Dying Young Veteran's Mom Honors Son for Who He Is, Not Who He Might Have Been

Tomas Young visits Ground Zero. Credit: Ellen Spiro / Mobilus MediaAfter suffering for nine long years, paralyzed veteran turned activist Tomas Young, 33, has decided to refuse any more water, nourishment, or medication -- in other words, to let himself die. His story of sacrifice and suffering is absolutely heartbreaking and brings home the reality not just of what so many men and women have to endure when they go to fight wars, but the terrible cost to their families.

My daughter was born the day the Iraq war started, and every year for the past 10 years, the occasion that is most joyous to me has also reminded me of the suffering happening across the ocean, for people on both “sides.” And, of course, of the pain endured here at home by our returning veterans, their families, and the families of those who never come home at all. Today, reading about Young’s story, I’m reminded of that all over again -- but it is his mom’s words that truly break my heart:


“Though it’s probably the hardest thing any mother has to go through to watch your son go and to prepare for this,” Cathy Smith said about her son’s decision to let himself die, “I know he won’t be in pain anymore.”

I can’t even imagine what this woman has gone through, watching her son suffer so severely for nearly a decade and getting to the point where she understands his need to let go of the body that has caused him so much pain. Smith says doesn't see her son’s actions as suicide but instead compares them to a do-not-resuscitate order.

And -- this is what just absolutely kills me -- she says that she has already mourned for her child: “My mourning has already been done. I’ve already mourned for the son I had, for the man that he could have been, for everything that he could have done and accomplished.”

But despite her sorrow and incredible sense of loss, Smith shares that she is so proud of her boy, who has become an activist against what he believes to have been an unjust war: “At the same time, the legacy that he has left with Body of War [Phil Donahue’s 2007 documentary] and the interviews that he has done recently -- not many people have left a legacy like that. That’s something to be proud of,” she said.

Whether or not you agree with Young’s feelings that he should never have been fighting in Iraq in the first place, you can surely agree that, after being paralyzed by a sniper bullet at the age of 24, he has suffered a tremendous amount -- and so has his mother. I can’t imagine what military families go through even in the best of times, the daily struggle with worry and fear, the pain of having to say goodbye, the terror of getting that dreaded phone call. And so often that suffering doesn't end when a soldier comes home, for so many face the rest of their lives with wounds -- physical and emotional.

I’m inspired by both Young and his mother -- him for fighting so long for what he believes in, her for loving him so much that she understands why he has to go.

Can you think of any greater pain than seeing your child suffer?


Image Credit: Ellen Spiro/Mobilus Media, via BodyofWar.com

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