EXCLUSIVE: Tirso Cruz III And Wife Lynn Remember Their Late Son TJ
It’s exactly one month since Tirso Cruz III and his wife Lynn’s eldest son TJ passed away; it's four days shy of Christmas. The couple—both dressed in black, with eyes tired from crying—confesses that it’s been a rough day. They’ve both been crying almost all day, to the point where Lynn had to ask Tirso if he could still do this Metro.Style interview in the afternoon.
“We’re going to do this for our son,” says Lynn. “We were crying this morning—tuloy ba natin or hindi? It’s his first month, today. Masyado kaming emotional kanina pa. Naisip ko I want God to be glorified. Kasi 'yan 'yung pinag-usapan namin nu'ng anak ko.”
GODly heavenly morning TJ. This is what me and mama is wishing for. To be able to see you once again even if only in a dream. That we may be able to hold & embrace you one more time. I pray that our heart’s desire may be granted. Oh how we miss you TJ! There is this deep void in our hearts that will never be replaced. We love you my son.
TJ Cruz, 37, passed away in November 21, 2018 after a six-and-a-half month battle with lymphatic cancer.
Lynn spoke more at the beginning of the interview because Tirso would tear up, unable to find words. The Cruz family and their friends’ dance performance at TJ’s wake became a viral video which Lynn shares was a dance TJ was choreographing. She remembers seeing him listening to music through earphones, crying. When she would ask him why he was crying, he would answer, “’Yung music lang, I’m praising the Lord.”
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TJ was a dancer and a few days before he passed, Lynn thought of taking a video of her son dancing to the song he wanted to teach the kids supported by Spike for Hope, his passion project with Abi Arcangel that raises awareness on pediatric cancer.
“Hindi na kasi siya nakakatayo so he was just sitting on the side of the bed and moving his arms,” Tirso says.
During TJ's wake, Lynn remembered the dance, then she asked her daughter Djanin to contact her cousins Rayver and Rodjun Cruz to help choreograph it. “Itong two boys na pinsan nila, they came and helped but Rayver had work that night. Siya 'yung nag-choreo. I just showed him—sa kanya ko lang pinakita 'yung video—and then he said, 'Alam ko na 'yan, Tita. Alam ko steps ni TJ, mahihirapan kayo. Aayusin ko na lang,'” she says.
That afternoon, as the family’s friends and relatives arrived—Amy Austria, Edgar Mortiz and his wife and kids—Tirso and Lynn asked if they wanted to join the dance number.
“Para kay TJ 'yan, sali kami, sali kami! I’m sure that if TJ could see that, he would really enjoy it. Dahil ‘yun talaga 'yung gusto niyang gawin. He was dreaming of that, paggaling ko, ituturo ko sa mga bata tapos sabay-sabay kaming sasayaw sa church, pag worship. Kasi ganun talaga 'yung video ni Bishop Hezekia Walker, parang flash mob,” shares Tirso.
“Happy kami—baka 'yung iba surprised—pero happy kami kasi we know it glorified God,” says Lynn.
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Both Tirso and Lynn are relieved that TJ is no longer suffering, but they are in deep pain at the loss of their son. “He’s with the Lord, but of course we’re sad and we miss him. Bawat corner dito [sa house], maaalala mo [si TJ]. When TJ left us, alam naming diretso na siya kay Lord and alam namin na sinasayaw niya 'yun sa harap ni Lord,” says Lynn.
In May, TJ checked himself in at St. Luke's Bonifacio Global City, where he works, and that is when his battle with cancer began.
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GODly heavenly morning TEEJ! This was at your Mama’s 50th birthday. Oh how mama loves you so. I remember that even though you were already in the hospital, you found a way to get her something for her birthday last Nov. 8. And among all of us, you were the only one with a gift for her. Two beautiful birthday cards that your mama said was the most special gift she has ever received. As the days go by, your absence is felt even more stronger. We love and miss you my son.
GODly heavenly morning TJ. This was taken at Dubai Mall while we were waiting for Mama & Djanin. I remembered you asking me to wait until that shark in the background swam by before I took the pic. Fond memories of us being together. Memories that I will be holding on to until we are together again. For to us Christians, there are no goodbyes, only “ See you later.” I miss you my son. 12/29/18
Lynn says praying daily, or constantly, is what pulls them through. She was the one by TJ’s side most of the time since Tirso had showbiz commitments. Lynn would pray with him every morning, evening, and throughout the day, and Tirso would look forward to video calls with TJ every morning. “Kahit sa maliit na phone, very fresh pa rin sa kanya [Tirso] to see TJ on the screen,” says Lynn.
