Monday, June 3, 2013

The Story Behind The Story...

Yesterday, still sitting in a hotel room outside of Disney World, I opened up my email to see "YOU'VE MADE THE FRONT PAGE!"  A friend was writing to tell me that our story was in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  I clicked onto the Philly.com website and there we were!
You can see the entire piece by clicking HERE.  I'm also posting the extra photos the photographer sent me that they didn't use (with captions).

Clearly we knew the article was going to be published as we agreed to allow the journalist and photographer into our home for the interview.  Today I'm going to give you the back story and explain how this whole crazy thing came about.
He had me hold one of our frames that had photos of Gavin sitting up on the hospital chapel's altar and  a picture of the three of our hands as he lay dying.
When Ed and I met with the funeral director, he was explaining to us our obituary options.  I had this vision (which I now realize was a fantasy!) that I could write Gavin's obituary myself and it wouldn't be the little block kind, but the feature story kind with a photo.  Ed and I even agreed on the car ride over to the funeral home that we'd be willing to pay a little extra for the feature obituary.  But when we were given the prices (exorbitant, to say the least) and told that there was no guarantee that Gavin would be chosen as the feature obituary... I moved into Plan B mode.  My Plan B almost always involves calling my brother who seems to know everything and everybody.  I figured he HAS to know someone at the Inquirer!  Maybe... just maybe... he could find someone to pull a string or two for us.  I texted my brother and my sister in law, Jen... and Jen was ON THE CASE immediately and reached out to a friend.  What happened after that was very interesting.  I changed my mind about the obituary and kind of forgot about asking for a favor from the newspaper.  I mean, let's face it - my blog is like one big obituary and it's already been seen... a lot.  So the funeral came and went and we made do just fine with our little block death notice in the paper.  But...in a case of whisper down the lane, my blog was passed around the Inquirer and landed in the office of Michael Vitez who heard nothing about us wanting an obituary.  He read my blog and texted me this on May 7:

Kate, this is Michael Vitez at the Philly Inquirer.  (So and so) gave me your number.  I would like to tell your story for our readers.  So many amazing pieces - Gavin's life and death, the honesty and power of your blog, the amazing social media success, the money raised for DuPont because of your blog, and more.  Pretty extraordinary on many levels.  Hope you'll consider.  I've done this a long time and will treat you with dignity and compassion.

I googled him immediately and quickly realized - HOLY COW!  This guy was the real deal... and he won a Pulitzer Prize... and he wants to talk to... ME???  I was pretty shocked.  Then, when he said he wanted to come over to meet me and Ed and could he bring a photographer?  I got really nervous.  Then I jumped in my car to go to the pharmacy to buy that box color that you brush on your gray roots.  Priorities.  But then I really thought about it, before I said yes.  I wanted to be sure the purpose wasn't for mere publicity.  I don't care about that.  If I was going to do this, I really wanted the story to be two things:  inspirational to others who are struggling in life (with anything!) and another shot at bringing more money and awareness to the charities we've chosen.  Michael assured me that he'd tell the story well.
Our dining room table that is filled with cards, gifts, and items from the funeral.  I'm still finding homes for everything... it's overwhelming.  
He couldn't have been nicer (the photographer, too!) and he spent a little over two hours in our home.  We talked and talked - it's very easy for me to talk a lot when Gavin is the topic.  He even contacted the hospital and the Gift of Life Family House to talk to them about the donations that have been rolling in to honor Gavin.
The photo boards that are still intact from the funeral services.
As I sat in the Florida hotel room reading our story on the Philly.com site, it was very surreal.  Sometimes it feels like that over the top, dramatic life story is just that - a story - and it doesn't at all feel like mine.  But it is - and I'm proud of it.  Proud because I'm proof that you can overcome anything that comes your way.  (You really can!)  I felt like Michael did an exceptional job.  It's a tough task to put my life story, Gavin's life story and our married life story into a newspaper space - but he did it!!  I'm grateful for the experience and want to thank Michael Vitez for doing such a beautiful job.  I also want to thank him for choosing us.  It was such an honor.
On the wall in Gavin's room.
There was one part in the story that I got some heat for - the "rubbernecking comment" - and I want to explain that.

He asked me why I thought so many people came to my blog.  The reality is, the numbers jumped up significantly after Gavin went into the hospital.  I said that I thought people might have been drawn in by the tragedy - people usually stop to look when they see a tragedy.  Then I said that I couldn't imagine that people would stick around because of my writing - it's not that good!  That in a few months, when I go back to writing about what Brian had for lunch that people might stop reading.  Michael didn't think so.  He said my storytelling would keep people here.  His intention was to show that I don't give myself enough credit (which is a running theme in my life!) and not at all to offend my readers.  And I certainly don't feel that any of you are here for insincere reasons - I really don't.  I care about all of you very much and I'm grateful for your presence here.  I am very sorry for those of you who were hurt, offended or insulted because you took it in a way that wasn't intended.  Truly.

