(Written on 21 May 2020 by Joanna Blanding, Mateo’s mother.)
That evening, after we said “goodbye” to Mateo at the ICU, Mike and I headed over to the patio of our then-newly-found favorite restaurant, a short walk from home. We sat there looking out to the green field where we had previously imagined Mateo practicing his first steps.
Breaths were deep, tears were frequent, hearts were tender. It was not very long ago when we sat at the same place with Mateo and some friends. He was always a stellar company.
We had planned to stay out of the house for as long as possible that night. We were emotionally wiped out and hoped not to have to comfort my mom, our helper, and our older son. We felt selfish about whatever energy we had left. When we came home, everyone was still awake. We had to muster up droplets of our remaining strength. That night, we needed to be the stronger ones.
But that was the only time. All other days, we were vulnerable. We needed others to be strong for us. Looking back, we see how God's hand was at work though the people who stood by us. We did not break during those trying times. To this day, we are still intact. And that is only because of all of you.
Today, I attempt to recall all of the various ways you carried and continue to carry the burdens for us.
Rallying the pack, prayer sessions and food
Our dear friend, Pearl, picked up that someone had to lead a support team of some sort. So she took on that role valiantly. Despite her busy life as a bank manager, she put our case on top of everything else. She rallied people from church to join a WhatsApp group to pray consistently. The news spread beyond our church and the number of people praying for us blew up to hundreds.
The prayer sessions online and at the hospital, some of which ran 24/7 during Mateo’s critical days, gave us the daily courage we needed to face those long 14 days.
During the same period, friends like Kelly and Eric thoughtfully coordinated food deliveries so we didn’t have to think about our meals. Dozens of friends contributed. We always had a feast to return home to after our visits to the hospital.
Watching our household, meals together, and reminders
Our older son’s favorite adults and kids kept him very entertained. Some of them were Joy, Desiree, Clarissa, Celia, Cholo, Sara, Ricky, Dust, Gabe, Dolly, Kern, Keyanna, Paulo, Mai, VJ, Gabbie, Rapha, Javi. It was like Christmas time with all the toys he received.
Our pastors Joey, Joshua and their wives Marie and Nani tirelessly checked up on us, ate with us, and listened to us. Their wisdom and trust in God helped us process the most difficult decisions we had to make during Mateo’s critical days.
Our friends and wedding officiant pastors Neli and Tina kept worship going online even while they were miles away from us. They constantly reminded us that God's promises are good.
Bringing church to us, godparents, and gifts
Worship leaders from our church, some of whom we don’t even get to connect with regularly anymore because of “life’s busyness” set up church many nights at KK Hospital. Some of them were Denise, Calvin, Alarice, Joe, Laura, Anton, and so many others my memory fails me to remember.
A few nights before Mateo passed on, we held a simple dedication ceremony. It was to declare that we acknowledge that Mateo, like his brother André, is God’s, and that we are to parent him according to God’s ways. His “Ninongs” and “Ninangs” (godparents in Filipino) Paulo, Pearl, Neli, Tina, Kelly, Eric, Chrina and Jon (who flew from Manila amid Covid) carried our hearts when they were breaking.
People gave monetary gifts to lessen any financial burden during that period.
My staff in Manila put together this website initially purposed to share prayers for Mateo and our family.
We also received flowers constantly which livened up our home.
Hundreds of people, family and friends, even people we’ve not met before, sent over loving messages.
My parents-in-law braved a 20+ hour flight in and out of Singapore to show their support, all while the pandemic was first unfolding on both sides of the world. My mom wanted to be on call anything we needed her so she flew in twice from Manila during the period, and risked her freedom to go back due to the cancellations of flights because of Covid.
That night when Mateo passed away, while we were sitting on that patio, Mike and I decided we wanted to have a celebration of Mateo’s life. We didn’t want to have the typical wake and funeral service. There is good news, after all, that we’ve been left with—that he has joined our creator in heaven.
So with such a short notice, we shared with our support group our wish. They were just eagerly waiting for us to tell them what they could do for us. In barely four days, our dream celebration was put together.
We didn’t have to lift a finger.
The people we wanted to invite and can invite were contacted. We wanted more people to come, but there were already restrictions around the number of people allowed to gather due to Covid. The beautiful venue that we secretly imagined was booked and paid for. Food was prepared for us. The decors matched how charming Mateo was, and it felt like an extension of the gorgeous space the same friends designed for my baby Mateo shower. The program was thoughtfully planned and executed to give Mike and I some breathing space when we needed it. Friends gave speeches that we will treasure for a lifetime. Even the tokens for the organizers were purchased wrapped, and presented as if Mike and I thought them ourselves!
The days after a loved one’s death are often harrowing. A wake leading to the funeral usually involves sleepless nights and exhaustion among the family members. It’s also often costly. To this day, Mike and I can’t remember anything we had to do ourselves during those toughest days. Even the collection of Mateo’s ashes was done for us by a friend (thanks Pier)!
And so I share this very special event where we commemorated Mateo’s significant seven months of life. This was exactly two months ago today. Thanks once again to loving friends who made this memorable day possible—Pearl, Desiree, Joy, Celia, Paulo, Andrea, John, Maida, Suzanne, Angel, Dust, Gabe, and all the other guests.
And to everyone else who carried that burdens for us, we thank you once again from the bottom of our hearts. This time of grief has been purposeful so far. God has used you to make it so.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”--Galatians 6:2
Watch this short clip of our celebration of Mateo’s life.
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.
#MightyMateo's parents document their journey through grief towards healing.