We've Said “Goodbye” To Our Mateo
(Written on March 20, 2020, by Joanna Blanding, mother to Mateo)
It's been four days since our beloved little Mateo passed on.
The doctors suspected brain death as early as March 6. Subsequently, he was pronounced brain dead on March 10.
It was devastating news.
The docs asked us, "Would you like us to legalize his death now on paper? Alternatively, we can pull off the ventilator and his heart will stop within minutes."
Those were not the options we were okay to hear.
We wanted a third option.
"If you say that he's brain dead, then we'll wait for his heartbeat to naturally stop," my husband said to which I had already agreed. We didn't have to tell the doctors that we were believing for a miracle.
Docs say they won't accede to that request, unfortunately. The body may continue to have a heartbeat with the help of the ventilator for days and weeks. Not unplugging is just "delaying the inevitable," in their words. The body will start deteriorating and it'll be evident in the skin. "You wouldn't want to see your child in that condition."
If Mateo is already dead, why would they be so concerned about the quality of his body? We were thinking beyond the body.
"Is it because of religious belief?" one of the doctors asked.
"We don't have to explain ourselves, doctor. It's our personal decision," Mike kindly responded.
The doctors and their team looked very stressed. We were stubborn. They had to explain what brain death is to us all over again.
Brain death is the total and irreversible loss of all brain functions. When the brain is dead, the human is dead, medically speaking.
We knew it was that. We knew Mateo was physically dead.
But also, he still had breath in his lungs and blood pumping through his heart.
We were thinking, if God will choose to do a miracle, this is the best time. It'll be so like His style to pull off His trick when things are impossible in human sense. We had hope in us.
We just had to buy time from the doctors. We didn't want to make any decision between the two options we were given. They were kind enough to give us a few days.
Mike and I walked out of the doctors' room quietly.
There is nothing usual and light about the conversation. It wasn't like the news I had received before that our family had gone bankrupt—a few times over in my younger years. It wasn't like that call reporting that my parents had been taken hostage in 2005. It wasn't like that time when Mike said he got retrenched at work and we might have just a few months to stay in Singapore while I was seven months pregnant. It wasn't even like the message I received less than two years ago that my father had passed on. This felt very different. This news pierced me inside so deeply that it challenged my belief for a moment that there is a God.
"Are you really there?"
"If you are, are you going to come through?"
"I feel so hurt! Why wouldn't you make it stop?"
These were just some of the dozens of thoughts that I had as Mike and I were sitting at the waiting room at the ICU reeling from the recent words we had just heard.
We walked back to Mateo's room. I cried so much beside him. I heard myself sobbing like a little child to her Daddy. I was pleading. I was asking all the questions I had. I was pouring out my heart to this Daddy who I can't seem to deny is there.
Two of our pastors and their wives came into the room. I was oblivious of their presence. They have been very good to us. All I could say was, "Wash your hands."
I curled up in the chair in the room, crying like a baby. I wanted to tell the people in the room, "Please ask God to listen to my cries, please. I'm getting tired." But I was exhausted, so I just gave the ladies a dull hug and walked out.
That late afternoon, Mike and I went to bed and slept for 14 long hours.
The morning felt different from the time we cried ourselves to sleep. There was new energy so we could get up, play with our other child, and go back to see Mateo again in the hospital.
This couldn't be more true:
"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." — Lamentations 3:22-23
Key, I guess, was sleep. You won't get new mercies if you don't sleep.
That steadfast love we felt that morning wasn't the sort that'll make us want to party. It was just the right amount to make us not despair.
So we went back to Mateo to face the new phase of the battle—to believe for the impossible.
Mike and I, once again, agreed that we wouldn't be the ones pulling the plug, nor giving that command to the doctors. We will pray for a miracle and believe it with all our hearts that God can still wake him up from being brain dead, if God chooses that. After all, Jesus, God, made Lazarus rise from the dead (John 11:38-44)!
As a friend described it, "It is a ridiculous thing to believe in." But a valid belief nonetheless because that's what God said,
Jesus replied, "Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. — Matthew 21:21
So we kept praying, kept asking for prayers from our prayer warriors, and believed the prayers with all our hearts.
The days weren't easy. Each time we'd wake up, we just had enough sustenance to go about our days. There were a lot of tears. Reading encouraging messages from friends made the burden lighter. And whenever we ended the day with Mateo still unconscious, we'd pray to God that he'd give us the strength to face the next day and whatever it would hold for us.
