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Cate Edwards: A Day of 'Pure Joy'

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Before she started down the aisle on a sunny southern autumn afternoon, Cate Edwards already had her “something old”-a silver brooch of her mother’s-on the stem of her bouquet. For her “something blue,” maternal aunt Nancy Anania pinned an embroidered square of satin into a side seam of her gown: “And I told her, ‘Your mother would have done this for you. See? She’s still here, at your side.'”

Ten months after Elizabeth Edwards’s death, Cate, 29, married her college sweetheart, surgical oncologist Trevor Upham, 30, on Oct. 22 at University United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, N.C. To strains of “Trumpet Voluntary,” her father, former senator John Edwards, walked her to the altar, where sister Emma, 13, stood as maid of honor and brother Jack, 11, as groomsman. When the minister asked, “Who gives this woman to be wed?” John answered, “Her mother and I do.”

But while the couple lit memorial candles in the church-for Elizabeth, for Cate’s older brother Wade and for Trevor’s grandparents-they didn’t dwell on loss. “We want this to be really happy and joyous,” Cate told PEOPLE before the wedding. “That’s what [my mom] would want.”

After the ceremony, they celebrated with 300 relatives and friends at the nearby Edwards estate. Guests said that Cate, radiant in a Monique Lhuillier gown, shed no tears. For those who watched her weather so much-Wade’s death in a 1996 car accident, her mother’s cancer, her father’s infidelity-it was a much deserved day of what friend Glenn Bergenfield called “pure joy.” She and Trevor spun to “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show before John swept Cate into a father-daughter shimmy to the Temptations'”My Girl.” “Given the sheer enormity of the troubles she’s been through-and there are maybe more ahead-most people would just want to disappear,” says Bergenfield, referring to John’s pending trial on charges of campaign finance violations in the cover-up of an extramarital affair during his 2008 White House bid. “Cate is testimony to the strength of the human heart.”

The bride brushes off any suggestion that her parents’ marital woes soured her on the institution. “There are things anyone takes into a marriage: Your parents’ strengths and weaknesses,” she says. “We all learn from them in terms of how we approach life, marriage-everything. No doubt I’ll take things from both of them.”

Cate and Trevor, son of Chris and Judy Upham (a Los Angeles doctor and retired school principal, respectively), met in 2002 as undergrads at Princeton University and first bonded over a shared love of the sitcom “Saved by the Bell.” It wasn’t until last October that Trevor asked John and Elizabeth for Cate’s hand. “Years before Elizabeth had been saying, ‘Just so you know, you don’t have to ask,'” Trevor recalls. “When I did, she was all ready to plan.”

That was Nov. 26, 2010. Elizabeth helped Trevor hide the ring for his surprise proposal outside Cate’s childhood home in Raleigh, N.C., and that same afternoon leafed through bridal magazines with her daughter. Cate says they found a dress and a cake they loved and discussed a “rustic romantic” style for the reception on the lawn. Eleven days later, her cancer having spread to her liver, Elizabeth died at age 61.

Cate took leave from her position as associate at a Washington, D.C., law firm to spend time with Jack and Emma. She also offered her father what she calls a “sounding board” for his concerns about the upcoming trial. A judge postponed the original October start date to January, in part so Cate could honeymoon without worrying about who would tend to Emma and Jack. (Absent from the wedding festivities was John’s third daughter, Quinn, now 3, whose mother is Rielle Hunter.) “Cate’s made sure the family still has its center,” says Bergenfield. But Cate says, “I can’t take credit for holding my family together; we’ve held each other.”

She decided over the summer to quit law-for now-and build a foundation (see box) in her mother’s memory.

After a honeymoon in Tahiti, Cate and Trevor will go home to Washington but make frequent trips to Chapel Hill. She is still unsure if she’ll go by Upham or Edwards; she and Trevor joke that their combo name could be Upwards, a fitting moniker for how she’s pulled through. “My mom [had a] theory that the relationships you build are that net for you, that blanket you wrap yourself in,” says Cate. “That’s definitely what my family and friends and Trevor have done for me in the past year. It’s really been incredible.”