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At 19, Rifleman Cyrus Thatcher was one of the youngest victims of the Afghan war. These letters – given to The Independent by his family – reveal the excitement of a teenager sent to fulfil his dream, and his maturity in confronting the possibility that he might not make it home.

19 year old Cyrus Thatcher

In the spring of this year, the 2nd Battalion, The Rifles deployed to Afghanistan. Halfway through the battalion’s tour, it has lost nine soldiers, with dozens injured.

Of those to have given their lives, four were teenagers. Here Rifleman Cyrus Thatcher, who was 19 when he was killed by an explosion near Gereshk seven weeks ago, tells his own story, through letters home and the last letter he left behind to bid farewell to his family – his mother Helena, father Robin and brothers Zac, 21, and Steely, 17.

Following are the words of a proud soldier described by his officers as possessing “a rucksack full of potential”, and by his friends as a rascal always cracking jokes and helping to keep morale high. Most of all, they are the words of a young son to his mum, dad and brothers.
Terri Judd

27 April 2009

Hello Mum

I’ve just got your bluey [letter] (the 1st one) yea you are right it does get fucking hot, I can’t work out wether I’m tanned or just burnt to fuck!! I’ve spoke to you on the phone so you no what I’ve been doing. I’m well proud of you loosing all that weight. Suppose you’ve got a pretty good insentive. We’v had the same shit maybe a month now. Everyday a Monday out here. You kind of loose track of days. I cant quite work out if its going fast or slow. This pen is shit its doing my head in!!

Iv been thinking of loads of things and places to do, go and see. Me and Elliott are gonna go to Amsterdam after this. THINK WE MAY HAVE DESERVED IT!! It should be a good day (November 5th) [their homecoming parade]. On the 6th we can go Belfast Iv’e got loads of sad things I wanna buy ie Sky+ Big TV. Get the old man to help me rearange my room and help me fix my shelves. Im not the DIY type normally resort to celler tape or blue tack. HA HA HA. Hope everyones safe at home. Complete detox out here – water no drink. So my dance moves might involve a bit of stumbling when I return! Im coming home 2 weeks earlier now so that’s kinda good, it might be worth Zac picking me up give me a bit of chill out time so I don’t try stab a gobby civvi plus he’s a good listener, sumtimes I wonder if he’s listening or thinking of sumthing completely irrelivant.

Well pass this round the family so they can all admire my extream spelling (infantry eh!). Lots of love to all the nearest and dearest. Love Ya!! Xxxx

1 May 2009

Hey Mum + family

Ill always address my letters to you cuz I no your probley the only one who gets to the mail!! You’ll have to let me no how quick these are getting you ill keep writing the date?? Everything is good up this way getting hotter, still moving at a million miles per hour (HA HA HA) I think Iv’e stopped burning Im slowly going brown and my hair is getting ridiculous just wait till I come home ill look like a fucking wooky?! I was gonna write to granny + grandad but to be honest with the few spare hours I get Id’e rather write home ey? BTW send my regards to Daphne, Joan, Brian etc. Let em no how Im doing?

Every so often we get old people and churches send us little gifts like baby wipes, razors, sweets and stuff so its quite a good bit of moral. Got some really good photos ill have to bring my camera back so we can get that Kosovo collage on the go, to bring back on the 5th of November. If you saw what and where Ive been sleeping you would be shocked!! So pictures will back me up!

Unfortunately 3 blokes died 2 days ago in an IED explosion in one of the FOBs [Forward Operating Bases] bout 2 kilometers away – we visited that FOB 2 days before the attack – fucking mental quite scary actually! We’v had a rest day so Im doing a bit of hand washing and fitness! God you’d be so proud Ha! Ha! Ha! We’ve still had spam, rice, beans and unflavoured noodles every day – promise me actually I promise you if I see spam in the house ill fucking destroy it!! Im getting pretty good at making flat bread and we bout a goat of a local for 200 dollars and we slaughtered it. I got a good video. Its either catch it, kill it, or make it out here or else you go hungry LOL!! The showers are also freezing whilst Im on the subject of moaning?? Id’e best go again BUT ill keep writing when I get the time + ill be home in a couple of months. Love you’zzz all don’t worry bout me to much. Theres only 3 things that kill people over hear BULLETS, BOMBS + EGOS so I might go down with a bad case of swollen head!! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha. Love ya xxxxx

