Elizabeth Edwards: Even in Last Moments, a Mother Above All Else

Family friends say Edwards was the source of strength, even as she died.

December 7, 2010, 6:23 PM

Dec. 8, 2010— -- Even as she lay on her deathbed surrounded by family, Elizabeth Edwards was the one providing comfort to everyone around her, family friends said today.

"As everything was with Elizabeth, she was sort of the strength for everyone around her," Christina Reynolds told "Good Morning America."

Reynolds, who served as communications director for John Edwards' 2008 vice presidential bid, said "[The house] was filled with good spirits and with the people that she loved. ... She got to spend time with her family and got to comfort them."

Edwards, 61, died Tuesday after a six-year battle with breast cancer that recently took a sudden turn for the worse.

She was receiving treatment in a hospital after she was admitted over Thanksgiving, but her family announced Monday that she would cease treatment after doctors said it would be "unproductive." Doctors said she was never in pain and never lost consciousness before her death.

The motherly caring she showed as she died came as no surprise to Edwards' friends, who said that of all the roles she undertook in life -- political wife, cancer spokeswoman and author to name a few -- "mother" came most naturally.

"The thing about Elizabeth is that she was a mother to anyone she met," Jennifer Palmieri, former press secretary to John Edwards, said today. "Any room she walked into, she made it a home."

Ellis Roberts, childhood friend of Wade Edwards, Elizabeth Edwards' son who died in a car accident in 1996, joked that Elizabeth Edwards knew everything that was going on with her son's friends -- for better or worse.

"She didn't miss a lot," Roberts said. "The second you walked in the door, she was involved with what you were doing ... what trouble you were getting into. She just became a second mother, and as time grew on, I realized it wasn't just me or those guys. ... She became that figure for so many people across the country."

One of the most important things for Edwards, friends said, was that she had been able to prepare her children -- 28-year-old Cate, 12-year-old Emma Claire and 10-year-old Jack.

"We didn't try to prettify that in any way. This is the way it is," Edwards told ABC News in 2007 of the conversation she had with her children about her cancer. "But we also said, at the same time, you know, everybody who's sitting at this table who's not going to die, raise your hand. And they realized that we're all going to die. But we are also extraordinarily honest with them because there will come a day when they're going to have to accept that cancer has, at some point, taken me."

Those difficult conversations seem to have worked, according to long-time family friend Glen Bergenfield.

"She's prepared us all, but obviously the children the best," Bergenfield said. "Time will tell, but as of now the kids are strong, like Elizabeth, and the kids are doing OK."

Edwards also said in interviews that believing she would someday be reunited with her deceased son Wade gave her comfort about the prospect of death.

"Elizabeth felt that Wade was an angel, and that one day, she would be able to see Wade again," Roberts said.

With her death, John Edwards becomes the primary caretaker for the younger children. Family friends told ABC News he plans to move back into the 28,000-square-foot mansion the couple had built and once shared.

Elizabeth Edwards Writes Emotional Goodbye

Edwards, who was estranged from her husband and one-time presidential hopeful John Edwards, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. After three years of remission, the cancer returned in 2007.

The family friend said that even Edwards was surprised at how fast her illness progressed in her final days. Doctors had told her just last week that she could have as many as eight weeks to live.

John Edwards and her three children were among those at her side, according to a family friend who spoke to ABC News Tuesday. The friend described the mood in the house as warm and peaceful and but also sad.

"On behalf of Elizabeth we want to express our gratitude to the thousands of kindred spirits who moved and inspired her along the way. Your support and prayers touched our entire family," read the family statement after Edwards' death.

Just one day before losing her battle to cancer, Edwards wrote a message on her Facebook page.

"You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces -- my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope," she wrote. "These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined."

"The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And, yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human," wrote Edwards.

After her cancer returned in 2007, it had reached stage-four status and was deemed incurable. But within a year, Edwards was fighting another battle. It was revealed that her husband had a sexual relationship with filmmaker Rielle Hunter.

Edwards recounted the situation in her book, "Resilience," and spoke about the revelation with Oprah Winfrey.

"It was ... it was just a really tough. That was a really tough night," she told Winfrey.

In January, after her husband admitted he had fathered a child with Hunter, the couple separated after 30 years of marriage.

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