With the John Edward’s court battle splashed across the news these days, one part of the testimony has stuck with me and bothered me quite a bit. We heard that Jennifer Palmieri testified about the role she played as the friend and confidant of the late Elizabeth Edwards. She attempted to convey the emotional pain and anguish Elizabeth grappled with in dealing with the infidelity of her husband. She said “She was concerned that when she died, there would not be a man who loved her there”. Palmieri assured her that she would be there.
I cannot imagine the pain Elizabeth Edwards went through battling an incurable disease and staring her mortality in the face, the prospect of her children growing up without her, the hard fact that she had been rejected and betrayed by her husband and was the victim of infidelity, and the prospect of her children suffering through and in all this muck. More than enough to cause someone to go off the deep end. And on one occasion at least, it seemed like she did when she fell apart in an airport hangar, peeling off her clothes and crying “You don’t see me anymore”. She fought for the chance to be noticed, to change the reality, to reverse the events, to have life as she was able to cope with – yes – even if it meant denial of the facts for as long as she could endure. She wanted the affirmation, the love and the comfort of someone whom she loved but who had hurt her, humiliated her and abandoned her. Sadly, he was unwilling to meet these needs; to hold sacred the thirty years of marriage they had shared.
Elizabeth Edwards’ reaction is not atypical of a child who waits for years – sometimes a lifetime – for the approval of an abusive or absent parent, or the spouse who clings to their ideal of a marriage waiting for this “love” to finally come around from (again) the abusive or absent spouse, or the sick patient that does not want to die alone and awaits the “family” who has deserted them.
What is it within the human condition that inhibits us from severing the ties with jerks when we know it would be best to move on? When we know that it is futile to keep hoping. When we know deep down that there is no changing but just accepting the reality. When we know that our ideal is a “mirage” that cannot be achieved. What is it that causes us to want to hold on to that which prolongs the pain? Is it pride? Is it hope? Is it fear? – better the monster you know than the one you don’t? Is it a lack of self esteem? Is it the martyr syndrome? Is it blindness toward the truth? Is it a challenge? Is it the need to win? Is it the feeling of incomplete without a man (or woman) to “love”?
Unfortunately, I don’t believe there’s an easy answer. I believe it’s a process – an intentional healing that needs to take place over time and with tremendous effort. I believe we have to let go of the storybook images – sometimes fantasies – of “having someone there who loves us – when we die”. Where dying may be losing a job, or coping with an illness, or a nightmare, or feeling betrayed, or really losing a life.
I believe that when our God created us, He knew that we would need this love and support and therefore created Eve to be a companion to Adam. This need to “belong” was to be met – but as it turned out, outside Paradise. That means it might be met outside the ideal. I am hoping that Elizabeth Edwards was able to hear her friend Jennifer Palmieri’s commitment to be there when she breathed her last. I am hoping that she was able to draw strength and comfort from that commitment. I am hoping that she was able to let go of her ideal that was really no ideal; to rest in the love that was actually offered instead of the facade of love and commitment that she craved. I am hoping that all of us, who need to, are able to stop chasing the pain behind the pretense of perfection.