12 May 2009

Hello Mother

Yesterday was a massive day for moral an american chopper came in yesterday. I got 5 blueys one from Zac, Daphne, I think Sharpie sent one and Dad?? With some pictures that was great. I stared at them for about an hour I cant explain how good it is to get pictures and stuff you get grown men close to tears at the sight of there kid or a good night out its really strange how this place fucks with your head and emotions. A BIG ONE that I NEED you to try do (get started ill help when I get back) is appeal to local charitys, churches, major companys ie Zoo, Cadburys, boots you name it. Write to them and explain my whereabouts and they do send gifts, chocolate, sweets, magazines you name it trust me a lot of the lads parents did it and they’ve got clothes, the lot. Trust me Red bull, lucazade, fags AND SWEETS are wicked just keep sending them and URGE people to send photos they keep the moral SKY HIGH. I thought Steely and Zacs [poses] in the garden were quality. I can only prove how much a letter or small parcel means by finding time to right back – that’s probley the most precious thing I have and Id’e trade hours for a letter.

On some much sadder news one of our rifleman died a few days back, we had a parade and a few minutes silence its so strange how many emotions you go through living in these conditions its like everything wants to beat you and rewin your day. Its about not letting it get to you and don’t worry nothing fucking gets to me. Well Im off I love you all loads thanks for my parcels and letters. Lots of love xxx

14 May 2009

Hey Mum!

Its just gone 10 in the morning here Im on a stag rotation for the next 7 days guarding the FOB. Its 6 hours on 3 hours off so not much sleep. (Im already an hour in). If you could see what Im looking at now you’d be pretty shocked. Its pretty stunning to be honest. I could probley sling shot a stone from where we were last contacted [shot at] from Ha! Ha! Ha! Pretty fucking crazy huh? I shouldn’t really tell you this but its safer than on the phone – were leaving this place. Its gonna be a fucking massive operation moving this lot + a lot of helicopter rides. So when I come back after R&R [leave] ill fly to [the main British camp] bastion then out to our new FOB. You don’t really do much on stag. Swetting my tits of its gonna hit 50 degrees today. AAAAH Shit my grenade just fell out of my [body armour] – we wont mention that to any higherarcy will we now.

I think you said you were going to a weight loss thing a few days ago hope that well? (Just keep going) 37 days ill be home – not that Im counting or anything??? THINK there’s a bird coming in today at 13.30 so this bluey will probley arrive with the others – well as always gotta go ill try ring when I get a top-up of minuets on Monday. FUCK knows what day it is I thought it was Sunday today. Ha! Ha! Well lots of love to you all!

Cyrus Thatcher was killed on 2 June 2009. This is the letter he wrote to be delivered to his family if he died:

Hello its me, this is gonna be hard for you to read but I write this knowing every time you thinks shits got to much for you to handle (so don’t cry on it MUM!!) you can read this and hopefully it will help you all get through.

For a start SHIT I got hit!! Now Iv got that out the way I can say the things Iv hopefully made clear, or if I havent this should clear it all up for me. My hole life you’v all been there for me through thick and thin bit like a wedding through good and bad. Without you I believe I wouldn’t have made it as far as I have. I died doing what I was born to do I was happy and felt great about myself although the army was sadly the ending of me it was also the making of me so please don’t feel any hate toward it. One thing I no I never made clear to you all was I make jokes about my life starting in the Army. That’s wrong VERY wrong my life began a LONG time before that (Obviously) but you get what I mean. All the times Iv tried to neglect the family get angry when you try teach me right from wrong wot I mean to say is I only realised that you were trying to help when I joined the army and without YOUR help I would have never had the BALLS, the GRIT and the damn right determination to crack on and do it. If I could have a wish in life it would to be able to say Iv gone and done things many would never try to do. And going to Afghan has fulfilled my dream ie my goal. Yes I am young wich as a parent must brake you heart but you must all somehow find the strength that I found to do something no matter how big the challenge. As Im writing this letter I can see you all crying and mornin my death but if I could have one wish in an “after life” it would be to stop your crying and continueing your dreams (as I did) because if I were watching only that would brake my heart. So dry your tears and put on a brave face for the rest of your friends and family who need you.