GODly heavenly morning TJ. This was taken at the Garden of Gethsemane during our last trip to Israel. You look so much alike. You truly are your mom’s first born son. If you can see they are both teary-eyed, it was because they felt so blessed to be in that place. Thank you Lord for giving TJ to us for 37 years. We know he is truly happy in your care. If we shed tears everyday, it is because we miss him so much. Please whisper to him that we love him.
Days before he passed, TJ told his mother, “’Ma, pagod na ako.’" Lynn shares, "Sabi ko, may usapan tayo, lalaban ka. O, e 'di ba lalaban ka? Laban tayo. The Lord is going to take care of you. Then he said pabulong, ‘Kasi napapagod na ako.’” TJ also told her he had dreamt that God was hugging him and he saw a bright yellow light from the ceiling.
Lynn recalls that when TJ prayed with her, he would say, “‘Take care of my Papa, take care of my Mama pag uwi niya. Si Djanin and si Bodie, shield them and protect them always. Every time, lagi niya sasabihin sa akin, sabihin mo kay Djanin ‘pag nagda-drive siya, lock niya 'yung doors. Si Bodie rin.”
GODly heavenly morning TJ. Woke up late this morning coz I had a show last night w/ your Tito Boyet de Leon. I usually have the song Tears in Heaven in my line-up. But for obvious reasons, I decided not to sing it. Missing you so much as each day passes by my son. Again, as New Year’s day draws near, that heavy feeling in my heart seems to grow stronger. But we are at peace for we know you are in a better place with the Lord. 12/30/18
As I was looking at this picture, it brought back memories of how happy we were as a complete family. I still am part of this picture since I was the one who took it. One of many pictures which now serves as a memory of your being with us. We miss you so much TJ. GODly heavenly morning!
Tirso and Lynn say TJ was always thinking of other people, even to the point of worrying about the kids he was helping out, the hospital’s programs, and patients who needed his help and were going to be admitted to the hospital, all while he himself was confined.
“He’s such a very quiet man. Pero ang dami niya palang ginawa. We just realized it when he passed away and when he was sick. Sa mga cancer patients na tinulungan niya. Ginawa niya 'yung Spike for Hope for his Papa, kasi Tirso was healed from cancer. Advocacy ni TJ ‘yun,” Lynn tells Metro.Style. “Kung gusto mong tumulong, hindi mo kailangan i-announce. Tulong ka lang.”
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Tirso adds that during TJ's wake, Gary Valenciano asked if he could sing for TJ, and they didn’t know that Gary had already known his son for six years. “Gary said, ‘This man may not be a pastor or a priest but his actions speak louder as a Christian than most people would be able to say in long speeches. He just does his job, he doesn’t make a big fuss. He made things easy for me when I was there [St. Luke’s hospital],’” Tirso shares.
He adds, “Sakit. Masakit talaga sa akin. Kasi [of] the last thing that he asked, a couple of days before he started sleeping, his back was turned towards the door and he just motioned—‘Pa, embrace mo ako. Embrace me, Pa.’ For some reason Lynn took a picture. After that, kami nalang nagsasalita sa kanya, he was not responding anymore,” Tirso says.
This was our last picture taken by your Mama. And as the year ends, I would like to share this poem that I wrote for my son TJ. And I pray to the Lord that he gives me a beautiful melody that I might turn it into a song someday. OUR LAST EMBRACE As I walked into the room, The sweetest smile was on his face. And as he waved for me to come, these words were spoken by my son. “Papa, come and embrace me, I want to feel your arms around me.” Had I known it would be the last, I should have held on longer, I should have held on so tight. Then came that fateful day, that day we feared would come our way. So many things to do, so many things to say, for my beloved eldest son that day. As tears were rolling down my face, I love you son was all I could say. “Papa, come and embrace me, I want to feel your arms around me.” And with his tender feeble arms, pure love I felt from my sweet son. No pain can compare to the loss that came our way, Knowing my boy was leaving us that day. That most tender embrace given to me by my son, I will never forget through all space and time. I now wait for that day, when I will be called by the Lord one day. Then once again that smile I will see, and again feel that embrace meant for him and me. And in my arms he will always be, and as children of God my son and I will remain eternally. I love and miss you TJ. 12/31/18
“Sabi ko nga, parang dapat hindi ko nalang siya binitawan. I did not know that that would be the last time I would be able to embrace him. These are the things that make us cry every day. Minsan okay kami e. We are able to bear it, we are able to stand it. Tapos 'pag nagbukas ka ng cellphone and see a video—my son is alive sa video, pero alam kong wala na siya. So ang daming visions of him na nakikita ko. Kagaya nu'n na every morning, automatic 'yun na pag open ng video, ‘Hi Pa!’” he says.
The morning of TJ’s passing, the whole Cruz family was by his side. They whispered their goodbyes because they were told that sense of hearing is the last to go in patients. TJ had already been sleeping for days and unresponsive at this point. Lynn says she did not want to say goodbye. She was still praying for a miracle.
The nurse told her that when she said that, TJ’s blood pressure went up as if he was fighting. But Lynn was told that he’s already having difficulty. She says, “I asked, ano'ng gusto mong gawin ko? Hindi siya sumagot. I just said, okay, okay. Okay. I surrender my son to you, Lord. Teej, don’t worry about me. Papa mo will be okay.”
GODly heavenly morning TJ. I took this picture during our last trip to Israel. It just reminded me of you telling your Mama, “I am a Mama’s boy. Some are ashamed when they are called that, but as for me, I love you Ma and I ‘m proud to be her boy.” You are missed so much my son.
Tirso says their daughter Djanin could not say goodbye as well, and when she did, she said she would no longer look at him, because she wants to remember her brother as his vibrant self.
Lynn read Psalm 23 to him and then applauded him: “I said, 'Teej, this is for you, you fought a good fight.'"
“Lumapit ako, hawak hawak ko 'yung kamay niya. Talaga bang wala ka na? Talaga bang wala ka na? I went out and looked for the doctor on duty at the nurses’ station. Kaya dalawa 'yung time sa akin. I remember many years ago sa house ni Rudy Fernandez, the doctor was there, holding onto his wrist. Nu'ng nawala na ['yung pulse], ‘Clock it, Mr. Fernandez has expired at…’ 'Yung nurse kasi 'yung nakahawak sa carotid artery niya. They were also crying. Tinawag ko siya, tapos umiling lang siya. Tumingin ako sa clock, it was 9:48 AM. Pero hindi p'wede gamitin 'yun, kailangan 'yung machines and a doctor. He was pronounced at 9:54 AM. Pero sa akin it was 9:48 AM,” Tirso says.
GODly heavenly morning TEEJ. As I start to post this pic, tears are again starting to well in my eyes. This is one of our latest pics. I miss you! Your mama & I just sent out a prayer from our terrace towards heaven. A prayer of love & care for you. You will forever be in our hearts and mind. Thank you Lord for taking care of TJ.
On the morning of the interview, Tirso was conscious about the time. He decided that he would go out for coffee and run some errands because he did not want to be home during TJ’s exact time of death. “Gusto ko lang lagpasan 'yung time. Binabantayan ko 'yung time,” he says.
Tirso and Lynn’s barkada—Christopher de Leon and Sandy Andolong, Bobot Mortiz, Ricky Davao, Lorna Tolentino—took care of the wake, from arrangements at the funeral parlor down to the food that would be served. They were just asked to sit down and greet the people.
TJ’s younger brother Bodie never left the wake and he took care of buying TJ’s clothes one last time.
“One thing I’ll never forget sinabi ni Boyet, mahal niya lahat ng anak ko pero he has a soft spot for TJ. Iba-iba 'yung anak mo. Si TJ is just quiet pero alam mong may something in him, may charisma siya. Si Bibeth Orteza Siguion-Reyna—and we realized, lahat ng tao—they won’t forget the way he smiles. He’s the kind of person na ‘pag humalik sayo, he’ll look at you in the eyes as if to ask, 'Are you alright? Okay ka?' 'Yun pala 'yung tumatak sa mga tao. Pati sa mga taga-St. Luke’s—'we’ll never forget his smile,'” says Lynn.
Tirso adds, “'Yung focus niya nandu'n. Hindi halik showbiz 'yang anak mo. Halik sa tita with care and compassion.”
They remember their son with fondness. “Mahilig ‘yun mang-asar. Even his officemates will say. He will go out of his way para magulat kami, mabiro kami. Siguro 'yan 'pag hindi nakaloko sa opisina or walang napasigaw that day, magkakasakit. 'Yun ang happiness niya. Kahit sa mga kapatid niya. 'Yun 'yung language niya ng love,” says Tirso.
GODly heavenly morning TEEJ! How can I not miss this smile? A signature smile that you have worn through the years and have touched so many people you’ve met all your life? I hope & pray that the Lord whispers in your ear & tells you how much we love you. Rest well in God’s company my son.
“One thing that made him cry the other day is laging nagpapabili si TJ ng banana bread sa Starbucks. 'Pag Papa niya padating na, ‘Pa, bili mo ako ng banana bread.’ The other day, bumili siya ng banana bread, the first time since he passed away,” says Lynn.
