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

death, military, politics, moms matter


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Deborah Hickman

my prayers are with the soldier and his mother thank you for serving our country and thank you for the strength to endure your son being gone and the strength to endure what you have since he has been home god bless you both and may your son rest in paradise

Kathleen Corl-leidig

Feel bad for these people...very sad....we as a nation need to take better care of our military that come home wounded....and have to live a life like this young man.....god bless this family!!

Patty Atkinson

This is so wrong the VA needs to step up and take care of this veteran he put his life on the line for this country.We lost our soldier in Iraq ,this man cant die like this it is so wrong.

Mary Baez

God Bless him he is a true hero. My prayers for him and his family.

tuffy... tuffymama

Patty, they can't un-paralyze him!

Kyra Hettinger

If he felt the war was wrong why didn't he declare himself a conciencious objector and not go? Why did he "go along" with what his country was asking of him if he didn't agree? In fact why was he part of the military, when there is the obvious probablity that he would go to war? I am the the first to applaude the efforts and sacrifices our military men and women make everyday. But if you don't believe in what you're doing, then why are you doing it? That I just don't understand. Maybe there is more to this story than was able to be told in such a small space. I would rather understand why, than berate him for his choice. I can't imagine what his mother has to deal with mourning her sons loss twice, the loss of who he was and the loss of who he is. 

megat... megatriguena


When I entered the military, I was excited about service. I lived in the best country in the world and was raised in a military family. The military made it possible for an nco's daughter to go to an ivy league school and medical school. I loved the military Bc it didn't represent war, it represented service to a great country that had provided so much opportunity to myself and my family. In 2003, we my husband delployed for almost two years in Iraq, I learned the reality if the situation. The military is driven by ppl who see us a disposable, so much so last I heard only one member of congress had a child serving and even he was a reservist. As a physician, I see the damage that is played out on young (mostly poor) kids who just wanted to do the right thing. In the end many stay for the fellow service members and not the machine that uses them up. I feel for ppl like young Bc he probably bought into all the hype and now as a real adult sees the error of his ways. Hoping this answers your question.

nonmember avatar Sharon

The Sad reality of the world is....that wars are started and continued by politicians and people who want power.... but the fighting and losses are made by young men and women who actually are in the field. It has been this way through out history and in all parts of the world. Reality of war is for the people not the "rulers". Young men have joined the military for many reasons....most often because they believe in the "cause or reason for fight" and many become disillusioned with the reality of war. It is has happened in past wars, happened in this war and sadly, will happen in future wars. Reality often sucks. Whats gives some the strength to carry on while others give up is very personal and not always easy to understand and explain.

nonmember avatar kaerae

@Kyra - Also, it's not a declaration, it's a case you have to prove, which can be denied. It's also impossible for a young man to get a job without registering for the draft, since it's asked on every job application. Know what you're talking about before you spout off.

nonmember avatar CrackpotJackpot

Mega: "I lived in the best country in the world..."

You poor, brainwashed American fool.

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