I want each and everyone of you to forfill a dream and at the end of it look at what you have done (completed) and feel the accomplishment and achievement I did only then will you understand how I felt when I passed away.

[To his brothers:] You are both amazing men and will continue to be throughout your lives you both deserve to be happy and fofill all of your dreams.

Dad – my idol, my friend, my best friend, my teacher, my coach, everything I ever succeeded in my life I owe to you and maybe a little bit of me! You are a great man and the perfect role model and the past two years of being in the army I noticed that and me and you have been on the best level we have ever been. I thank you for nothing because I no all you have given to me is not there to be thanked for its there because you did it cause you love me and that is my most proudest thing I could ever say.

Mum, where do I start with you!! For a start your perfect, your smell, your hugs, the way your life was dedicated to us boys and especially the way you cared each and every step us boys took. I love you, you were the reason I made it as far as I did you were the reason I was loved more than any child I no and that made me feel special.

Your all such great individuals and I hope somehow this letter will help you get through this shit time!! Just remember do NOT mourn my death as hard as this will seem, celebrate a great life that has had its ups and downs. I love you all more than you would ever no and in your own individual ways helped me get through it all. I wish you all the best with your dreams.

Remember chin up head down. With love Cyrus xxxx

Original story via The Independent

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I cried after reading this article, especially after I read the part about ‘being in a one-parent family meant I was often alone’. I can probably relate best to that.

Article via Yahoo! Xtra

“Why My Dad Chose To Be Homeless”

January 25, 2011, 2:39 pm Abigail Haworth marieclaire

For years, photographer Amanda Tetrault was ashamed that her schizophrenic father lived on the streets. It wasn’t until she began looking at him through her own lens than she saw him in a new light.




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I was three years old when my father, Phil, tried to end his own life by walking naked into the snow. He threw himself onto a rock, cut his head and passed out on the icy ground. His feet froze solid. He survived, but he had to have all his toes amputated. This is one of my first real memories of him, hobbling beside me with his bandaged feet and a cane.

I was upset because he and my mother used to hold my hands and swing me in the air between them in the park. He couldn’t do that anymore, and I cried. Pretty much ever since then, my father has lived on and off the streets of our home city of Montreal, Canada. He has a severe case of schizophrenia that means he can’t – and won’t – live inside a family home. He has lived in government housing at times, but he ended up homeless again only eight months ago. His illness, these days paired with alcoholism, goes in and out of extreme phases. At its worst, he can’t remember to bathe or eat. He never forgets that I’m his daughter, but he does forget that anyone apart from himself matters. That’s when he returns to sleep in the park he’s haunted for the past 30 years, since I was a toddler.

My parents met at McGill University in Montreal in 1975. Phil was 21 and my mother, Natalie, was 19. He was a poet, hailed by fellow Montreal native Leonard Cohen as an exciting new talent. Mum was studying psychology. Phil was handsome and hugely charismatic, and she was a slim, fragile beauty. They fell in love and became inseparable. Within 18 months, they were pregnant with me. I was born in June 1977.

Phil was stable in those bohemian early days with my mother. He’d suffered his first big psychological breakdown at the age of 20, just before they met, and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Two of his cousins had the same illness, so it was in the family. But he was doing fine when he got together with Mum, and he stayed fine for a little over two years. With hindsight this was lucky, because the pregnancy caused ructions with both their well-heeled, traditional families. My struggling student parents – Mum was breastfeeding me during her final exams – had to cope with my arrival alone.

