Brian Doben
Michelle Tauber and Sandra Sobieraj Westfall
December 11, 2010 01:05 PM

Those closest to Elizabeth Edwards said their final goodbyes to her at an emotional service in Edenton, N.C., Saturday.

The funeral for Edwards, who died on Dec. 7 at age 61 after a grueling six-year battle with breast cancer, was held at Edenton Street United Methodist Church. The church organ pealed “Joy to the World,” one of Elizabeth’s favorite carols from her favorite season, as her casket, draped in white, was wheeled from the church ahead of her grieving family.

Cate Edwards, 28, the oldest daughter of Elizabeth, and former North Carolina senator John Edwards, 57, gave an emotional eulogy. She seemed to assure her mother the family would remain strong – and together – in her passing. “We’re still a family,” she said, keeping her composure, “and Wade and Mom will always be part of our family.” Looking to the future, she said: “Every smile and every hug she gave us we’ll pass on to our own children.” Then, pausing to say she hoped she could do this without crying, she read from the letter Edwards left her three children: “You were my great joy … wherever I am, wherever you are. I will always have my arms wrapped around you.”

Back at the pew, Cate got a kiss from her father, who was wearing his wedding ring. Eulogist Glenn Bergenfield, a friend close to John and Elizabeth since law school said of John, “Despite his grief over Elizabeth’s death, he will take great care of [the children].”

More than 100 former Edwards staffers – from campaigns dating back to 1998 – flocked to North Carolina this past week to help the family scramble together arrangements.

PHOTOS: Remembering Elizabeth Edwards: 1949-2010

She Didn’t Care about the Ceremonial

Edwards was a woman of strong opinions and hands-on planning. But when it came to her funeral, she left no instructions. “There was nothing,” says one astounded friend who helped the family scramble together arrangements. “I think she was just too focused on living, so why does she want to plan her funeral? I think it’s also the ultimate ego-less act and classic Elizabeth – she just didn’t care about the ceremonial.”

The service they pulled together was a traditional one, with selected verses from the Old and New Testaments and classic hymns like Amazing Grace. Among the eight pallbearers were Trevor Upham, Cate’s freshly minted fiancé; Bill Spiegel, a college friend of Edwards who became a regular companion over the past year; and four of the boyhood pals to Edwards’s late son, Wade, including Tyler Highsmith, who was in the passenger seat beside Wade that fateful day in 1996 when high crosswinds caused his fatal car accident.

The church was the same place where Elizabeth and John mourned the tragic loss of their first son Wade after he died at age 16 in a car accident. Some of the dozens of members of the public who attended this Saturday wore the powder blue sweatshirts of Edwards’s beloved UNC Tarheels.

John Edwards had been separated from his wife of 32 years since January, following his devastating cheating scandal. But the family drew close in Elizabeth’s final days and John attended the service with the couple’s three children: Cate, an anti-discrimination lawyer in D.C.; Emma Claire 12, and Jack, 10. The younger children are now in the full-time care of their father.

Elizabeth “remains the heart of this family,” the Edwards family said in a Dec. 7 statement. “We love her and will never know anyone more inspiring or full of life.”

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