TODAY

TODAY   |  December 08, 2010

Remembering Elizabeth Edwards

The estranged wife of presidential candidate John Edwards battled breast cancer,  survived the loss of her son and maintained grace as her marriage was torn apart by infidelity. NBC’s Norah O’Donnell reports.

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LAUER: And good morning. Welcome to TODAY on a Wednesday morning. I'm Matt Lauer .

MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: And I'm Meredith Vieira .

MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: Elizabeth Edwards passed away peacefully in her home Tuesday surrounded by friends and family, including her three children, the youngest, Jack , just 10 years old. And her estranged husband, John , was there as well.

MATT LAUER, co-host: Elizabeth Edwards became an inspiration for millions of people as she fought cancer over the last six years, even as she watched her own marriage fall apart. In a moment, we're going to talk to four of her close friends who were with her in her final days. But let's begin this morning with NBC 's Norah O'Donnell . She's in Chapel Hill , North Carolina . Norah , good morning to you.

NORAH O'DONNELL reporting: Good morning, Matt. It was just on Monday that we learned from Elizabeth Edwards that she was ending treatment for her incurable cancer. In the final day of her 61 years of life, we know that she was surrounded by friends, her siblings, her estranged husband and the reason she fought this battle so very hard, her three children. For Elizabeth Edwards , the end came at home late Tuesday morning, surrounded

by friends and family who issued this statement: "We have lost the comfort of Elizabeth 's presence, but she remains the heart of this family. We love her and will never know anyone more inspiring or full of life."

Ms. ELIZABETH EDWARDS: It's actually good to feel like you can be an inspiration to people.

O'DONNELL: Tuesday, the president praised Elizabeth for her "fortitude and grace." California first lady Maria Shriver had a message for Elizabeth 's children, "Their mother was an inspiration to women everywhere."

Ms. EDWARDS: I hope I have important things to say. Important support to give other people who are going through things as everybody does. And if you're going to make that tomorrow count, you have to buck up today.

I'm Elizabeth Edwards and tonight I am very...

O'DONNELL: We first came to know her as the driving force behind her husband, John .

Ms. EDWARDS: I married him because he was the single most optimistic person that I have ever own.

O'DONNELL: Sweethearts since law school, together the Edwardses also faced tragedy. In 1996 their oldest son, Wade , was killed in a car accident when he was just 16 years old.

Ms. EDWARDS: The first thing comes to mind is I get a picture of him in my -- in my head, and I get the picture of his freckles. This was a righteous boy.

O'DONNELL: And on the same day her husband and John Kerry conceded the election in 2004 , Elizabeth learned she had stage three breast cancer . She faced the disease head on, forging her own public identity, fighting for universal health care .

Ms. EDWARDS: This is an issue that doesn't know political boundaries. It knows moral boundaries.

O'DONNELL: And writing two books about her journey with the disease. When the cancer returned during John 's presidential campaign in 2007 , she refused to let breast cancer define their life.

Ms. EDWARDS: We're going to always look for the silver lining . It is who we are as people and we'll continue to do it.

O'DONNELL: But the Edwards ' 33-year marriage was rocked by scandal and this year Elizabeth separated from John after learning he'd cheated and fathered a child out of wedlock.

Ms. EDWARDS: Every time something monumental has happened in my life and particularly the bad things, I've had him to lean on. And that was no longer going to be the case.

O'DONNELL: For Elizabeth , it was always about her children, 28-year-old Cate , 12-year-old Emma Claire and 10-year-old Jack. She talked about them with Matt.

LAUER: How have you prepared them for what you seem to be preparing yourself for?

Ms. EDWARDS: Well, I don't want them to live every day of the remainder of my life with the thought that I'm dying. So I'm trying to just make sure we give them memories.

O'DONNELL: And as the remembrances of Elizabeth continue to pour in, one friend said it best, ' Elizabeth did not want people to say she lost her battle with cancer, the battle was about living a good life and that she won.' Elizabeth Edwards is being mourned by many today. President Obama personally called Cate and John Edwards to offer his condolences and sources close to the family say that funeral plans will be announced soon. I'm told that the service will likely be held in the next few days, probably this weekend.