigh, and Not Raleigh     104
Raleigh, Breathing Again     133
Washington: The Senate     165
America, the Primaries: The Windup     190
America, the Primaries: The Pitch     206
America, the General Election: In the Starting Blocks     236
America, the General: The Race     257
Washington: The Hospital     287
Home     335
Postscript: Home, from a New Angle     339
Acknowledgments     367

Reading Group Guide

The introduction, discussion questions, and author bio that follow are intended to enhance your group's discussion about Elizabeth Edwards's Saving Graces. We hope that they will provide useful ways of thinking and talking about the book. For more information and a Q&A with the author about Saving Graces, visit

For free supplementary materials including information on book groups, suggestions for further reading, chances to win books, phone-in author appearances, and much more, email

1. Throughout Saving Graces, Elizabeth Edwards describes her great friend, Hargrave McElroy, who knows not only how to soothe but also how to orchestrate countless details. Who is the Hargrave in your life? To whom do you turn when you need both compassion and wisdom?

2. How was Elizabeth shaped by her childhood as a military daughter? What aspects of that world prepared her for a high-profile future? What aspects of her youth would later challenge her understanding of the world?

3. What did Elizabeth's parents and grandparents teach her about parenting? Which of their legacies are still a part of her life?

4. Discuss the memoir's title. How do you define grace? What is Elizabeth's message about human nature in times of crisis?

5. Elizabeth recalls her first date with John Edwards, which culminated in her wedding-dress quest during the bar exam and a lifetime of anniversary celebrations at Wendy's. What has kept their marriage strong?

6. As Elizabeth writes about the sorrow of burying her son, what does she tell us about the experience of grief, and the best ways to bring comfort tosomeone who is enduring a similar experience? If you had participated in her online group, how would you have responded to the religious debate that was sparked?

7. Wade clearly embraced his parents' vision of service to others and striving for excellence in all endeavors. At his funeral, his father read these lines from Wade's Outward Bound journal: "The course director said the solo is where you become a man. I disagree with that ... I think that you never really stop maturing and growing as a person." How do his words apply to your life? What does it mean to possess maturity? What were your equivalents of a challenging "solo"? Has your personal growth ever truly been achieved solo?

8. Enrolling in law school, Cate followed in her parents' footsteps. What opportunities exist for Cate in the twenty-first century that were less available to her grandmother's generation?

9. Now in her mid-fifties, the author grew up during a period of rapid cultural transformation. How have the expectations for various populations-families, politicians, military personnel, first ladies-changed since the 1950s and 1960s? What lessons did Elizabeth learn during the sixth-grade mock election between Kennedy and Nixon?

10. How did Elizabeth adapt when her husband entered political life-and was immediately made a presiding officer in the Clinton impeachment hearings, no less? What new elements did Washington introduce into the Edwards household? What were (and are) the constants in their lives? How have you weathered the greatest transitions in your life?

11. What are your recollections of the 2004 presidential election? What were the deciding factors? What campaign details were you surprised to discover in Saving Graces? What qualities does a candidate's spouse need in order to be truly supportive?

12. Elizabeth vividly recounts many of the conversations she has had with voters in recent years, and her concern for keeping promises made to them. She also describes her frustration when expectations were not met, such as the Kerry-Edwards train not stopping in the wee hours though crowds had gathered on the platform, or Dick Cheney claiming never to have met John Edwards prior to the debate, though news footage quickly proved otherwise. Is it possible for elected officials to maintain a high standard of reliability and honesty once in office?

13. Elizabeth and John have built supportive networks of lifelong friends and colleagues, but the subtitle of Saving Graces reminds us of the strangers who have also helped them, such as the now deceased pilot who gave her cheerful greetings and safe passage after her dreadful transportation experiences. Who have been the least-expected strangers to help you during a crisis? What opportunities are in your life right now to be the saving grace for someone else?

14. What insight does Elizabeth's story impart about the emotional and medical aspects of a breast cancer diagnosis? What does her case indicate about current debates over whether mammograms are worthwhile?

15. Though Elizabeth's life has been marked by loss, she and John have also experienced beautiful blessings, including the birth of their two younger children when the odds seemed against it, and Elizabeth's victories in her battle against cancer. What determines whether our losses overshadow our joys?

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 47 reviews.
susieSY More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because I am a 22 yr stage II breast cancer survivor, plus the same age as Elizabeth. It went into great detail about how she felt when she lost her son, Wade. I suppose like me, at the time she was dealing with other issues and she never thought she could not beat this disease. At times I think I have beaten the disease, but with every pain or health issue I think "is it back." I give it only a three star because it seemed more about her grief of Wade's death than anything else.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have enjoyed reading Saving Graces and, no doubt, will enjoy reading it again. Since the recent death of my wife and soul mate, I have suffered so. I am grateful to share in the understanding that I am not alone. Spiritual healing is what I get from this book. Thank you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Apparently I'm in the minority here, but I was very disappointed in this book. Mrs. Edwards spent a lot of time trying to convince her readers that she's 'just one of us,' but she left me feeling exactly the opposite - that she's among the wealthy elite and has forgotten from whence she came. Of course, John's $400 haircuts and their new $6 million, 28,000 square foot house do nothing to dispel that, so maybe I'm a little biased. The excessive name-dropping quickly grew tiresome (did she really have to include the name of every single person she's ever had personal contact with?) and the pages of transcribed emails and blogs seemed completely unnecessary. I do feel a little bad about bashing her, given everything she's been through, but still ... I was fairly ambivalent about her before reading this book, but that's no longer a problem. I now know exactly how I feel about her. (And lest you think this is political, I'm a registered Democrat!)
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was an outstanding book. I hope for Elizabeth Edwards to tell her story helped her a bit. To lose a child has to be the worst thing in the world and then to have breast cancer (which has to be the second worse thing in the world), and to come out of it a wonderful person is totally awesome. Definitely a book to read for all. I couldn't put this down and read it it record time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In 1979, my son died from cancer, and I still think about him everyday. It's just not an easy thing to accept, so I especially appreciated Elizabeth Edward's generosity in sharing her feeling about her son with me, the reader. A part of me will forever be sad by the loss of my son, but I am also spiritually renewed by this book. Additionally, it would be an understatement for me to tell you that the story of the lady and 'her found money' in the book is forever part of my heart memories. This book is truly ointment for the soul because it is a love story of a family.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would vote for ELIZABETH Edwards any day. She has incredible insight and wisdom and wow can she write!! I felt empathy with her grief and admiration for her conduct during the campaign. I recommend this book to anyone as a reminder of how to approach life in general as well as how to deal with adversity.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an extremely touching memoir by a remarkable lady. I highly recommend it to anyone who has experienced loss or is going through a trying time in their own life. She writes eloquently of the things that can separate us and, more importantly, of the things that bring us together.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sweet, insightful, wise...worthwhile reflections from a great lady.
vikay More than 1 year ago
This is a very poignant book written by a very remarkable woman.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cathy DiCristofaro More than 1 year ago
Sad but all telling the strength that Elizabeth had was incredible! I was impressed by how much her family supported her. There is nothing like a close family!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago