CHICAGO -- As Grammy-winning violinist Mads Tolling played for parents of children receiving treatment at Comer Children's Hospital, Jamie Freedlund spotted a mother who was just taking it all in.
"There was this mom who was listening and there were just tears streaming down her face," said Freedlund. "She just had a minute to feel the emotions."
Tolling was invited to play by a charity founded by Freedlund and her husband, Gary, called Mattea's Joy. The non-profit provides dinner, snack boxes and other support for families with hospitalized children.
"I absolutely believe music is healing," said Tolling. "What I feel like I can do is I can provide the inspiration for people."
The Freedlunds founded Mattea's Joy in honor of their daughter Mattea Joy Freedlund, who died in 2010. The pair spent several stints in the hospital with Mattea as she battled a variety of health challenges during her short but impactful life.
"I remember very vividly the day she passed away," said Gary. "We were walking out holding hands and we said, 'well, are you ready to jump?' We didn't know what to expect next."
A benefit had been planned for the family before Mattea's passing and the pair decided to use the money to cook meals for families whose children were hospitalized at Comer Children's Hospital. Soon the dinners became a regular occurrence and their non-profit organization was born. Its mission is to provide care and comfort to families just like them.
"Specifically we wanted these parents who were sitting in seats that we were sitting in to feel cared for and to feel like they could connect to people," said Jamie.
Erin Worsham experienced the trauma and frustration of being a parent with an ill child when her son was in treatment for a brain tumor. She now serves on the board of Mattea's Joy and says it feels good to give back, volunteering frequently for the non-profit.
"I remember sitting across the table from a mom who was telling me her situation," said Worsham. "I was able to say, 'I've been where you are. It's going to be okay.'"
Mattea's Joy's current projects include serving dinner to about 100 families a month, distributing snack boxes to hospitals, and providing packets filled with gift cards and parking passes. Jamie Freedlund said parents with sick children are in "survival mode" when they're first admitted.
"There's just so much out of your control when you have a sick kid," said Freedlund. "It's lonely."
Reese Freedlund, 15, was just 3 years old when her sister Mattea passed away. She said Mattea's memory lives on in her family's volunteer work, which is ingrained into everything they do.
"Mattea's Joy has really become a part of our lives and all parts growing up," said Reese. "Even though she passed away, her life was an inspiration for my parents to create something more out of it."
Since Mattea's passing, the Freedlund's have added two boys to their family, Cooper, 11, and Kipton, 7. Cooper has learned valuable lessons from helping families through the organization.
"Mattea's Joy has taught me to always serve others and to just be kind," said Cooper.
"No matter how challenging life circumstances get, you can still find joy in it," said Jamie. "I think there's a beauty in choosing joy even amid all of the darkness."
For more information on Mattea's Joy and how to support their work, visit matteasjoy.org.