When Bad Things Happen to Bloggers You Love

Gavin Chasing RainbowsThis isn’t an easy post to write. And it won’t be an easy post to read.

But I hope you’ll read it, because it’s about a blogger who’s special to us here at Parents.

Kate Leong, a mother who writes the blog Chasing Rainbows, was catapulted into a parent’s worst nightmare a few days ago. On April 10 she posted this short, urgent update on her blog’s Facebook page:

“Gavin went into cardiac arrest and is being choppered to DuPont. It’s very grave. Please pray.”

Those of us who have been following the blog and Kate’s Facebook updates sent prayers, strength, and positive thoughts for Gavin’s recovery. The love that poured in from many who don’t know Kate, and knew nothing about her even a few short days ago, would be enough to restore even the most cynical observer’s faith in the human race’s capacity for kindness and compassion.

I’ve never met Kate. But in some small way, I feel like I know her. I became acquainted with Kate through our magazine’s annual Blog Awards contest, for which I’m the editor. Kate’s blog, “a mommy’s quest to make the impossible possible,” was a finalist in the category “Most Likely to Have You Reaching for the Tissues.” She had the support of fellow co-finalist Momastery blogger Glennon Doyle Melton, who believed in Kate’s blog so much that Glennon encouraged her readers to go vote for Kate.

Kate was surprised she’d been nominated, and so excited to be selected as a finalist. Chasing Rainbows didn’t win, but on the Friday after the votes were in, Kate wrote me the most gracious email. She thanked Parents for including her in the contest. It brought her many letters of support, referrals, and suggestions in her efforts to get help for Gavin, who Kate said remained undiagnosed and whose multiple health problems were “a mystery to everyone but God.” As Kate modestly wrote, before the exposure of the contest, her blog had had “a good little following.” But she’d never felt the need to promote it. The competition, she said, gave her the push to do just that.

While Chasing Rainbows didn’t claim the very top honor, Gavin, she said, was the real winner. Kate wrote: “One day, when he’s no longer a mystery, I will drive to Parents’s offices and introduce you to him so we can thank you in person.”

Yesterday, on April 14th, Gavin David Leong died. He was 5 1/2 years old.

He died on his mother’s birthday.

Those of us who were following Kate’s updates last week knew this was coming. Kate had told us the fight was over. A picture on the Chasing Rainbows Facebook page of Kate lying in a hospital bed beside Gavin, looking lovingly at her gravely ill son, unconscious and his eyes parted, is an image that will likely haunt me for the rest of my life. Through the horror (does any other word suffice?) of it all, Kate never stopped blogging, and in her words and pictures, she brought us a window in real time onto an experience that no one should ever, ever have to suffer: losing a child.

Last Friday, after I closed Kate’s Facebook page, left work, and headed home, I thought about that sweet email to Parents from Kate, which expressed such hope and optimism for Gavin. She’d sent it only last month.

That evening, I was filling the tub for my 1 ½-year-old. She was pulling bath toys off a nearby shelf, and enjoying watching them splash into the water. Rubber duck. Shark. Cup. My mind wandered to Kate again, and to Gavin. And to his brother Brian, and his father, Ed. I thought about the terrible pain Kate’s already endured as a mother, as readers of her blog know, and how really, really unfair life can be. And my heart began to race, I felt sweat at my temple, and I had to catch my breath. A casual observer might have said I was having something akin to an anxiety attack. But later, I was able to recognize the feeling, because I’d had it before: sitting in the waiting room at a famous cancer hospital, long after all the treatments and prayers for a friend’s recovery were over, after the goodbyes had been said, and we were just waiting.  Waiting for the inevitable to happen.

The feeling was helplessness.

When you irrationally say to no one listening, Make it stop. Just make it stop.

Why do bloggers affect us so much?

They’re not our family. They’re not our friends.

Certainly, what we feel for someone we know and love is not the same as what we feel for a person we’ve never met.

But that’s the thing about blogs: They affect us because they generously invite us in. Bloggers share many parts of themselves, their families, dreams, hopes. We feel a connection that transcends the barrier of a screen monitor. And when a blogger you like is suffering in a way you could have never imagined, and you’re watching that pain unfold post by post, picture by picture, it hurts because it almost feels like it’s happening to a friend. Because in a way, after reading dozens or hundreds of their posts, you do know them, maybe even better than you know some of your “real-life” friends. When a child dies, it hardly matters if you’ve been acquainted with that mother’s circumstances for years or since last week. You hurt deeply for her.

