'He deserves to be remembered': Silver Cross mother of soldier who died by suicide
Published Monday, November 5, 2018 9:49AM EST
Last Updated Monday, November 5, 2018 10:25AM EST
After more than a decade of advocacy, the first Silver Cross Mother to have a son who died by suicide as a result of his tour of duty will finally see his name inscribed in the Books of Remembrance, which lie in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill and commemorate soldiers who made the “ultimate sacrifice.”
“This is how he deserves to be remembered and honoured,” said Anita Cenerini, whose 22-year-old son, Pte. Thomas Welch, died by suicide in Petawawa, Ont., in May 2004, less than three months after returning home from his first overseas tour of duty in Afghanistan. His death is marked as the first death by suicide of a Canadian soldier returning home from the war in Afghanistan, linked to military service.
Initially, the Department of Veterans Affairs concluded that the private’s suicide was not connected in any way to his military service, but it reversed its position last year, after Cenerini shared details of the “significant changes in his behaviour, mood and demeanor upon his return.”
“It was a difficult time because we all know the stigma associated with suicide often pushes families into isolation,” Cenerini told CTV’s Your Morning. “His death wasn’t recognized as being attributable to service, yet we knew in our hearts and we knew through what we experienced of Thomas on his return home from Afghanistan that he indeed was affected emotionally and psychologically from his tour of duty.”
If the Canadian Armed Forces concludes that a suicide is linked to military service, the soldier’s name is supposed to be inscribed in the Books of Remembrance and added to the Canadian Virtual War Memorial in Ottawa. Families are also supposed to be presented with the Silver Cross medal, which is awarded to either the mothers or the widows of Canadian soldiers who died on active duty or as a result of it.
Last week, the Royal Canadian Legion named Cenerini this year’s Silver Cross Mother – the first time the honour has gone to the mother of a soldier who died by suicide. At a Remembrance Day ceremony on Nov. 11, she will place a wreath at the base of the National War Memorial in Ottawa on behalf of all mothers whose children have died during military duty with the Canadian Forces.
The Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada unveiled a joint suicide-prevention strategy last year in order to overhaul how mental illness is handled during deployment and to revamp how soldiers and their family members are supported when they return home from tours of duty.
Cenerini told CTV’s Your Morning that she will continue to advocate on behalf of all soldiers who suffer psychological trauma as a result of their service.
“We will carry on and be advocates because we honour and respect the soldiers who serve our country and who are affected in the same way that Thomas was,” she said.