I did see much of the article ahead of time (although I missed the mistake about dates:  we met in 2002, were married in 2004 and Gavin was born in 2007) and asked him if he'd delete the "rubbernecking" comment (which wasn't even my word).  He assured me that when I saw it all together that I'd see that it was a big compliment.  By the time we got on the plane - before noon the day the article came out - I had received 22 emails already from readers who did NOT agree.  Some who said they'd never be back.  Why do I care so much?  Well... because I would never want to intentionally OR unintentionally offend anyone.  That's not what I'm about - at all.  And I certainly wouldn't set out to insult all of my readers.  That is just silly.  I am not judging anyone who read into this the wrong way - it happens!  I am asking you to not judge them either.  
The heart that Brian made at the hospital - hanging by the "invisible string" on Gavin's closet door.  This is what we all tug on each night to say goodnight to Gavin and tell him about our day.

So... the whole experience got me thinking...

How often do we judge other people - or ourselves -  based on how someone ELSE tells the story?  The story in this article is mine, but it is written by someone other than me.  Someone who has a different style, hears things from his perspective and writes it his way.  He was in charge of presenting me to the public - which is a lot of pressure for him!  (I think he did an excellent job.)  How often have you read an article about a celebrity (or non-celebrity) and walked away thinking that they came across like a big jerk?  You always have to keep in mind that when someone else tells the story - it doesn't always come across the way the actual person would tell it themselves.

In the same way, we as parents tell our child's story... verbally and, in my case, in written form (here forever and ever online).  I've been writing Gavin and Brian's story since they were born.  It's possible when Brian grows up he will read my blog and think, "Man - Mom got me all wrong."  I hope not - but it's possible!  I want Brian to grow up not accepting anything negative that anyone tells him about himself.  Or not assume personality traits that we might impose on him.  "He's our shy one"  "He doesn't like to... whatever"  I want him to be confident with who he is and know that that's enough.

Perhaps you grew up with a parent or are married to someone or have anyone else in your life telling you things about yourself that you felt conditioned to believe - that you were ugly... fat... stupid... lazy... no good... etc.  Take back that power!  They're just words!!  Someone ELSE'S words.  You are in control of your identity.  How you present yourself to the world should feel authentic - not based on other's views or feelings about you.  Don't believe you are supposed to live out the destiny of someone else's predictions for your life.  Assume that they didn't know any better - forgive them - and move on.  

Write your own story.  It will always be a best seller when it comes from YOU.



41 comments:

  1. Kate,
    You've done it again! You have made an excellent point and Have taught me another great life lessons! Thanks so much! Hugs to you and yours ♥

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  2. The last two paragraphs of this post... that's why I'll keep coming back even when you are writing about Brian's lunches. You have a way of sharing the day to day musings of motherhood and womanhood, but you still make it inspirational. As a single mom of a toddler managing my career and grad school, I don't have much time to spare. But I make time to read your posts because they help me refuel. So thanks for being so wonderful, relatable, and inspirational. :)

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  3. Terrific point. I've heard a quote somewhere that he who takes offense when offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when none is intended is a greater fool. I love that we have the power to choose our attitudes and reactions in life.

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  4. As a very new reader, I wasn't at all offended by the article in the paper! I did disagree with the sentiment as I do think it is actually your writing that keeps people coming back rather than the recent tragedy. Sadly I've read many blogs where the child passes away. I only started reading your blog as I was made aware of it AFTER Gavin was in the hospital--it was linked on another blog I followed.

    As a parent of a child who one day may pass away before me, I am inspired by you. So, thank you for continuing to write. And thank you for writing what you have so far.

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    1. Ugh--I need to proofread before I hit publish. I didn't quite convey the message I wanted up above. I hope it didn't come across as cold or callous--definitely not my intention.

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  5. Great post as always, hey I am not offended at all... I will say, that I found you, because another blogger friend read you, and when Gavin went into the hospital, she shared it in a big blogger group... us bloggers or at least some of us bloggers like to support each other. Once i was reading about Gavin being sick, I shared it with others to pray. other people probably did the same... I think if it weren't about a sick child, maybe so many people wouldn't have "rubbernecked " the site. But you know, he is so beautiful and it is so hard for any parent to realize this happened to someone so beautiful and that it can happen to anyone. i think there is a bond that parents have... just by being parents. reading your story made me make changes in my life... and made me a better mom.... I bet it did that for alot of others... but I think a lot of people found you, to support you and pray for you. at least that is why i found you and stayed AND you are a great writer...

