Most of us know when we’re in the presence of a very special person. We all know the surprising feeling when that person arrives, the joy when she is with us, and the sadness when she leaves. Karen Langhart was that kind of person. Karen was a devoted wife and mother, a professional and a philanthropist, and a passionate advocate for women’s health. She was our friend. We are deeply grieved by her passing.
I heard about Karen for the first time like many other people, reading the article in Vanity Fair describing the heart-wrenching death of her lovely daughter from the Nuvaring at the age of 24. It meant a lot that such a popular magazine would cover a story of a contraception tragedy to this extent. I later found out that Erika’s parents Karen and Rick had turned down the settlement from the manufacturer of Nuvaring. The story was so significant that I decided to write a blog post about it to make sure that people in our network would find out and share it.
I reached out to Karen and Rick through their website Informed Choice for Amerika, thinking that I would be pretty fortunate if I got a quick answer from such busy people. Yet, between sending a package of documents for the FDA hearings she was working on and her husband’s back surgery, Karen took the time to send me a very gracious email with the humility and care that were her signature: “….so I am not sure if I will be able to talk this week; but it will be a privilege to do so when things are a bit more settled.”
Anna and I had our first telephone conference with Karen on Sunday, November 2, 2014. Already we could tell the profound humanity that permeated through this lady, as she described the suffering of losing Erika, yet expressed her interest in our work. Very quickly, we felt she embraced us like personal friends. This was her gift.
It started a year-long relationship of emails and a few phone calls, all of which were always very positive and encouraging. Karen often sent me a note after she read our Sunday blog with some compliment, some suggestion, or some reading materials. They would often sound like this (and those of you who knew her can certainly hear her say it): “My goodness…you are such an inspiration! Thank you so much for what you are doing – we appreciate it so much…so many women’s lives will be improved and saved through your work!“ Really, she was the inspiration, especially when you knew the many battles she had fought in these past four years.
At the time we didn’t know a lot about her personal or professional background. For us, she was this passionate mother who was definitely supportive of our work, and very loving in whatever she did. In reading about her daughter, I can imagine how much her mom had influenced Erika to become who she was. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
When I asked her if our documentary could be dedicated to Erika, she quickly accepted. She also flew to San Antonio to speak at the premiere of the movie in August 2015, again, taking time from her busy schedule for a one day flight. As a result, we captured a powerful testimony from her which we are so blessed to share with all of you today.
I saw her a couple more times, once at a conference in Washington DC and another at a meeting she organized with other advocates concerned about contraception in Las Vegas. Each time reinforced my awareness of her amazing charisma and beautiful spirit. Karen showed love by the care she put in every detail of what she did, from the pins she had made in honor of Erika, to the cards she sent, the program and the materials she put together for the meeting. She worked so hard to make sure people felt love, and she succeeded. A savvy business person and experienced philanthropist, she managed to set up a powerful organization to continue raising awareness of the danger of contraceptives, and her legacy will not stop today. In doing so, she brought together amazing people who feel like orphans today. Yet, the connections she created between all of us is also part of her gift to us.
Life is not always what we choose or prefer would happen. The loss of Karen is still difficult to imagine, and she can never be replaced. We are immensely grateful for her and despite our grief, we want to celebrate Karen’s passage on earth as a life well-lived, full of love. She impacted us deeply, and we will keep her memory close to our hearts, we will hold her hopes and her vision in our minds and actions, and will cherish her inspiration within our souls.
Karen and Rick wrote these words for Erika as she graduated from High School:
“We hope we have given you both roots and wings.
Care more than others think wise.
Risk more than others think safe.
Dream more than others think practical and
Expect more than others think possible.”
We can say Karen lived this way and gave us the roots and wings to do so as well.
In tender prayer for her and her family.
Gerard and Anna Migeon