Afghanistan veteran with medals and child

How poetry keeps my brother with me

7 November 2014

How poetry keeps my brother with me

Karla Ellis, a founding member of our Bereaved Siblings Support Group, explains how writing has helped her cope after losing her brother in Iraq.


How poetry keeps my brother with me

How poetry keeps my brother with me By Karla Ellis

Karla is a founding member of SSAFA's Bereaved Siblings Support Group. She has contributed her writing to an exhibition staged by the group to remember loved ones who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The exhibition took place in London over Remembrance Weekend.

They say trauma tears us apart, giving us the chance to recreate ourselves. I tragically lost my brother Lee, a paratrooper, in Iraq on 28 February 2006. I had just had a promotion at work into an estate agency but when it happened my life fell apart. Since then, I have co-founded a support group for bereaved siblings with Ryan Thornton and Pamela Gentle, helping and inspiring others with my words and actions. I have performed at the Ministry of Health and at spoken word events. I even won a competition and was chosen to perform with a group of amazing women at the Bluecoat in Liverpool for Spoken Like A True. I was pictured outside Downing Street delivering a petition for change and I was invited in by Samantha Cameron for an event in recognition of the people I have supported. I have changed a law in the hope of improving conditions for soldiers, along with achieving a sense of justice and closure, and been awarded the Liberty Human Rights Award. I also inspired a documentary by Minnow Films called The Legacy Of Iraq, raising awareness of the plight a family feels after the death of a loved one in conflict.

Without all these things, I don’t know how else I would have coped with the death of my beautiful baby brother. You either grow or shrink. I am now the Director of a Performing Arts Academy and studying creative writing, media and English with the hope to work with future creatives along with developing my own knowledge and writing skills.

This exhibition is so important to me. I grew up with a great understanding of war. I was a top historian in school and studied war poetry at A level, particularly Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. I recently spent some time looking around the Imperial War Museum in Manchester and it isn’t difficult to see how history can be shaped. It is not just that you are involved in such a high profile political affair whilst grieving; we are also full of ample knowledge making it even more bizarre. When there is such a vast opinion regarding the wars, it is a way for us to be heard and supported because going through such a horrendous ordeal can be tremendously isolating.

To me, writing is cathartic, it’s healing and it gave me a way to make sense of things after my whole belief system had been torn to pieces. My love for creative writing stems from a subconscious knowledge of poetry, my love of hip hop and of course, my love for my brother. The easiest way for me to imitate that was to write poetry and spoken word. It gave me a sense of unity, worth and belonging.

It has been a way for me to keep my brother with me always - and not to feel uncomfortable about the elephant in the room. 

Our Support Groups

SSAFA Support Groups are a community of Forces families and individuals all facing similar challenges who help each other and offer mutual support. Members can talk in our online groups, meet other members at our regular national events and find information to help you.