Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Our Family Heirloom...

Before I even start writing - I need to tell you how important this journal entry is to me. And always will be. My plan is to just write as I think and let it all come out and hope it all makes sense in the end.  It's a journal entry about a chair and all that has fit in it and, well, let's begin....

I remember being in the baby store. A swanky baby store because we were expecting our first child, a son we would name Gavin, and you go "all out" for the first. I remember telling Ed that we really needed to splurge on a great nursery rocker - one that was neutral so we could use it for future children whether they were girls or boys. I instantly fell in love with a chair and knew the second Ed sat in it - and pictured himself holding his son - he'd be sold, too. A few weeks later, the chair was being carried into the nursery. And, after what seemed like an eternity, the son we bought it for would finally be home from the NICU to spend many hours rocking on his Mommy's chest.
The chair became the spot for all the important photos and the "just because" photos and all the photos in between.
I blinked and before we knew it, Brian was sitting in the chair.
Some of my very favorite photos have this overpriced chair as a backdrop. And some of my very favorite memories are the nights I spent rocking or nursing or reading or even sleeping steps away from a sick child. 
Then...our world was turned upside down. Gavin was dead. Dead. I might have found myself avoiding his room - that chair - if it weren't for Brian. Brian took over Gavin's bed and soon we found ourselves sitting there, grieving together, in that familiar chair.

Soon, we were decorating another nursery and the chair was moved again. The very day we brought Hope home from the hospital, we met our photographer friend in the nursery for family photos. 
And the cycle started again creating new memories with the newest member of the family.
That "overpriced" rocker has become priceless. If it could talk... oh, the stories it would tell.

As we settled into our "new life" without Gavin and with Hope, I got a message from a friend. Her brother, who was once the on air host of two PBS shows called "Noodle and Doodle" and "The Sunny Side Up Show," had an idea for a TV show and was wondering if we'd be interested in participating. Sean had always been a fine artist and wanted to incorporate that talent into a show. The concept was to talk to a family who wanted a portrait done - and then follow Sean as he completes the painting. Then, of course, there's the big reveal of the portrait to the family. I had been dreaming of a way to have a photo - not even a painting - that would include all four of our children: Gavin, Brian, Darcy and Hope. That became the theme. We immediately agreed and he set up the shoot.

Sean came over with a camera crew and spent the afternoon at our home.  It was an easy day for us. All we were obliged to do was talk about Gavin and that was exactly what we did. It was (and is) one of my favorite pastimes so I enjoyed the day immensely. Sean took notes and sketched out a plan for his portrait. He said he'd come up with a clever way to include Darcy, which intrigued me very much.

A lot of time went by. Every once in a while I would remember and wonder what was happening with the show or the painting. Then, just a few weeks ago, Sean contacted me and wanted to set up a time to deliver the portrait. He told me a lot had changed. Painting our children had been a very emotional experience for him and he poured his heart into every detail. During that time he also decided his heart wasn't in the TV concept anymore. He needed to get back to painting and creating in the studio. And that's just what he did. He's an extremely talented artist. You can check out his work HERE.

The day came for the reveal and I couldn't wait. I had no expectations - and really had no idea what to expect. I videotaped Sean revealing the painting to me. It was just Hope and I at home that afternoon - Ed would see it soon after (and burst into tears). Watch the video...
Incredible, right? 
Ed and I couldn't wait to show Brian when he got home from school. Here was his reaction...

