By Jamilla R. Walker RN, IBCLC
Purely due to the demands of life and the decision to pursue taking on another job outside the home, I’d resigned as the blog manager once 2017 began. While I anticipated writing an end-of-the-year blog for ICEA, I could never in a million years have imagined it would be on this topic.
Social media has been flooded lately with posts about how 2016 needs to end because it keeps “taking” celebrities. Every time I see that, I remember how this happens every year. Every year it’s like there’s some death tax that people can get out of paying if they die before the start of the next year. And every end of December, we strain for the new year to begin so we can be done saying goodbye to greats.
But then I got a message from Barbara Harper last night, telling me how sad she was for Connie. Our dear ICEA President had been given terrible news this past month, with a diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer for her beloved husband and best friend, Jim. If you’ve had anything to do with Connie Livingston, you know of her complete adoration for Jim. We’ve all been shocked and saddened by his illness, so I assumed that was what she spoke of and agreed that it’s terrible news. My slowness to compute what she was trying to tell me led to me making her spell it out for me. Just like they tell medical providers – it’s not real for family members unless you say the words.
“She coded and DIED?”
“Yes, honey. She died.”
My heart simultaneously lept into my throat and crashed into my stomach, leaving me breathless. I slept fitfully, waiting for the news to break on social media and then torturing myself by reading all the tributes people were posting. We all say the same thing. We’re all reeling from the unexpected devastation.
Connie Livingston was a leader in the birth industry – as a doula, childbirth educator and administrator. Her tenacity and passion for the birth community were second to none, as were her high standards for every organization she laid hands on throughout her career. And while that is impressive, that’s not what has us all walking around in a hazy cloud of grief today. It is how she interacted with all of us that has made us love her, and what is leaving a massive hole in her wake. Connie was the single most encouraging person any of us have ever met. And when I say encouraging, I don’t just mean she was good at making us feel better about life – I mean that she saw our best, our greatest potential and did everything she could to call it out of us. That is essentially what a doula does – a great doula doesn’t just empower. To empower is to give someone power. She gave everything to make each of us see what was always there inside of us. To see what power we held to be game changers, to live our fullest potential as we served the birth community and our families together. She was like this with everyone in her life, to the point that she was typically pretty surprised and disappointed when people turned out not to be what she saw in them. As her friend, I always hated how much it would bother her when someone she’d decided to love turned out to be a jerk. It didn’t happen often, as she was a fantastic judge of character, but when it did – it was hard to watch her work out.
Because when Connie decided to love someone, it was a wholehearted act. You were counted as family and she’d bear hug the breath out of you when she saw you, no matter how much time had passed. The overwhelming consensus from all the social media posts was how many women she mentored over the course of her career. And we didn’t just call her our mentor – she was our mother, our sister, our dearest friend. The other thing about being her friend is how amazing she was at connecting us all. If you talked to her about a problem you were having, she’d know someone with the talent to help you work it out. If you became interested in a certain aspect of the birthing world, she’d send you someone’s phone number having paved the way for you to have a phone chat or Skype – and God forbid you express hesitation (“but Connie, are you SURE it’s ok that I assist Barbara Harper at this conference??”), she’d shoo away your concerns and say, “oh stop, we all put our panties on one foot at a time!”
Friends, what a blessing it was to her to see the outpouring of love for her and her family these last few weeks. She may be gone, but at least she left knowing she was loved. Now it’s time for us to take all the love she gave to each of us, and pour it out on Jim, Heather and Erin and they process this tragic loss. It’s time for us to raise our peppermint mochas in the air and say goodbye to our friend, sister, mentor, mother. We love you so much, Connie. You will be forever missed.