(By Joanna Blanding)
André just turned three. He’s very well. Loving Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig. And has a knack for cracking jokes like his father. Say “I’m hungry” and he returns with, “Hi Hungry! I’m André. Nice to meet you.”
Having been born and raised in Singapore, he has all his needs constantly met excellently.
Within his reach are beautiful sprawling nature parks, quality food of all cuisines, top-notch healthcare, exceptional public transportation, spectacular world-class events, exposure to all of the world’s interesting cultures, and the security of a well-functioning government.
Let’s not forget that his country of residence is home to the finest airline and airports.
If you would allow me to loosely use the word that anyone presented with these privileges in life is inclined to be, I’d say, he’s quite spoiled.
So we, his parents, try as much as we can, to watch out for signs of entitlement and to nip them in the bud.
My childhood was very different. I didn’t have the easiest experience, let alone photobook-worthy stories to share. Every fun memory is always marred with a little bit or a lot of drama. Nevertheless, I’ve learned how to be thankful for them. I’ve become very resilient over the years.
Because of fear that he may never build the stamina, perseverance and discipline needed in life that one can get from struggling, I sometimes devise plans in my head to deliberately present him with difficulties.
The most I’ve done as a mom has been to limit the number of his toys to the amount his one-square-meter shelf can hold, and sometimes to let him cry for dessert all he wants and not give in.
Reflecting on his last three years of life, he’s actually been through more challenges in life than we can ever imagine.
Among the lemons life has thrown his way so far, it’s having had to deal with both temporary and permanent goodbyes.
Being oceans away from both our families, every happy and sweet get-together with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins ends with a longing for the next far-off reunion. While not always a tearful ending to trips, the next few days are always full of inquiries as to where his recent playmates have gone. Even if we decide to move to either the Philippines or the USA, we’ll always be far from one side of the family. It’s a reality we’ve accepted when Mike and I got married.
On the note of permanent goodbyes, he unknowingly had to say farewell to one of his grandfathers, my dad, when he was two. Sadly, André has never met him. It was due to irreconcilable differences among families that resulted in our relationship with him being “taken away.” He’s heard of his Filipino grandfather because I would tell him about him. He even had a framed photo of him so he’d recognize him when we’re finally given a “chance” to see him. That never happened. When we went to the wake, he was not even recognized by relatives, let alone his existence acknowledged—a bitter result of my illegitimacy as a daughter of my father. I would never wish for anyone to be treated that way. I’ve surrendered those old feelings of hurt, and have forgiven. I’m hopeful now that André will meet his Lolo Ernesto in heaven one day.
And the most unexpected goodbye he had to make was to Mateo.
André has always loved his younger brother from the day he was born. Many people had asked how we manage André’s feelings of jealousy. “Does he resent that he’s no longer the center of attention?” many have asked. Thankfully, we’ve never seen that in André. If anything, he would scold us whenever we showed less care towards Mateo than he’d expect from us.
“How has André been coping with losing his best friend,” you might ask.
He’d ask about Mateo once in a while, more often during bedtimes. While he’s been told that he’s not going to see his brother again here on earth, he still sometimes asks when Mateo will ever come back from the hospital.
Most recently, while we were playing, he stopped and said, “Mommy, I’m sad. I miss Mateo so much. I love my brother so so much.” I held back tears. I didn’t want him to stop opening up.
I said, “André, I miss him so much too. Why don’t you pray to Jesus to tell Him to give you dreams and memories of Mateo?”
He murmured on the side as if talking to Jesus.
He responded, “Mommy, I asked Jesus to bring back Mateo, and he’ll be here with us tomorrow.”
I had to catch my heart.
I believe that kids are resilient. So he’ll heal from his own loss of his brother. But I can’t help but wonder what’s really going on in a three-year-old’s mind when they lose someone they love.
If you’re reading this and have experienced losing a sibling when you were young, or a parent losing a child while left with other children, I’d love to hear about your experience. We’d love for André to never ever forget about his brother even when he’s older.
The #MightyMateo Legacy lives on.
Our little Mateo was highly involved in our efforts to fight online sex trafficking of children in the Philippines during his seven months of life. We believe that he'd love for us to continue this legacy.
#MightyMateo's parents document their journey through grief towards healing.