explainer

The story we didn't hear about the widow who was embraced by Prince Harry.

Warning: This post includes mentions of suicide.

It was a warm, heartfelt hug.

When Gwen Cherne climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge with Prince Harry over a week ago, they had a proper conversation. Not just a handshake, or a quick hello, but a real discussion about Gwen’s life.

The two talked not only about Gwen’s role as ambassador for the Invictus Games, but also about her husband, an Australian soldier who died by suicide last year.

The Duke of Sussex listened, and now the rest of us have the opportunity to, after Gwen has shared the details of her story with News Corp.

Gwen met her husband, Sergeant Peter Jon Cafe, while he was working with the security team for her work.

Their connection was instant, though the two didn’t notice its romantic potential immediately.

“We were in the gym one day and he was teaching me Muay Thai martial arts,” Gwen told the publication.

“A friend of mine said we were so cute together. We kind of looked at each other and it was like, oh, now we see it!”

They soon began dating, taking their relationship overseas for Peter’s work – in and out of dangerous military compounds of Afghanistan.

The two finally moved back to Australia and had three children, Lachlan, Thomas, and Emily.

Although work life steadied for Peter, his mindset had been completely shaken by his time overseas.

“He didn’t feel worthy of love,” Gwen said.

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“He was one of the most successful people I’d ever met. Anything he wanted to do, he went out and accomplished it… He was one of our elite soldiers in Australia. But it was never enough. When he failed, he felt shame and he held on to it.”

After much persuasion from his wife, Peter went to therapy and claimed to be making a mend – Gwen even noticed an improvement in his behaviour. He said “all the right things” during the lead up to his suicide.

But a few days before his death, Peter began displaying violence towards Gwen and their children, and so she gathered all three of them with her before leaving to ensure their safety.

“He thought I would abandon him. No matter how much love we gave him, no matter how many children I had with him, how much I was able to be that strength for him, there was something inside of him that doubted it all, constantly.”

It’s been 18 months since Pete took his own life.

Last week, when climbing the Harbour Bridge, Prince Harry asked about Pete. He asked for details about his time overseas and what family life had been like at home. “It was like having a conversation with an old mate,” Gwen said.

A photo of the two of them went viral, with reports the prince repeatedly brushed off his royal aides to continue his conversation with Gwen.

She told People that after ten minutes, when Prince Harry was urged to ‘move on,’ he stopped and said, “I’m in a middle of a conversation, and I’m not going to leave this”.

If this article raises any issues for you, you are urged to contact Lifeline 13 11 14 or beyondblue 1300 22 4636 for support. 

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