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  6. As a reader, I twitched a little when I read the rubbernecking thing but only to re-evaluate my own stance.

    I thought about it, about why I read, and came to the conclusion that I read because I care. I care about you and Ed and Gavin and Brian.

    Why do I care? Well I care because you write so well that I get glimpses into your heart and I see (but cannot fathom) the pain you feel. I cant walk away from a person in pain, but equally I cant help you in anyway. I just hope that by reading your blog, hearing Brian and Gavin's stories I am standing by you in a token of solidarity. I hope that by knowing your stories I will be able to offer hope and comfort to others.

    Gavin and his stories are too wonderful to be lost. In knowing them, I carry the light and memory of a super little boy who deserves to be remembered.

    Equally, I am the sister of a little girl who died too soon. In many ways, I am Brian. I know what I felt when I was in his position and somehow hope that by reading your blog, I am rooting for him.

    I really hope this comment made sense. Kate, I love your writing, appreciate your thoughts and send much love to you all.

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    1. This--yes. Solidarity and empathy.

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  7. Kate, I just read the entire piece in the Philadelphia Enquirer...He did an AMAZING job telling your story and I have to admit, I was in the beginning a "rubbernecker" but, I take time every other day or so to catch up on your blogs. Your writing, your family and project Hope keeps me returning! I cannot wait to hear what Brian has for lunch, what he thinks about having another sibling, and hearing about that sibling and the relationship he/she has with Brian! Keep writing because it inspires us all to keep moving forward! God bless all of you!

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  8. Like usual, you made me cry. Kate your words sincerely touch my heart. I am, in fact, one of the "rubbernecking" readers. I was drawn to your blog after seeing a picture of your super hero Gavin on a friends wall. I took absolutely no offense to the comment and others shouldn't have either. Keep doing what you do best, and tell us the day to day play of your lives. I am now, and will always be a loyal reader.

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  9. Hi I am not sure how I found your blog and again I my heart goes out to you for your loss. I have been reading your story for awhile and so touched by your love spirit and dedication to do many things to benefit others as you heal yourself and family and the way you write and interpret every situation is so inspirational to me and I am sure Many others and just wanted to say thank you!

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  10. I also came upon your blog just recently, think you are a fantastic writer and have learned a lot about parenting from you, (even though my children are older!)...I do want to say this, and I haven't even read the article yet,but the truth is that there IS a certain amount of rubber-necking that goes on when there is a tragedy. My husband was killed in the World Trade Center and I was astounded how many people all of the sudden "glommed" onto my family .. it was just a little bizarre.

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    1. I am so sorry for your loss.

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    2. I wanted to respond to your comment directly (although I'm not sure if you'll come back to check), as well as leave a general comment for Kate.

      I was on the periphery of the WTC attack (residents of NY with our lives and friends there, but on sabbatical in Africa), and even though you're never supposed to say "I'm sorry" when someone grieves, I am sorry for your loss 12 years ago.

      I'm definitely "attracted" to tragedy because I want to walk with the people who are going through it, even if it's just for a little while. I think I've always been that way, but since I've also had a somewhat heavy share of grief myself, I can also deeply relate. (The title of my memoir is "Life in the Trenches" if that's any indication).

      I don't know, maybe it's weird, but I just want to cry with people, pray for them and be present (like for you, Kate). So not all rubbernecking is necessarily gawking. :-)

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  11. How beautifully written and what an amazing life lesson you have unfolded. I love your blog and plan to continue reading it even when it's about what your son had for lunch. You have a beautiful way with words.

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  12. I came to your blog right before Gavin went into the hospital. In fact the first blog I read was about him using the Big Button. I have continued to come back because you are in every essence raw, and pure in your words, your emotions, your love, and your convictions. Your words are inspiring, enlightening and truly a lesson for the soul. I've cried, I've laughed, I've ached, and I've felt pride when reading your blogs. I feel as if I am a part of your extended family. I truly look forward to the notification popping up that you've written another blog. No, you don't give yourself enough credit. I think that was Gavin's goal for you, for you to realize just how important and inspirational you have become to him, Brian, Ed, Miss Sara, your family and eery one of us that read your blog, cry with you, smile with you, and celebrate with you. Thank you for the privilege to be able to be a part of your family. Peace be with you :-)

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  13. I understand what you mean by people being drawn in by a tragedy. In all honesty I was drawn in by your story because of it. Since then I have fallen in love with you, Ed, Gavin, Brian and Sarah. I pray daily for your little "Hope" growing inside of you. Kate you write such a honest tenderness that has captivated me. I plan on reading about just a day you made lunch for Brian. Thank you for sharing with us.

