(By Joanna Blanding, mother of Mateo)
I don’t remember exactly when during our time in the ICU with Mateo I surrendered him to God.
By surrender I mean accepting the possibility of not getting what I was praying for. By accepting his death didn’t mean I had to stop praying for healing. I still did. But I had to treat my prayers as an exercise to strengthen my muscles of obedience. It meant running the race not for the reward, but for the discipline it would instill in me. In hindsight, I was deepening my relationship with God through those prayers.
Death is an undeniably universal fact that’s perceived in various ways by different worldviews. Accepting the death of a loved one means understanding what their dying entails. Acceptance of someone’s death presupposes an acceptance of what dying means to them. I don’t think anyone can accept someone’s death gracefully, meaning, free of deep hate or prolonged bitterness, if the reality of death being tied to a destination is not fully embraced.
This is what I believe in: Death is not in itself a state of end. It is the beginning of something. And this concept is not devoid of life that is beyond what exists in the physical body. The topic of death is inescapable for the topic of the soul—the very essence of humanity’s being. And this allowed me to accept, while painful, Mateo’s death.
So, where did Mateo go when he died?
Well, for your curiosity’s sake, we decided to cremate his body. His ashes are now in an orange Chinese wooden box we bought from LIMS at Holland Village. We plan to transfer his ashes into a blue and white lamp we bought from a store next to LIMS. People have spoken encouragement from visions (in Christian terms—prophesied) that Mateo is a torch bearer. He’s brought light to many of us. So putting his remains in the lamp is symbolic of that.
But that is for his body. Beyond his super cute, chubby, fair-skinned body that gained double his weight after 15 days in the ICU, what happened to him? Where did his soul go? Where is our little mighty Mateo now?
Without a shadow of a doubt, I believe that he is now in heaven. His body has been made perfect, dancing, playing and praising Jesus Christ.
What are the alternative beliefs I could have chosen?
That Mateo has reincarnated into another person’s body only to die again? Or perhaps reborn as an insect only to be crushed when stepped on? That is so tiring for Mateo, and it goes without saying, cruel!
That Mateo’s soul waits in a waiting area like purgatory for his being a little bit of a naughty baby (very rarely) for biting his brother adoringly? That sounds quite unfair.
That Mateo became a spirit hovering around us on earth knocking glasses over or misaligning photo frames on the wall to get people’s attention so he continues to be remembered? That will upset the OC-ness in me!
That Mateo is in the ultimate opposite of heaven, and shall I name it hell, because he has not done enough good on earth to warrant a ticket to heaven? That’s just brutal.
That Mateo, having no soul, is not alive anywhere anymore? That is depressing for me who’s still alive.
So I choose to believe what I believe in about where Mateo is now, and where I will be when I myself die.
So how did Jesus do it?
He died on the cross. It was both a tangible act and a representation of all of the sins of humankind being put upon his shoulders so that we don’t have to pay for those sins. This mission was given to him by his Father in heaven, who is God himself too. And Jesus, the son God, humbly agreed to this mission.
It sounds like such a tragic ending, yeah? But the story didn’t end there. Jesus died and was buried in a tomb. On the third day, he was found missing in his tomb that was covered by a huge rock. He showed himself up first to a number of people to really make a statement of how supernatural he is. This has been written in historical accounts, including the Bible. And then, he rose to heaven. His body has been made perfect once again. And that’s what we celebrate today on Easter Sunday. His resurrection.
No one, NO ONE, can dispute the existence of Jesus on earth. FACT. And no one, NO ONE, has yet found his remains. FACT. Now, with the humble intelligence that has been gifted to me, I can choose to embrace this truth, or pretend I know much to say that it is not fact. I have no billionaire’s resources to launch a mission to search for his remains to assert that Jesus is like everyone else—just human. All those missions have failed to date.
I’ve taken a stance in life to only deny something if I have enough proof to support my denial. I’ve learned how to say “I don’t know” if I really don’t know. But for many things, I know that I know. A little knowledge about something, especially about life’s haunting questions, means I am no longer ignorant about their realities. So I have to decide to find out more about them and to make a decision to believe them or not. I don’t want to be looked at by my children one day for them to say that they can’t even trust their mother for her indecisiveness about life’s nagging questions.
So, I believe in the resurrection of human beings.
And I believe that is what happened to Mateo. He rose to heaven and is there now to live in eternity. And that gives me so much hope during this time of grief.
Do we all go up to heaven? God’s deal is simple. The ticket is a gift. The decision to believe or not rests on each person who has heard of this news and has the capacity to make such a decision. I often get asked by people when we enter a faith conversation, “Why would I believe in a God who makes those who don’t believe in him go to hell?” I’d like to be able to always answer, “Why refuse to believe in God who gives freely something that is so great?”
(By the way, it is not us humans who can make that judgement. So I would not, for the life of me, attempt to assume any person is going to heaven or hell by my knowledge of what they believe in.)
As for Mateo, being the baby that he was, has had no accountability to make such a decision. So I believe he just went straight up to heaven in that accord. If God is all about love, which I believe He is, He has made our innocent mighty Mateo join him in His paradise.
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.