On Friday, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, climbed to the summit of the Sydney Harbour Bridge to raise the Invictus Games flags. The duke was accompanied by a few competitors for the games and 41-year-old widow Gwen Cherne, whose husband was a special forces officer in the Australian military.
Cherne later shared the story of the prince’s sympathy with People, detailing how he continued to listen to her long after his royal entourage starting trying to urge him to move on to his next engagement.
Officer Peter J. Cafe, Cherne’s late husband, committed suicide in February 2017, when he was just 48-years-old. Harry listened to Cherne’s story as they descended the bridge, asking about her three children, Emily, 6, Lachlan, 3, and stepson Tom, 19, and how they are coping with their horrible loss.
She added that the prince, who suffered his own tragic loss at a young age, sympathized with her pain.
“He understood what I meant. When you understand loss, I think it’s obvious. He did ask me if I was getting the support I need from the Defense and ex-servicemen and veteran community.”
When the group reached the bottom of the bridge, Harry’s staffers tried to urge him to cut his conversation with Cherne short in order to keep to the scheduled engagements he had later that afternoon. But the prince had other ideas, and Cherne detailed his response to his entourage.
“He stopped and said, ‘I’m in a middle of a conversation, and I’m not going to leave this.’ We were talking about my story and mental health and how difficult it is still, in our society, to talk about grief and loss and suicide. And how important things like the Invictus Games are to shedding light on, and allowing people to start to have these conversations that are great to have.”
Cherne works closely with the U.S.-based Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, as well as with the Australian Department of Veterans Affairs as an advisor for widows, veterans, and families. She is also an ambassador for the 2018 Invictus Games and heaped her praise on Harry and his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, for getting so heartily involved in this year’s games.
“The fact that he and Meghan are shining their light on the Invictus Games, highlighting for so many people the service and sacrifices the serving members and their families – and highlighting the families – gives people hope,” she said.