Monday, April 15th, 2013
This 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