The details in this portrait are remarkable. It looks as perfect as a photograph! He got every feature of Gavin's right from his smile, his hair, his skin color - and even the visible veins in his temples.
And he perfectly painted Gavin's eyebrows and eyes which were not your typical shape.
Hope's likeness is also spot on from her head shape to her beautiful eye color. He had a lot of photos to use as reference and I didn't give him any input as to what clothes I preferred or anything. I was so happy to see Hope in what was my favorite infant shirt of hers. I always loved how feminine she looked in the dusty rose and ruffles.
He even got her perfect little mouth just right.
His painting of Brian is just incredible. He captured his bright eyes and long lashes - his hair color - his smile...
He captured the entire essence of him, really. 
But I'm sure you noticed the biggest details. Gavin is holding Hope - something we know has probably happened, but we have never been able to witness. Seeing them in each other's arms immediately took our breath away. 
I love seeing their hands together and his arms wrapped around her. 
Seeing Brian squished up next to his brother - like he always was in pictures - warmed our hearts in the most bittersweet way. And, of course, they are all together in that familiar nursery rocker. I'm pretty confident that rocker will always  be in our family. It's become even more valuable thanks to Sean.
 I bet you're wondering how he incorporated Darcy. She is symbolized - as are many other things - on Brian's jacket. The number 5 1/2 is very symbolic to us and that started with her. 
I delivered Darcy in the 5th month of May - when I was 5 1/2 months along - and it took me 5 1/2 days laboring in the hospital before her body would leave mine. Gavin would die at the age of 5 1/2. And my sister pointed out to me when she came to meet Hope in the hospital that Hope's time of birth was written out as half past five. Coincidence? Or proof that connections are deep and strong.

We will never be able to repay Sean for this portrait. It will be our treasured family heirloom, for certain.

I want to end by thanking everyone who participated in Gavin's Usborne "Bookraiser!" It was a huge success. We sold $2,086.88 in books which translated to 219 books sold - and 51 of those books were donated straight to the two organizations we chose. I now have $800 to spend on books to split between the Child Life Department at Nemours A.I. duPont Hospital for Children ("Gavin's Hospital") and the Chester County Intermediate Unit (Gavin's "school" for therapy and teacher services). To say I am thrilled about all of this would be a huge understatement. And so is Brian. The two of them loved to read books together. 
If you missed the speech that Brian wrote and delivered on video thanking everyone who participated, here you go!

I know Gavin is smiling for all the children who will now enjoy new books in so many different circumstances. I'll be buying many copies of the book "Here in the Garden" so the Child Life Department can gift it to any children who have lost a sibling at the hospital. It's a nice alternative to "The Invisible String" which Brian received as a gift from them after Gavin died. Here is the book description from the Usborne website:
"This extraordinary picture book about loss, love and friendship shows that we can always find our way back to a loved one through our hearts and our memories."

The "Bookraiser" is over, but if you feel like you missed out and still want to remember Gavin on the third anniversary of his death with a book, I can make that work. Just message me through this blog or my Facebook page.

Thank you to my incredible niece, Emily, for hosting this great book party in her cousin's memory. And thank you, as always, to all of you. For still being here three years later. For caring about our little family. And for helping us get through each anniversary in ways that bless so many others in Gavin's name.

**Don't forget! You can follow me on Instagram @kategavinsmom and follow me on Facebook at Chasing Rainbows Blog. You can also follow me on Twitter @kateleong.***


  1. Oh my goodness, the painting took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. How perfectly beautiful <3

  2. The portrait is breathtaking, Kate. What a wonderful heirloom to cherish forever!

  3. Kate, what a beautiful portrait of all your gorgeous children together. It is truly a beautiful gift and one you shall treasure always. Thank you for sharing with me. I adore you and your family. Sending much love to you and yours! Tracy K

  4. wow, that painting is absolutely incredible! So gorgeous and I love how Gavin is holding Hope.

  5. That is stunningly beautiful, just priceless and so, so lifelike I can truly understand Ed's reaction. The first picture of all of your children together. What an amazing talented artist.
    I love how when you organise events to honour Gavin, you make sure that those of us not in the US can still participate in honouring Gavin with you. Thank you.

  6. What a beautiful portrait. You can tell it was made with love at its core. The chair is perfect! It holds all your children, with the utmost of comfort and security. Much love to all of you.


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