Months have passed, yet Geneses Torres recalls the feeling like it was only yesterday. Cradling arms miss the sensation of carrying a child whose head makes up half his weight. The distinct cries of a child’s hunger or need fall forever silent at home. The child she spends restless nights ensuring his welfare no longer sleeps beside her.
After years of battling severe hydrocephalus his entire life, Justin Rhian Torres passed away on April 24, 2017. He was three years old.
But all the effort of touched hearts, including Tzu Chi, hasn’t been in vain. The pain of losing a loved one, no less a child, will subside as the family moves on. Geneses will never forget how the ordeal turned her into one to inspire families in similar predicaments.
“I want to help [mothers in same situations] like me. I can’t help but cry whenever I see the patients in the hospital, whose situations are no different,” she narrates.
“As of now, I’m reaching out a helping hand to a child with no one but his aunt to care for him. I’m giving him as much attention as possible now. His family is just as poor as us,” she adds.
In the short time Justin remained in the world, Tzu Chi supplied the family with milk and medical assistance. They hoped that his condition would stabilize enough to be able to carry on with his surgery. As with hydrocephalus, however, he kept coming down with illnesses like pneumonia, which ultimately claimed his life. Even if the best-case scenario were the case, doctors told his parents that there was little hope of his head shrinking following surgery.
The articles Justin left, namely his toys and medical equipment, soon found their way to other children, just as his mother intended. Some of which ended up at the hands of visiting Tzu Chi volunteers.
The road that would lead the Torres family to a life-changing chapter of their lives, however, wouldn’t have been possible if not for Tzu Chi…and one touched mother.
On a scorching Sunday during mass, Elsie Trinidad found it odd for the mother beside her to wrap her child under layers of cloth. She didn’t learn about Justin’s condition until after mass when Geneses revealed her son. The thought of Geneses carrying Justin from home to church and back astounded her, seeing the sheer size of the affliction.
“It was more than the ordinary hydrocephalus that I had known, as if there were three heads. Two smaller heads protruding from the bigger one. And the body was so frail. He looked so weak,” Trinidad narrates.
Moved by the great lengths Geneses would go for Justin, Trinidad devoted the resources she could spare to help him. The money she saved up for an overseas trip with her colleagues, as she was turning 60 at the time, went to supplementing Justin’s need for milk. She called this experience “the happiest 60th birthday of her life.”
She referred the family to Tzu Chi through a contact at Jing Si (Still Thoughts) Hall in Quezon City. And the rest is history.
“Justin came at a time that really changed my life. I told myself: “Oh my gosh, I don’t have any right complaining about housework when I can even postpone doing them. I can even have the choice of not doing them at all. But Justin did not have a choice. He did not have the choice. And he was in pain,” Trinidad narrates.
“Since meeting [Mrs. Trinidad], we’ve been receiving monthly assistance from Tzu Chi Foundation such as milk, as Justin can’t eat solid food. Tzu Chi has been a big help to us,” remarks Rian Agaton, Justin’s father.
Not in vain
Among the involved parties, not a soul believed that their efforts have been in vain. The little decisions ordinary people make in their lives can lead to extraordinary results. If not for one touched heart’s action to give all, Justin’s suffering may have fallen to blind eyes and deaf ears. If not for the display of compassion, Geneses may not have been inspired to cultivate goodness. Tzu Chi and the Torres family may have remained total strangers.
“Right now, I feel grateful to the people who helped my son. Even though he’s no longer with me, I’m still thankful to Tzu Chi Foundation. Ever since they started helping me with monthly aid, especially medicine, our burden has gotten lighter,” says Geneses.
“I’ve stopped drinking, smoking, gambling, and hurting others since learning the Ten Precepts [from Master Cheng Yen],” says Rian.
“Even though he passed away, I would say that the love and attention given to him and his family was already a seed for the parents to replicate the same. So, it was not a waste, just a seed for other people to maybe consider doing in their lifetime,” Trinidad adds.
Tzu Chi volunteer Carmelita Rejano echoes an important piece of advice for parents struggling with their ill children.
“It’s difficult for parents to bear a child with such a condition, but they do everything despite people telling them that there’s no hope. As a mother myself, we have to do everything we can because we love our children,” Rejano says.
Time will tell where the journey of the Torres family will lead them next. The loss of Justin may remain in memory, but so will the deeds of those who helped him cling on to life until the end. Survived by the parents and their remaining child Elizabeth, the family takes the next step.
Justin’s hydrocephalus is among the largest recorded cases in the country. Aside from the two large halves that take the shape of a heart, two smaller ones also grow from the left half. Doctors say surgery may alleviate his suffering, but the shape of his head will more or less remain the same. 【Photo by Geneses Torres】
On August 19, 2016, Justin was rushed to Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center in Manila because of pulmonary problems. Such diseases hindered him from pushing through with his surgery to be rid of his hydrocephalus. 【Photo by courtesy of Elsie Trinidad】
Social worker Elsie Trinidad (right) shares one of Justin’s photos with Tzu Chi volunteer Esperanza Celon (left). Aside from Tzu Chi’s monthly assistance, Trinidad also provided the family with milk and limited financial aid over the course of Justin’s life. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Feeling Geneses’s pain caused by her loss, Tzu Chi volunteer Carmelita Rejano (left) comforts her. Despite the loss, Rejano urges the mother to stay strong for her dear son. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
This photo album of Justin is all that’s left of his memories. In the brief life he lived, Justin has touched many people around him and motivated them to take action. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
From left to right: Justin’s mother Geneses holding a portrait of her son, one-year-old Elizabeth their remaining child, and Justin’s father Rian. Life will continue for them way after their loss, carrying the lessons learned from caring for a suffering soul. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Weeks following Justin’s death, the family has been donating his toys and medical equipment to other suffering children. Tzu Chi volunteers humbly accept some of these articles, which include a small tank of medical oxygen. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Rian returns to his street food business after Justin’s death, earning an estimated Php4,000 for the family a day. His late son’s condition forced him to take another job as a family driver for an additional Php10,000 a month. Following his son’s death, his employer in the latter job hasn’t called him to work. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】