But the calm didn’t last. They moved to the country north of Montreal after college. Phil’s illness began to creep back. He started hearing voices, and his behaviour grew volatile and aggressive. He couldn’t hold down a job, so they ended up on welfare with a young child. Mum went back to college, taking me with her, to do a teaching degree to support us. That was when Phil’s sanity broke down completely and he tried to commit suicide in the snow. The doctors said he would never walk properly again after he lost his frostbitten toes. But he did figure out how to walk, and even to run again – a mark of the resilience that has helped him to survive all the gruelling years since.

I can’t remember exactly when Phil started living on the streets, but it wasn’t long after he tried to kill himself. He refused psychiatric help or medication because he was too delusional to comprehend that he needed it. I call him Phil now, but he was still Daddy to me then.

I remember sitting on his lap before he was sick and laughing wildly at his silly jokes – he’s always been very funny – and loving that he was so big and strong. I never stopped loving him, throughout everything. But, as a child, the love became mixed with another powerful feeling towards him: terror.

I never had a sit-down talk with anyone about his illness. It was just part of our lives. I overheard people using words like “loony” or “nutcase” to describe him. Even my mum. She was so young then, and she was trying to cope. Mum and I moved into a one-bedroom apartment in an unrenovated building in Montreal’s Westmount, one of the city’s wealthiest neighbourhoods. After weeks of not seeing Phil, he would reappear at our door, dishevelled and often drunk. Sometimes he was lucid, but mostly his arrival was like this huge explosion. Mum would always let him in. She’d feed him and make him up a bed on the couch for a few nights. She wanted to help.

I dreaded him showing up – this wild, scary-eyed alien version of my father. I had nightmares about it. He sat in our old blue armchair in his dirt-stained clothes and shouted at his imaginary voices, spewing nonsense to nobody. He made crazy faces, he smelled of bodily filth and tobacco, he knocked things over. There was always drama and screaming. One of his recurring delusions was that he was Jackie Onassis’s son – he even went to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts once to find her, and had to be escorted back over the border by police. He also believed that cars were evil. He slashed all four tyres on my mum’s car to “protect” us so many times that she started parking it kilometres away. She couldn’t afford to keep replacing them.

There was nowhere to escape in our tiny flat. I reacted at these times by withdrawing, by becoming almost mute. Even when he was calm and I could play with my toys in the living room, I was always on guard for any hint of a new episode. I’d observe him out of the corner of my eye and give regular reports to my mother in the kitchen: “Mum! He’s staring at the ceiling now!” I hated the madness, hated the unpredictability, and hated that we were so alone. And I longed desperately for my daddy.

When he disappeared outside, we didn’t know if we’d ever see him again. Being homeless in Montreal is brutal – it hits minus 20°C in winter. Almost no-one is on the streets by choice here. It’s the severely mentally ill who end up there because they slip through the cracks; they are too far gone to consent to treatment. He’d usually been drinking – alcoholism is like a co-disease of schizophrenia, as it helps to dull the senses and quiet the voices. Often, we’d hear that Phil was still alive because he’d been arrested for being disorderly, or for being half-naked. He was constantly in and out of jail or secure psychiatric wards. Inside they’d forcibly medicate him, and things would improve briefly after he was released, but then the whole ugly cycle would start again.

As I grew up, my fear of Phil became mingled with intense shame. One day, when I was about nine, I saw him waiting for me outside my school. He was filthy and mumbling to himself, trying to spot me in a sea of kids. I went white with shock. He was still only in his early 30s, but he looked decrepit. I ran past him as hard as I could, screaming at my friend that a monster was following us. I didn’t stop running for 20 minutes. Another time, when I was in high school, I spotted him frantically rummaging through a garbage bin in the city centre. I was on my way to a movie with my girlfriends. My heart started beating out of my chest. I turned around and walked away in an ice-cold panic.

My friends had no clue why I behaved like that. I attended one of Montreal’s best schools, where all the students came from “respectable” homes. It was rare for a student to come from a single-parent family, so I already felt different. How could I reveal that my father was a mentally ill street person who sometimes wore his underwear on his head, and kept getting thrown in jail? I told my best friends simply that my dad wasn’t around, and they were too well-mannered to probe.

