Video: From the archives: Elizabeth Edwards, in her own words

updated 9/29/2006 7:01:21 AM ET 2006-09-29T11:01:21

Elizabeth Edwards spent plenty of time in New Hampshire when her husband ran for president in 2004, but her most vivid memory is of a visit eight years earlier.

On April 4, 1996, she spoke to her 16-year-old son, Wade, from a hotel room in Exeter, where she and her daughter were staying after touring a nearby prep school.

"I'll see you tonight. I love you," she told him.

Later that day, Wade was killed when a gust of wind swept his car off the road.

Elizabeth Edwards eventually returned to New Hampshire dozens of times when her husband, John Edwards, ran for president. Her visit Thursday to campaign for a state senator coincided with the release of a book in which she chronicles her life, including a recent bout with breast cancer.

"During the (2004) campaign, people who knew we had lost a son said, 'You are so strong,' and when I had breast cancer people would say, 'You are so strong,' and I thought, 'They don't know that there's a trick to being strong, and the trick is that nobody does it alone," she said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I wanted, from the perspective of someone going through it, not tell them what to do, but show them what great support I got."

Edwards said she was glad to attend the event for state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, a staunch supporter of her husband's presidential campaign.

"I can't imagine any place I'd rather be than in a group of Lou's friends," she said. "We cannot let Republicans target this man because he's effective or target him because he's a strong voice. We need to show them what we're made of."

D'Allesandro shows up several times in "Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers," a book Edwards said she wrote at the urging of hundreds of people she met, many on the campaign trail.

Cornering strangers
Edwards said a publisher approached her soon after the 2004 election asking her to write a book about herself, but she didn't want to write a "me, me, me" memoir. Instead, she wanted to help people know what to do when someone they care about is grieving or ill.

"I didn't want to sugarcoat it," she said. "I've certainly read a lot of books on these subjects and a lot of times people are hesitant to make the experiences as they really are. But if you really want people to do the right thing you need to show them that people might have a stiff upper lip but they're crumbling inside."

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In the book, Edwards describes cornering strangers in restrooms after her son's death, showing them Wade's picture and telling them about him. Seeing his favorite soda in the grocery store, she once sank to the floor, sobbing.

"No one bought sodas for about five minutes," she wrote. "Although the store was crowded, no one walked down the aisle in which I sat, flattened by Cherry Coke."

Supported by friends, family and strangers she met on an online message board for grieving parents, she eventually threw herself into a project to honor her son's memory, opening the Wade Edwards Learning Lab near the high school he attended. For a long time, however, she said she didn't want to travel anywhere her son had not been.

Because the family had vacationed in New Hampshire, the state was "safe territory," she said, though she admitted her first trip back to Exeter was hard.

"Though honestly, my memory of those conversations, the night before and that morning of the day he died, are actually nice ones," she said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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