For six days, we walked around the hospital, between it and our house, and to a nearby mall for a change in scenery carrying the fact that we had a son in a bed—pronounced medically dead.
From the day Mateo was admitted to the hospital to the day before he passed on, we had friends come to the hospital's atrium to worship and pray. These sessions increased our resolve to keep believing in God in spite of the troubles. Words from the Bible were spoken. And we can't deny the truth of those words. We have learned, especially in the last three years through the Alpha course, how indisputable the Bible is. Even archaeology and world-renowned scientists talk about the veracity of the Bible—and anyone else can have the chance to see that for themselves only if they give it a chance before dissing it without fair inspection.
I could have lost my faith in God if I didn't expose myself to the words of the Bible through friends praying it over us over a chat group, personal messages, or praying them over us in person. I can't deny the power of those words.
In the morning of March 16, we sought out a second opinion from a friend's paediatric neurologist friend. We were actually just buying time from Mateo's doctors, so we don't have to make the decision ourselves about pulling the plug.
We didn't know what we wanted to hear from the doctor. Firstly, Mateo's doctors are exemplary. They cared for Mateo so well and did their best to keep him alive. But we thought it would give us peace of mind if we take another earthly step as his parents.
This doctor reinforced what we had already heard from Mateo's doctors. She also took on a Christian perspective, being a believer herself. If I remember it correctly, she affirmed the trickiness of standing between science and faith.
In my head, which I was very unenergetic to utter, "Science and faith can coexist. We can do what we can based on what we know, and have faith in God to make it right, whether we do things correctly or incorrectly."
This reminded me of Mike's response to my anxious commentary about the ICU situation around Mateo during his last days. I said, "We need to talk to the doctors and nurses. They are no longer giving Mateo any more of the usual interventions as before his brain death." I felt that the doctors were really resolved that Mateo was dead, afterall, medically, he was.
Mike comforted me and said, "Okay, we can ask the doctors why that is so. But if we are going to believe in God's miracle, we should just let the doctors do what they think they need to do or not do, and let God do His thing despite that."
The doctors also explained to us that it would be futile at that point to be providing medical interventions apart from the ventilator because Mateo's body won't be responding anyway.
For me, we agreed to both science and faith.
Two other things can coexist apparently—pain and faith. We are not necessarily free from pain as we believe in God. The strength that people say they saw in us as we were facing this battle was "impressive." I had to think over again what "strength" they were seeing. I guess it was the grace of God that comes from admitting to Him that we are in pain, and believing that He will take us through it.
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. — 2 Corinthians 12:9
As we couldn't control Mateo's situation anymore, we focused on what we can control: our attitude towards our marriage by loving and serving each other, and our relationship with our family and friends—particularly our parents.
In the afternoon of March 16, we received a call from one of our pastors. He knew what had been going on. He suggested that we ask our parents what they would do if they were in our situation.
We had not involved them in the decision making process at that point. We thought of so many repercussions of doing so: it might burden them, or we might feel pressured to accede to their preference.
That same afternoon, we decided to sit with Mike's parents at one point, and with my mom on another instance. They were both very meaningful and touching conversations. We felt they were honored by us asking for their opinion.
As soon as we had finished talking to them, the ICU called.
"Daddy and Mommy, you should come here, Mateo's heartbeat had dropped so much."
Strangely, we didn't panic upon hearing that. My heart made a sad face but not a bawling one.
As we were packing up at the restaurant ten minutes after the previous call, the nurse called again, "Daddy and Mommy, Mateo's heart has stopped."
Mike and I held hands, took a taxi and headed to Mateo.
God heard our plea that if He would choose to take Mateo, He just puts his heart to rest without us having to do it ourselves.
We spent about an hour, just us, carrying our son in our arms one last time. He had gained so much weight because of inflammation. Despite that, he still looked adorable, not in any way looking deteriorated as the doctors warned us if he stayed brain dead for longer on a ventilator.
Mike sang to him "Summertime" one last time. It's the kids favorite song for when we put them to sleep.
Mike wrote this update to our prayer warriors:
"We believed with all of our hearts until Mateo’s last breath that God would show up and do something miraculous. And in hindsight, God did show up. God did do something miraculous with Mateo’s seven-month life. It wasn’t the miracle that we had been praying for, but it’s the miracle that God chose. So it’s the miracle that we will rejoice in.
While we’ll never know why this has all happened, we do know, without a shadow of a doubt, that our God is so good. Our God is so faithful. And while Mateo’s earthly life may be over, Mighty Mateo’s miracle is not over. God is still moving through Mateo’s story."