I had no counselling or therapy to help deal with my awful secret. Talking cures weren’t so common then. Once, I did visit the school guidance counsellor at my mum’s suggestion. But I was so used to hiding the truth that as soon as I stuttered out the words, “My father has schizophrenia”, I started heaving with gigantic sobs, and couldn’t say another thing. Incredibly, the counsellor didn’t follow up and try to see me again. I never went back.

Mum tried to make life as normal as possible for me; we had our little routines like watching TV together in the evenings, and she took me camping every year for our summer holiday. Still, being in a one-parent family meant I was often alone. I bottled up my feelings so tightly there were times when I feared I was going mad, too. Schizophrenia is genetic, after all, and there’s no way of testing for it before it manifests. I monitored my thoughts constantly, banishing anything that seemed weird. I shelved art projects that seemed too wild. I thought I seemed “normal”, but there was always that grain of worry. In men, schizophrenia is usually diagnosed around the ages of 19 to 21, but in women it’s later, about 26 to 27. It took me until my 29th birthday before I felt I was truly in the clear.

When Mum and I moved house in my teens, I pleaded with her not to give Phil our new address. She agreed. We decided to meet him only at a cafe if he was well enough, or in the park if not. To this day, Phil doesn’t know where either of us lives. He has our phone numbers, but that’s it. It was the right decision because not having him randomly burst into our lives with his cluster-bomb craziness meant I could savour the nicer moments. I’d long ago given up hope of any fatherly nurturing, but little things meant a lot – like when he read me a new poem he’d written, or gave me earrings for my birthday that he’d scrimped and saved to buy. He’d give me five bucks whenever he could too, even though he needed it. Mum said I should always accept it.

Then something unexpected happened. When I was 19, I started to take photographs of my times spent with Phil. My maternal grandfather had given me my first camera a few years earlier, and I had become hooked on photography. Seeing Phil from behind a lens, in stark black and white, was extraordinary. There it was: the truth about my father, the truth about us. Suddenly, I began to make sense of this vast, murky soup of emotions I’d had for so long. I started to untangle the deep morass of shame I felt. Shame about him, and even deeper shame (and guilt) at myself for feeling ashamed.

Anger bubbled up inside me about why I’d always felt so dirty and tainted, why I’d had to deny his existence. The camera made me face everything. I started making peace with Phil, and with myself. I also told my closest friends about him, and gradually stopped trying to hide the truth from everyone else.

My whole life I’d heard people say that street people were disgusting, that they should get a job, that they stank. I’d seen the callous way Phil was treated by police, the constant discrimination. When I was having a coffee or a stroll with him, strangers would often ask if he was “bothering” me, or if I needed help.

I wanted the photos to show that there’s more to someone like Phil than people realise. Not to deny the hardship and mess of his life, but to reveal the worth and beauty in it, too. I took pictures of him writing his poems, which he’s never given up and still sells on the streets (he hates begging). I photographed him playing his pan pipes, which he also plays to earn money. I photographed him talking to the birds and trees he loves, and also later as he was passed out in an alcoholic haze among them. And, most importantly, I photographed all of us – Phil, my mum and me – because this was our family.

I continued taking photos of my father over the years, and occasionally still do. I’m 33 years old now, and I’m a professional photographer. In my 20s, I spent time living in New York and India, but I have been based in Montreal for more than two years. I recently broke up with my boyfriend, but I’d love to have a family of my own one day. I see Phil almost every week, sometimes with my mum and sometimes alone.

Now that he’s in his 50s, Phil’s illness has levelled off. There are fewer highs and lows. He still abuses alcohol, but he takes his medication more regularly, which, he says, makes his imaginary voices seem a manageable “two rooms away”. I’d like to say that everything is wonderful, but that wouldn’t be true. Phil still loses the plot and I still have difficult times with him, and that’s probably never going to change. But the good thing is I can now accept all that. I love Phil, and I’m happy to tell the whole world he’s my father.

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