Elizabeth Edwards on 'Today': "I Want to Reclaim My Life"

A composed Edwards talks to Matt Lauer about Rielle Hunter, and deciding to split with John Edwards

Over the course of the past year, even after John Edwards’ mistress Rielle Hunter went public (on Oprah and in GQ) with details about the philandering presidential candidate, and the affair that destroyed his career and family, Elizabeth Edwards has maintained a steely silence. Now, she’s ready to talk.

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 In her frank interview on NBC's Today show, Elizabeth admitted to Matt Lauer that, for a long time ("longer than some would think reasonable"), she denied to herself the real depth of her husband’s relationship with Rielle Hunter. But she said her doubts "didn't come as an avalanche."

"I still think this person (Hunter) is so unlike me, that its hard to believe this other person (John Edwards) can be involved with a person like that," she said, when discussing her own curiosity about the other woman. While she didn’t watch Hunter’s Oprah interview when it first aired, she admitted, "I watched it later -- not the whole thing, but I watched part of it."

Promoting the new paperback version of her 2009 memoir, Resilience -- about her ongoing battle with metastatic stage 4 breast cancer and the breakup of her 32-year marriage to the former senator -- Edwards responded to the trash talk she's experienced in recent tell-alls about the 2008 presidential campaign. "It does matter to me what people think," she said about the negative, angry way she was characterized in Game Change and The Politician. "I never pretended to be perfect. I laughed about that image. But I sure didn’t mean to be a monster in any way."

Elizabeth explained why she added a chapter to the paperback edition of Resilience. "The hardback version ended with an intact family. To make it honest, it was important that the next chapter at least be present," she told Lauer. "I tried...to give the view I have now, with a little bit of distance about how I’ve weathered it, and how my family’s weathered it."

Reading aloud from the book's new afterword, she addressed the choice to end her marriage (the Edwards are separated, but have not divorced): "I knew I could no longer be John’s wife. It was a sad and terrifying decision. I’d been trying to reinvent the role of wife for the last two years, trying to find a place where I could be happy and still be John’s wife despite his infidelity. Each day, it seemed another piece of my history chipped away....and at the very end of 2009, I finally gave up trying."

"I wanted to be present in the remainder of my life," she added, "I’m not just a cuckolded wife.”

As for regrets, she went on, "Each step in our lives, we integrate the last things we’ve learned -- and the last piece doesn’t fit. Did I waste my time in these years. Have I thrown this part of my life away? And I decided I didn’t....I had these great children, I had these experiences that couldn’t be replaced."

After the last few years of scandal, Elizabeth comes out of the storm looking smart and generous, composed and candid; not a clichéd, bitter woman scorned. She wants her children -- Cate, Emma, and Jack -- to remain close to their father. "This is a father whom I want them to love,” said Edward, “and whom they are going to need to rely on in case my disease takes a bad turn." She acknowledged to Lauer that she does miss having someone to lean on as she continues her battle with breast cancer (she’s on a new chemotherapy regimen).

At this juncture, though, she’s clearly ready to move on. “I want to reclaim who I am,” she concluded. “I hope the next time I’m on television, it’s to talk about some policy I care about and not about this chapter of my life."

More power to you, Elizabeth. We admire how you handle this no-win situation with grace and elegance.

What did you think of Elizabeth Edwards’ interview on Today? Chime in below!

Like This? Read These:
- What Was Rielle Hunter's Goal in Opening Up to Oprah?
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- John Edwards' Mistress Rielle Hunter: Is She Seeking Sympathy?

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