Beside an altar candle lit in her mother’s memory, Cate Edwards married her college sweetheart, Trevor Upham, on Saturday.
The couple then welcomed friends and family into the sprawling Edwards home in Chapel Hill, N.C., where – just 10 months earlier – they deeply grieved Elizabeth Edwards’s death from breast cancer.
Cate’s father, John, hosted Saturday evening’s reception on the lawn, with a musical trio entertaining during cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. After dinner, a rock-and-roll dance band hired by Trevor, 30, who used to book party bands when he and Cate were at Princeton University together, took the stage.
“We want this to be really happy and joyous and that’s what my mother would want,” Cate, 29, told PEOPLE in the days before the 4 p.m. wedding ceremony at United Methodist Church.
“There are a lot of sort of small ways that she’s infused into the day” – including a favorite Maya Angelou poem read during the service and the arrangement of altar candles lit in memory of Cate’s late brother, Wade, and Trevor’s deceased grandparents. “Mom’s candle is the big one in the middle,” Cate explained.
For Cate, the crisp, sunny day was, finally, a bright oasis of merriment in a painfully difficult four years that first saw her mother’s breast cancer return and spread, and then her father – the former Democratic presidential candidate and 2004 vice presidential nominee – admit, disgraced, to an extramarital affair that produced a daughter, now 3. The cover-up of that affair led to criminal campaign-finance charges for which John will stand trial early next year. On Wednesday, John goes to court for a hearing on his attempt to have the charges thrown out.
But Saturday was for celebration and Cate’s young siblings – Emma, 13, and Jack, 11, who still live with their father – were given prominent roles. Emma was maid of honor, while Jack, in a tux his father took him to rent, was a groomsman. “They had a tough year, but they’re doing well,” says Cate, who left her Washington, D.C., law firm earlier this year to launch the educational nonprofit, Elizabeth Edwards Foundation.
Trevor is a surgical oncology fellow at the National Cancer Institute and the couple, after a two-week tropical honeymoon, will continue to reside in Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, close friend Jennifer Palmieri said the whimsical and sentimental Elizabeth could be felt everywhere in her elder daughter’s and Trevor’s shining day: “It’s like every song is Elizabeth’s song, every flower is Elizabeth’s flower.”