“THEY helped me laugh and smile again and taught me how to express how unbelievably proud I am of my brother.”
Those are the words of courageous Great Sankey High School pupil Mel Birdsall whose brother Steven was killed in Afghanistan serving his country in 2010.
After enduring the worst nightmare any family can face, the inspirational teenager has now written a book about her experience and the support of charity Families’ Activity Breaks (FAB) in the hope of helping other children.
The 13-year-old added: “I thought it could help others get through bereavements whether it’s military-related or not and I really wanted to give something back to FAB that was from the heart.
“It was really difficult at the start talking about what happened but then talking about the charity helped me see the change in me from then to now.
“They helped me laugh and smile again and taught me ways of getting through difficult situations, how to feel good again about myself and how to tell people about my brother and how proud I am of him without getting upset.”
Mel was only 10 when there was a knock at her family’s Great Sankey door and two men in suits and a priest told them Steven had been shot.
The 20-year-old had suffered a head injury and been rushed to the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham but tragically died the next day.
Hundreds turned out for the popular marine’s funeral who was described as a ‘true hero’.
Mel added: “I didn’t know what to feel at first.
“I didn’t know if I was shocked, angry or upset and it all came together at once.
“I wanted to forget it but not in a way that i forgot my brother, just so I could forget what happened because it was so horrible.
“I bottled it up when I went back to school three weeks later and I was quiet and didn’t want to talk to anyone.
“After the funeral it was lovely seeing people but there was always one person missing.”
FAB was in it’s third year when Mel’s visiting officer suggested she give it a try a year after Stephen’s death and it helped transform her life.
The activity camps for families have led to her meeting some of her best friends and other youngsters who could really relate to how she was feeling.
Mel and her mum Jenny were so thankful to the cause they nominated them for a Millie (Armed Forces award) with viewers watching the founders of the charity picking up the prize on ITV before Christmas.
Mel, who met her idol Holly Willoughby on the red carpet and was sat next to Joey Essex during the awards ceremony, added: “I was so proud of the charity and so happy to see them win as they deserve it so much.”
Mel, whose dream is to be a Blue Peter presenter and then one day present the Millies, added: “Me and Ste were really close and he was my best friend.
“I’m unbelievably proud of what he did serving his country.
“He was always there for me and I love him and miss him so much but he will always be my brother.”
200 copies of the book have been printed and sent to military bases around the world with the hope of more being printed soon.