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  14. One more word about the "rubbernecking" comment, for those who may not know: Print journalists have very strict word and/or inch counts. They cannot exceed them. Had he used Kate's actual words "people drawn by the tragedy" that would have added an entire line to his article--and the article had A LOT to say. Saving as much space as possible was vital. So he chose to use rubbernecking, saving space and words. The word effectively summed up Kate's point, unfortunately with negative connotations she had not intended.

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  15. I started reading when Momastery posted the night you were following Gavin to the hospital. I have two sons and couldn't stop thinking of your family. I got attached to you guys, and plan to keep reading :)

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  16. What a silly thing for readers to get offended over. I was drawn to your story, as I'm a mom who also lost one of my sons who happened to have special needs. It's as simple as that. I don't see where you said anything rude at all. It's very sweet of you to care what anyone would think about that comment!

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  17. Your last few lines have given me such a lift on a bad morning. Thank you for sharing your writing. I think you underestimate yourself - I found your blog over a year ago and stuck around because of concepts like "love-bombing." Wishing you a good day from London.

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  18. I'm in a crossroads of my life trying to decide which direction to go. Your words "Don't believe you are supposed to live out the destiny of someone else's predictions for your life. Assume that they didn't know any better - forgive them - and move on." are exactly the encouragement I need to stand tall and be myself today. Thank you for your honest perspective and your compassion to all.
    Tiffany

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  19. I heard about your blog when Gavin went into the hospital. The story broke my heart, but the way you were so honest and raw and vulnerable kept me coming back every day. And now, the way you write, I feel as though I know you. I grieve with you and I felt so HAPPY to see all of the smiles in your Disney pictures! So I was drawn in by the tragedy...because as a mom, it felt wrong NOT to hear your story...and I will stay for as long as you care to write because I am inspired. And because truly I deeply care. God Bless you.

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  20. So thankful that Gavin's story was published. It is truly the story of a little hero. Our church family lost a 5 year old about a week ago. He was diagnosed with a kidney disease around Christmas,had both kidney's removed a few weeks ago,was home with his family awaiting a transplant from an uncle in July. He spent the day at the local zoo with his parents and 2 younger brothers on Sunday. Just after midnight Monday morning he suddenly passed away. We have not heard the reason as yet,it was very unexpected. Mom is expecting another little brother anytime. His story made the front page of our local newspaper. It,too,was a story to be told.

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  21. Kate-I have to admit I did cringe for you when I read the rubbernecking part of the article...but knew that there was no way you would intend for it to sound the way some could potentially interpret it. It is unfortunate that people cannot step outside of themselves before heaping their negative feelings onto you...one who has been through so much and has so graciously opened her heart and family to us all. I do hope you will continue to write and not let a few sensitive folks impact your honest heartfelt writing that the rest of us have found so refreshing and hopefilled. I think of you often and hold positive thoughts for all of you, including your new Project :)

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  22. I'm a reader who joined shortly before Gavin died. I haven't yet read the article but I wanted to share why I joined. I'm not sure how I was lead here, but as soon as I "met" all of you, I was captivated. Already, I have cried along side you and I am just another person who shares in honoring and remembering Gavin. Part of it, sure, is curiosity, but that curiosity that made me read the first post turned immediately into love and inspiration. I have donated to your causes and have become a daily reader.

    Wishing you all the best. I'm hear for the long haul.

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  23. Thank you for being so open, thank you for letting us into your world. I cannot imagine having all of these events happen to me, but I hope and pray for you all everyday...Ed, Brian, Gavin, and Project Hope. May you all continue to live life to the fullest, rembering the past as the road to the future. May you be blessed as you go on your way.

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  24. I do not take offense to the "rubbernecking" comment and I am surprised that some readers were so harsh. I am drawn in by your honesty, your raw emotions, your kindness and I will continue to read until you stop writing. You make me strive to be a better person, wife, mom. Thank you for sharing your world with us.

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  25. I am inspired by you...recently, I found I have breast cancer and you make me feel stronger and not so alone...

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    1. Ann Dillon TannousJune 4, 2013 at 2:27 PM

      (((Elena))) sending you prayers and good wishes. I went through this last year. Still here, thank God!