“Suddenly, naalala ko that this is what I used to bring him. ‘Yun ‘yung masakit. The thought and the acceptance of the fact that I’m never going to see him again in this world. I’ll never see him smile, I’ll never see him fool around. The way he walks, the way he carries himself,” says Tirso.
Lynn says, “Pupunta lang ako sa mall, iiyak na ako. Naaalala ko nu'ng maliliit pa sila, bibilhan ko sila ng toys for Christmas.”
“'Yung memories kasi bring it back. Parang it’s more vivid now than when it was happening then. Pati 'yung itsura niya. Hindi siya [Lynn] makabalik sa grocery near us, kasi diyan ako bumibili ng lahat ng gusto niya [TJ],” says Tirso.
GODly heavenly morning TEEJ! Here’s another pic of ours during our younger years as a complete family. As usual, you were wearing that beaming mischievous smile of yours. A smile that we shall all miss . A smile that I will always treasure. As the days go by, the thought that you are not with us anymore just grows stronger. You are missed my first born son. We love you!
Tirso and Lynn have been invited by Gina de Venecia to join a support group for parents who have lost their children. “May nagsabi nga sa amin—you will only have a semblance of healing, when you accept in yourself that you will never really heal. You will never heal, because too much love sa anak mo. You will just learn to live with the pain. But you will never heal. The only people who will understand you are unfortunately, the people who have had this experience. Only they will know what pain it is that you have to go through and live with,” says Tirso.
He adds, “Sagutan lang kami nito e. Maririnig ko siyang umiiyak tapos sasabihin ko, tama na yan! Tapos mamaya ako naman. Minsan habang nagmamaneho mapapansin ko na umiiyak na naman siya [Lynn] kasi may nadaanan kami. Tahimik na naman siya.”
Every morning since TJ’s passing, without fail, Tirso and Lynn stand at the terrace, hoping that maybe TJ can look down on them. “Para kaming loko-loko. Alam namin deep in our hearts—I don’t know if he can see us. We say, ‘Lord, pakibulong naman kay TJ na love namin siya. Kung p'wede lang Lord, pasilipin mo siya para makita niya kami nandito lang, we’re here, every morning. Same spot,’” says Tirso.
Holiday plans were up in the air for the Cruzes at the time of the interview. But Bodie still set up the family’s Christmas tree, all white except for a single blue Christmas ball which represents TJ through his favorite color. “Sinabit ni Bodie—‘this is for Kuya’. So that, in essence, he’s still here with us,” says Tirso. The family spent time at their farm in Lipa, where TJ always said he wanted to bring his doctors and nurses once he got out of the hospital.
“Of course, you’ll see malungkot kami, but those six and a half months na binigay ni Lord for us to be with him, we were able to pray with him, sing with him, embrace him, to talk and talk,” says Lynn. “Ang mother and son relationship, it’s not perfect. Or any relationship. 'Yung 6.5 months, na-solo ko 'yung anak ko. Also them, we were able to spend time with him. At the end of the day, it’s still family. Hindi ko makakalimutan, lagi niya sinasabi pag naglalambing 'yan, ‘Gusto ko, Mama ko lang.’”
Tirso says, “Siya talaga, na-solo niya kasi I had work. Minsan ayoko sa ospital kasi 'what am I doing here?' I’m looking at my son and there is nothing I can do to help. Sometimes it made me feel bad talaga. Kay Lynn kasi, [naging] ritual talaga.”
GODly heavenly morning TJ! This was taken last night. In essence, we were still complete. Happy New Year to you my son, TJ. We all missed your kiss and embrace as we all greeted each other last night. It was a very quiet celebration for the 4 of us at the dinner table. You are greatly missed. We love you! 1-1-19
The Cruz family’s faith allows them to find comfort during these somber times and their broken hearts as parents who miss their firstborn don’t diminish their hope.
“She was humming a few days ago,” Tirso says. “‘Ano'ng kinakanta mo?'”
She answers, “Let the Pain Remain ni Basil Valdez. Naalala mo ‘yung lyrics?”
Tirso and Lynn recite together, “So let the pain remain forever in my heart / For every throb it brings is one more moment spent with you / I’ll let the pain bring on the rain / If that’s the only way / If there’s no other way to be with you again.”
“Before that kasi I asked, ‘How do we deal with this? Do we try to let go of the pain? That we may live on and move on? Do we try to drop the pain and forget about him? Or do we hang on to the pain so that we will never really forget him or let him go? Or let go of his memory?’” Tirso says. “The next day, she found the answer sa kanta.”
Photographs by Daniel Soriano
Additional photos from @tirsocruziii
Liaison Editor: Francis Simeon