By Mateo's mom, Joanna Blanding.
The past weekend was packed with socials more than I've been used to lately.
I've dramatically turned into both an introvert and anti-social in the past year.
For all of my 20s, I dreaded not seeing friends for longer than, maybe, two days. I was always on a mission to meet someone new every week. In my early 30s, I've learned to value staying at home by myself or with my family to re-energize. That's when I realized I had turned into an introvert (getting my fuel back from being alone) while still being reasonably social.
Mateo's death plus COVID did something to my appetite towards small talks, big-group gatherings, and overall relationships with people.
I can count with both hands the people I feel quite comfortable seeing in person and confide to. I can somehow make room for a couple more people, but I would need to deliberately muster the energy for these meetings. So far, I always come home thankful that I went out and pushed myself.
I am surprisingly excited, however, whenever I need to talk to someone new about business. My past extroversion gets resurrected. If I try to analyze it, it's perhaps because my work has allowed me to give birth to so many things. That is in stark contrast to the death of lives and dreams I've experienced in the past years.
And like in most death experiences, we bury bodies, heartaches, pain, and many things in the past. While I crave conversations about Mateo because they keep him alive in the spirit, there are plenty of things that I have refused to go back to in the past year.
One of which is the memory of our last trip to the Philippines.
In February 2020, we traveled to introduce Mateo in person to our Filipino family. Our excitement was beyond what we could all contain. As March that year was our fifth wedding anniversary, we had also arranged to take a couple's getaway to the beautiful beaches in Palawan during the same trip.
We had planned everything to the tee. The kids were to enjoy time with the cousins, aunties, uncles, and grannies, while Mike and I were to rekindle marital sparks by being away for a little while from both kids.
The kids had a grand time. Mike and I had some of the most scenic and sweetest moments together too.
Little did we know that our return to the city to pick up our kids would be the third to the last day we'd ever see our dear Mateo conscious.
And everything else that followed is wholly embedded in my memory and has changed our lives forever.
I used to feel repugnant thinking about that Manila trip. There was, and maybe still is, self-blame ("Why did we leave the kids behind?"). Once in a while, I catch myself mentally blaming people who interacted with Mateo during his time in the Philippines.
Today, I went through the photos finally. There is still discomfort when I look at them. But it's no longer that strong aversion that made me shut off from everyone related to that trip—my family, our helper, friends in Manila, our two dear friends who joined us to Palawan, etc.
Is it because a fair amount of time had passed? I don't think so. Because if time indeed heals all wounds, why does the ache for Mateo still feel the same as day one? What allows me to remain in loving relationships with my family, our helper, and friends who my mind is telling me are to be blamed for my loss? What sustains me from the temptation to self-blame when things are quiet, and I miss Mateo so much?
They said it's grace. I remembered about grace. Perhaps it's grace. It should be grace. I want to believe it's grace.
The #MightyMateo Legacy lives on.
Our little Mateo was highly involved in our efforts to fight online sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines during his seven months of life. We believe that he'd love for us to continue this legacy.
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#MightyMateo's parents document their journey through grief towards healing.