As one woman on Facebook posted to Kate, reflecting a sentiment that was repeated over and over: “We don’t know each other, but my heart is with you and your whole family.”

People often lament the breakdown of community in our society. And therein lies the power and beauty of the blogging world: In a few days, Kate’s fan base and support network grew from hundreds to thousands. Her fellow bloggers rallied around her, as did an ever-growing army of caring strangers. In the past few days, I’ve been receiving thoughtful emails from other bloggers in our contest, wanting to tell me about Kate, and Gavin.

They feel like they knew them, too.

To honor Gavin’s memory, Kate is asking for this:

“I have a special project that ANYONE can do—that can be FREE—and would be the best birthday present you can give me…. I’m asking you to help someone… document it with words and or a photo… and place it on the Chasing Rainbows Facebook Page. Then be sure to check the page often to get inspired by the outpouring of love.”

Will you help someone?

For Gavin, and for Kate?

Photo: Gavin via Chasing Rainbows Facebook Page

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  1. by Lisa

    On April 16, 2013 at 9:06 am

    I’m pretty sure she’ll win most likely to have you reach for the tissues next time around. I have cried all week for that sweet boy and his family.

  2. by Jenn

    On April 16, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    You’re not alone. Kate and her family have touched me so profoundly I’m considering going to the memorial service. I don’t live far. I don’t think Kate has any idea how life changing her blog has been for so many people. I am already a better parent from following her journey.

  3. by Mandy Casey

    On April 16, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    I don’t know Kate either, but I started following her shortly after finding her in your contest. I have spent way too much time this week crying for her, Ed, and Brian, and even Miss Sara just as I would a close “real life” friend that was going through this. Gavin has touched so many of us that never had the honor of meeting him.

  4. by Karen W

    On April 16, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    I don’t know Kate and have never read her blog, but this post has tears streaming down my face. It is true that there is no greater sense of community than the blogging community. I am headed to Kate’s blog now to share my support, and to share her story with my readers. My prayers go out to this family.

  5. by Troyce

    On April 16, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    I have known Kate for over 5 years now as our “pumpkin seeds” were born just a few days apart. She and her family has captured the hearts of so many in our group. Many of us are even making long long trips to come to pay our respect to her, sweet superhero Gavin, Ed and Brian. She has made me want to be a better mother, wife and person since the day I met her. Im in Oklahoma and will be making the long drive for many reason, but one is simply to say thank you. Thank you for sharing your life, your son and your family with us over all these years.

  6. by Andee Z

    On April 16, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    I found Chasing Rainbows through your contest and have been following Kate’s words since. It’s true – after a while, you feel like you know the blogger. I rejoiced when Gavin danced last Monday and commiserated with Kate when she learned his 6 year molars were coming on Tuesday.
    But my heart dropped on Wednesday after reading her first status on Facebook. And I haven’t been the same since. Thousands of us readers lost a small part of our hearts this week. And I know that thousands of us readers will continue to cover the Leong family in prayer.

  7. by Aimee H

    On April 17, 2013 at 8:15 am

    I virtually met Kate in 2006 on a parenting forum where we shared our pregnancies together. Myself and many other moms have been with her since the beginning. We call ourselves the imaginary friends and we are also known as the Pumpkin Seeds…we have shared every ups and downs over the last few years. Kate Ed Gavin Brian and Miss Sara are such truly amazing people. Many of us imaginary friends will be traveling in from all over the country to stand by their sides to celebrate this beautiful little super heroes life.

  8. by Jeremy

    On April 17, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    I also learned about Kate and her blog through the Best Blog Awards contest. She might be the strongest mother I will ever know.

  9. by Joanna

    On April 19, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Helplessness is exactly the right word. I know Kate only through her blog but my heart hurts for her and her family. My youngest daughter has many special needs and is medically fragile along with an intractable seizure disorder. As Kate requested in lieu of flowers, I donated to the Child Life Department of their hospital but I still felt so helpless. Then I had an idea born from the TinySuperheroes site that makes superhero capes; to honor who Gavin was to Kate, and to all of us, I ordered a Superhero cape for my youngest daughter and then ordered another one for “someone who needs one for their child but maybe can’t afford it” as a pay it forward in honor of SuperGavin.” At least, for the moment, I felt just a little less helpless.