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West Palm Beach, Fla. — In the end, Elizabeth Edwards got one thing she desperately wanted: The last word.

She was not defined by the dishonorable behavior of her husband, John. Nor was she defined by cancer, or the suffocating sainthood that often comes with cancer.

"Betrayed, sickly, saintly wife" was not going to be the first paragraph of her obituary.

He does not get to determine her legacy.

This mattered to her greatly, I know, because she said so on the "Today" show in June after she added an epilogue to her last book, Resilience. That epilogue was one way of having the last word, of writing her own "definition."

We all deserve this, of course — a legacy shaped by what we do, not what is done to us — but not all of us manage it. It takes a strong dose of unromantic realism to get totally blindsided by your husband and still allow him the gift of your company.

I first glimpsed Edwards' pragmatic side when I read her foreword to Dr. Gordon Livingston's excellent self-help book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now, in 2004 — after her cancer diagnosis but before she knew of her husband's infidelity.

Livingston is no sugar-coating shrink — Edwards praised his "unapologetic directness" — which is clear throughout this book, with its lessons such as "Any relationship is under the control of the person who cares the least."

If you read between the lines in Resilience, it's not too hard to see that John cared the least and Elizabeth mothered John — a common behavior among women who marry childish narcissists.

She writes that Rielle Hunter "targeted" John — which seems to remove the burden of responsibility from her philandering man. And even in June, she still seemed to be trying to rationalize John's behavior. She told Matt Lauer on the "Today" show: "It's hard to imagine the same person could marry me and be attracted to that woman (Hunter) as well."

Livingston's follow-up book — How to Love, a how-to on finding lasting love — could have been a road map for Elizabeth or anybody buffeted by betrayal. The whole first half of the book is about "people to avoid," detailing the character traits of those sure to disappoint you, including narcissists, who have no problem taking advantage of others if it suits their needs.

"The primary sign that one is in the presence of a narcissist," Livingston writes, "is that he or she is not interested in you except as a source of admiration."

He shares this advice to women who have been betrayed by their husbands:

"Apparently you made the choice to marry this person, who turned out not to be the man you thought he was. That was a mistake. Life usually requires that we pay for our mistakes. What you are going through now is that payment."

The truth is often heartless, Livingston writes, and there is no virtue in self-pity at our own lack of foresight.

Elizabeth Edwards faced heartlessness and cruelty but did not crawl away. She made mistakes. She struggled daily. She was flawed, just like the rest of us. As she noted in her "goodbye" message on Facebook Monday, "It's called being human."

Her legacy is written in those parting words. Her legacy is her "simple act of living with hope."

Elizabeth Edwards' post on her Facebook page Monday:

"The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful."

Jan Tuckwood writes for The Palm Beach Post.