On March 21, we celebrated Mateo's life with a few friends and our family here in Singapore. Here is a video that summarizes, though not capturing the entire picture of it, Mateo's short but impact-filled seven months of life.
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.
3/22/2020 06:11:37 am
Love you Mateo.
3/22/2020 07:42:28 am
My dear, this pain you're experiencing is beyond this world. Sending you love and support whenever you need. Sending our love and prayers to Mateo too 🙏
3/22/2020 08:27:23 am
Praying for your family. 🙏
3/22/2020 08:37:13 am
Love and prayers for you, Jo-e & Mike.
3/22/2020 08:47:44 am
I may never met you Mateo, but you and your family has touched me in a lot of ways. You are an angel, a blessing to everyone around you. Thank you for sharing this Jo-e, makes me cry. You and Mike are so brave and strong! Virtual hugs!
3/22/2020 08:55:00 am
We will see you again, Mighty Mateo. Thank you Michael & Jo-e for sharing your son's life with us.
3/22/2020 08:57:09 am
My heart breaks for you, joey and mike. Sending love and prayer from the phils
3/22/2020 09:00:16 am
God be with you all as Mateo takes his rest with our King of Kings. Sending many prayers and all the love you can stand.
3/22/2020 09:36:01 am
Thank you for sharing so transparently Jo-e. Those who look upon the Lord shall not be put to shame. We will see Mateo again, soon and very soon. Praying for you and your family. Hugs.
3/22/2020 09:39:58 am
No words... just tears. 😢 Praying for God’s comfort and strength to you and your family, Jo-e. 🙏🏻
3/22/2020 09:58:06 am
When God asked Abraham to offer his son, Abraham became sad but still he obeyed, for he trust God. And God has greater plans.
3/22/2020 10:09:08 am
Ate, my hearts breaks deeply as a mom myself. I am crying as I read this. But, I know in time those tears will be wiped away by Jesus himself ate... and you shall be comforted.. there is hope in the morning. I pray that in spite of pain, all the more you will feel God's presence.. because He is with you. Sending you my prayers and hugs ate..
3/22/2020 10:09:27 am
Love you Mateo 😘
3/22/2020 10:11:18 am
“Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand. But I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand.”
3/22/2020 12:21:32 pm
My heart breaks reading this. Thank you for sharing your story to us. Praying for comfort in such a difficult time.
3/22/2020 03:19:51 pm
Jo-e and Mike, you are so precious and loved. God loves all of His children equally - you both, Andre, Mateo and the rest of us. I pray (with a hurting heart, yet perfect faith) that He will carry you through this. I know that He can and He wants to... I hope that He will provide the loving support to be there to lift you up when you need it and the space and time to grieve privately when you need that, too. With so much love from the UK...
3/22/2020 04:14:53 pm
Jo-e i've always admired u and Mike being concrete examples of what is to Love God and Love People. My heart breaks reading this entry but it encouraged my faith that it's possible not to lose faith even in the most excruciating pain in our times. God heals, God restores.
3/22/2020 05:19:08 pm
Beautiful from inside out, from beginning to end. You are so loved, Mighty Mateo! We will miss you❤️
3/22/2020 05:42:43 pm
Oh, Mike and Joanna. Laura has kept us in your prayer circle. We have read your journals. We have prayed very hard all the way through for a a miracle. And, now we are praying for you and little Andre. The videos of him loving on his little brother, Mateo , just pull at our heartstrings. They remind us so much of Ryan and his love for his little brother, Patrick. We know you will pray and be careful of precious Andre’s emotional well-being. Take care of each other, dear Mike and Joanna. You might be hearing from my big sister, who is Marianne. She has lost a child and wants to reach out to you. Love, Rosie and Bill Kelly
3/22/2020 06:36:27 pm
Mateo, it's been a pleasure meeting you for the first and last time.. We will miss you dearly. Thank you for your gift to us.. Thank you Joanna for teaching us resilience, faith, love, strength, and hope.. We learned a lot from you and Mike.. Thank you for sharing us this story..
3/22/2020 06:46:08 pm
Heaven has gained another heir; where there will be no more sickness, no more sorrow, no more crying (Baby Mateo’s last time crying here will be the last time he ever cried). He is in the safest hands and so are you both Jo and Mike! Many prayers for you and your family from Brisbane, Australia.
