Elizabeth Edwards' Dramatic Journey

Husbands' paternity scandal latest in life of challenging, tragic moments.

January 21, 2010, 8:49 PM

Jan. 22, 2010— -- In the wake of former presidential hopeful John Edwards' long-delayed admission that he fathered the child of a campaign aide in 2007, Edwards' wife Elizabeth told The Associated Press she was "relieved" and hoped it would end the seemingly endless media scrutiny of her family.

While it's likely not the end of the story for either Edwards, the admission is certainly a landmark in Elizabeth Edward's true-life melodrama.

And she's a heroine who has become increasingly hard to define. She's gone from victim to saint to an angry, sometimes biting wife.

"I was still angry and hurt and had a lot of self doubt about who I was, what I meant to him," Edwards told Oprah Winfrey in May after her husband admitted he had had an affair with 45-year-old campaign videographer Rielle Hunter.

It has been a long journey from the adored everywoman-next-door who captivated Washington upon her arrival when John Edwards joined the U.S. Senate in 1998.

The close couple was bound by tragedy in 1996 when their teenage son Wade died in a car crash.

"I described it as sort of a BC-AD moment," Edwards said of the crash. "Everything exists before that time and after that time."

But buoyed by their daughter, and two more children late in life, the couple charmed many Americans when John Edwards ran as John Kerry's vice presidential candidate in the 2004 election.

Then, just after the 2004 campaign loss, the family received more devastating news. Elizabeth Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer. She beat it initially but a few years later, the cancer returned. Still, the couple made the dramatic decision to stay in the 2008 presidential campaign in which John Edwards was a democratic candidate.

"I'm immensely proud of John's campaign," Elizabeth Edwards told reporters at the time.

But behind the scenes, Elizabeth Edwards was dealing with the slow revelation of an ugly truth.

"What John had said is this woman had spotted him and said to him 'you are so hot'," Elizabeth Edwards told Oprah later. "I can't deliver it. I don't' know how to deliver a line like that."

New Book Sheds Light on Ugly Truth

In their new book "Game Change," about the 2008 campaign, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann paint a picture of a woman in utter, frenzied and angry despair as she learned her husband may have fathered a child with another woman.

The book cites campaign sources saying Elizabeth Edwards often call her husband a "hick" and his parents "rednecks." The books says she let John know she viewed him as her "intellectual inferior."

The fighting was constant and staffers said they often felt like "battered spouses," even as she looked for proof her husband was telling the truth.

"There's a terrible internal conflict inside someone in Elizabeth Edwards' position," said the author and cultural observer Gail Sheehy. "She hates her husband for what he's doing to her, and she desperately needs him because she's dying... Behind anger and denial that consuming is usually fear... a devouring fear. Elizabeth Edwards is afraid of dying alone."

Elizabeth Edwards would not comment on her marriage to John Edwards after he admitted he had fathered, telling The Associated Press, "My marriage shouldn't be on anybody's radar screen except mine."

"They are both fatally damaged emotionally about this," Sheehy said. "Who wouldn't be?"

When speaking to Oprah last spring, Elizabeth Edwards talked about her desire to forgive.

"This is a really good man who really did a very bad thing," she told Oprah. "I have a husband who adores me, who is unbelievable with my children, who has in times when I've been in enormous pain with the death of Wade or with cancer, has been by my side."

With John and Elizabeth Edwards declining to comment further on their relationship, it's unknown if the sentiment survived the latest onslaught of scandal headlines.

Friends have said that the couple is living apart, but John and Elizabeth Edwards have not confirmed the claim.

Jennifer Palmieri, a former aide to the Edwards campaign, called Elizabeth Edwards "opinionated, unyielding, blunt and unwilling to suffer fools," in an article Palmieri wrote for The Washington Post.

"Saint Elizabeth she is not," Palmieri wrote. "And no one laughs louder than she at that notion. But she is also one of the wisest, warmest and funniest girlfriends a woman could hope to have, truly a call-her-in-the-middle-of-the-night-and-she-will-drop-everything-to-help sort."

In recent days, Palmieri said Elizabeth Edwards appeared "grounded, funny, maybe even happy."

"When I spoke with her this week, I thought that for the first time in three years the old Elizabeth seemed to be back," she said.

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