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  26. Ann Dillon TannousJune 4, 2013 at 2:18 PM

    Dear Kate, I haven't read the article yet, but I'm sure you didn't mean it the way some apparently took it. You have shown in words and actions how much you have appreciated everyone's love and support.
    Since you mentioned that readership went up dramatically when Gavin went in the hospital, i can give you one possibility. At least it was so for me. There is a two year old little boy, Tripp Halstead, in Georgia. His skull was crushed by a falling tree limb while playing outside at daycare. One of my friends follows him on facebook and I started following his progress also. He has thousands of fb followers. That bad Friday someone posted to please, please pray for this other little boy, Gavin, who desparately needed our prayers, and gave the link. I went immediately to your site. I saw two things: Please pray for a miracle, and There will be no miracles today. When I finished crying there was literally, literally a puddle on the floor. I have been following and thinking of and praying for you and your family ever since. I'm sure it is the same for many of your readers who seemed to suddenly appear. They were directed to you by Tripp's page or someone else's page. And Gavin's sweet, sad story broke our hearts and we have stayed to support you ever since. Thank you for letting us help and be a tiny part of your life.We really do love you and your family.

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    1. I follow Tripp on Facebook as well and that's exactly how I found this blog. I love you and your family as well, Kate. Keep doing what you do. You go girl!

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  27. Kate, I've been reading your blog since I came across a request for prayers when Gavin got so sick. Your family has been through the wringer and yet still has hope and I admire that greatly. The rubbernecking comment (in context) is not a judgement against the readers of this blog and if people were offended, it's their issue. They can chose to be offended or chose to accept context behind the comment. There is nothing you or Michael can do to control that.
    I wish your family only good things and the comfort of wonderful memories of Gavin!

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  28. Funny that you should say that. I started reading your blog after seeing Momastery post on FB. It's such a compelling story, and for me, what drew me in was the age gap between your boys - it's about the same age gap as my boys. My family is now going through our own issues (my oldest is in the picu at the local children's hospital), and before your article came out, I began feeling the same way about our situation. I have never had so many "friend" requests as I have the past 3 weeks. The thing is - I get it. I was drawn in to your story, and it gives me a better perspective as to why people are drawn to mine. Thank you for continuing to share your story with brutal honesty.

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  29. Look, don't apologize. People do rubberneck. It's like reality tv. And you had some ugly proof of this in the folks who wanted to score off your "success". I'm glad you...or he...called it out. The fact that folks reacted strongly shows you were more right then you knew. Truth is important.

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  30. Wonderful post. Best wishes to you and your family.

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  31. I just found your blog through the inquirer article and I think you are such an inspiration. Despite all of your tragedies, you go on and blossom. I only wish I had as much courage and strength as you and your family! Thank you for sharing your story and reminding us all to be grateful all the time despite what is going on!

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  32. Hi Kate! I was a new reader when Gavin was near passing. I found your site off of facebook, and I did come because I was interested in your tragedy- as bad as that sounds. What I got when I came here was so much more than I ever thought I would find. I expected a few tears and laughs, and you didn't dissapoint. But I think the human aspect that you deliver so elloquently to your readers is what's kept me looking forward to your stories daily. I already started reading the past blogs that I missed and I won't miss anymore let me tell you. I feel like I know you on some levels, and I find myself admiring you and even (yea) envying you. Through all of your success, heartbreak and happiness and misery, you keep going. Every day. That is why I keep coming back, and why I will always follow your blog above all others. You inspire me to have a better outlook daily, be a better mom daily, and to just be thankful for what I have. You've (as well as Gavin) inspired me to become an organ donor- who knew all the statistics on donors and those waiting on lists for donated organs!!!??? So thanks Kate! Bring on the blogs about Brian's lunchs! We're all ready and waiting for them!

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  33. Hi. Wanted to publicly have my say here, too, even though you know I would have never lead the piece with that quote. If a journalist put a word in your mouth that you did not say, whether or not it was for space reasons as a reader mentions above, he should have run it by you. As an editor, sometimes I do go back to people and ask if they will say something different or in a different way. At magazines, we have researchers who run quotes by people; newspapers don't have that. But I would never publish a word that a subject of an article didn't say, and in that, this journalist did you a disservice (I guess he's since removed it, because I didn't see that word in the online article). Still, you do not owe anyone apologies. Good people come here because they care about you, and because you write beautifully. Period.

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  34. I started reading when Gavin went into the hospital, thanks to Danielle Wann posting a link on Facebook. I don't read every day, but when I have a chance to I read a few posts. I come for the story, your writing style, the inspiration of your strength, and more. Thank you for your words in this post - they are applicable to an issue in my life right now.

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  35. I am here because of Hope! A friend shared your status on Facebook. I just had to read about a baby named Hope. Little did I know she was part of such an amazing family. I am reading old posts and enjoying every minute!

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