3/22/2020 08:55:14 pm
My heart pains and hurts for you Mummy and Daddy. Sorry for your loss. Sending warm hugs and kisses.
3/22/2020 10:56:03 pm
My heart goes with you, Jo-e and Mike. I pray I have faith half as yours. Truly, God is THAT good. Hugs and prayers.
3/23/2020 12:10:00 am
Mike and Jo-E, you fought a great long and painful battle (physically and spiritually) . I believe Mateo feels that you all guys conquered and rose to win with God as your commander in this real struggle. Im so inspired with your testimony of strong faith and love. I will always remember this specially in my personal time of struggle and hardships. I will share so that others may rose from their own battles as well. Mateo is now with his Creator and most of all with his real Father. I claim this story of yours be a constant reminder that God's gift of merely having good health with us and our families, waking up everyday is already two of His greatest blessings, truly to be thankful for. Laughing and bonding with our kids specially with this pandemic situation are just God's own way of us appreciating each other and the simplicity of life. Thanks for sharing your story, sharing Mateo, being brave with your trust to God as your gear, and sharing the lessons along the way. We will continue to pray with and for you as you move on. I know there will still be sad times along the way, missing our little angel Mateo but we are all here for you guys praying by your side, plus with Andre continuing to give you more joy as he grows bigger. We love you ...and hats off to you as being great parents and partners weathering this battle through and through. We love you .❤❤❤🙏
3/23/2020 12:20:53 am
My condolences to you Jo-e and Big Mike and to your son. Praying for the Lord's comfort be upon your hearts for the days and months to come. I pray His love will be your comfort and blanket. Heaven gained another pure soul in Mateo. He's now enjoying endless love, comfort and joy at the bosom of our Creator and Father. God bless.
3/23/2020 12:40:17 am
Dear Mike and Joanna, the Lord is with you. You have fought a battle but the Lord will remain to be your strength and shield. Know that the great purpose of God for your family prevails. Jesus wins. The life of Mateo and your faith will touch many families and individual lives. Standing and believing with other you. Love, Tere
3/23/2020 02:54:59 am
Our sincerest condolences in this difficult time, our hearts and prayers go out to you in this time
3/23/2020 08:24:18 am
Thank you for sharing your journey of faith. Yes, God answered our prayers in His own perfect way. That is such a huge refuge and assurance for us all. Mateo’s life showed us that we are what we are by the grace of God. And His grace will always be sufficient. Thank you for glorifying God steadily. Praying for your family to continue on magnifying the Lord Almighty.
Deborah Brooks McDaniel
3/23/2020 08:55:21 am
Dear Ones, So very sorry for your sorrow. My prayers and thoughts have been with you during this difficult time. God bless you and keep you. Sending good energy your way.
3/23/2020 11:07:59 am
I cannot imagine the pain and heart break you and your husband went through. But thank you for being vulnerable in sharing about how pain and faith can coexist. I know that Mateo is safe in God's arms in heaven, watching over you. Choosing to trust in God, maintaining that hope when all odds were against you, and even now, rejoicing at how God responded even though it wasn't how you expected Him to, is very encouraging and a true testimony of how God's grace and mercies gives us strength in all seasons. May God continue to bless you and your husband and use you mightily for His kingdom.
3/24/2020 09:09:23 am
What faith! What unconquerable faith! Even now, I as I type between tears and prayers, I see God's love echoed in each sentence. I've not had the pleasure of meeting you Joanna, but I am grateful my friend Mike has such an amazing wife to lean on. I too pray for Andre who much be missing his little brother dearly and maybe does not know how to express it. God be your continually comfort, all of you and all of us.
3/25/2020 12:39:23 am
I can’t even begin to understand how much it must hurt. We have a baby same age or so. As I read your blog, I couldn’t help buy cry —- I’m so sorry you went through this. I myself have so many questions. Thank you for being vulnerable and trusting God and showing it’s possible to praise even when it hurts. That’s true worship. I look forward to meeting Mateo on day when we all go to eternity. Love hugs and kisses
3/25/2020 08:24:04 am
Those giggles for Andre!!
Carlotta V Calmese
3/26/2020 08:29:31 pm
God’s promises are yet true: that He will never leave nor forsake us.
4/13/2020 08:50:55 am
I am so sorry for your family's loss. Mateo was so loved by both his earthly family and by his Heavenly Father. I am encouraged by your faith and your faithfulness to the Lord. I will be praying for you all.
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#MightyMateo's parents document their journey through grief towards healing.