In her book, Stay Safe: A Memoir of Life After Loss From the Sister of a Fallen Soldier, Emily Reeves Dean honors her brother’s life, her family’s love and hopes to help others carry the load through their own grieving process.
By Jillian McGehee | Photography by Lily Darragh | Hair by Amy Hester with Red Beauty Lounge | Makeup by Juli Waits with Red Beauty Lounge
As Americans, we pause to reflect and honor the sacrifice and service of our military during patriotic holidays – Veterans Day, Pearl Harbor Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Patriot Day, just to name a few. The families of servicemen and women remain acutely aware of the danger and demands of these noble jobs. When tragedy occurs, they carry a load unlike any other. Emily Reeves Dean knows this feeling all too well. The surviving sister of Chief Petty Officer Robert James Reeves, a U.S. Navy SEAL killed in action Aug. 6, 2011, writes about her brother, her grieving process and more in her book, Stay Safe: A Memoir of Life After Loss From the Sister of a Fallen Soldier.
Only 14 months apart in age, Emily and Rob were constant companions throughout their childhood – sharing friends, after-school activities and endless adventures. Like many siblings, they fought often but were also each other’s most loyal advocates. During their college years, they began to foster their friendship. “We talked and visited frequently,” Emily remembers. “I still reach for the phone to call him when I have good news or need help sorting through a dilemma.”
Last October, after more than a decade in the ad agency industry, Emily left her corporate career to establish her own business as a digital marketing consultant. “Most of my time has been spent building my small portfolio of clients and working with them to build digital marketing programs that drive their business. It has been both fun and challenging,” she says. She shared this entrepreneurial spirit with her brother, noting the two enjoyed cultivating big ideas about technology and business. They dreamed of working together, building a business to showcase their respective skills and strengths and support their families. “Every time we got together, we would brainstorm, make notes and report back to each other about the research we had done. It was our own nerdy version of fun,” she notes.
But before her new business journey, Emily wrote and self-published a memoir. On the Facebook page dedicated to the memory of her brother, she shares this statement, “As we approach the fourth anniversary of Rob’s death, I am both nervous and excited to share with you a book that I wrote the month after he died. It is not perfect. It is not politically correct. And sometimes it is not polite. But it is true, and it is real.”
Emily had no expectations when she decided to self-publish the book, so everything about the process has been both surprising and rewarding. “I wrote my story for myself. But, when it was done, I thought it might help others realize they are not alone when they find themselves dizzy and disoriented from a life-changing event.”
The time span covered in her memoir fundamentally transformed Emily. “I needed to go through the grief, the anger, the laughter, the mistakes, the embarrassment and the conversations to become the better person I believe I am today.” She adds, “Publishing a book about myself was self-indulgent, but transcribing my days, nights and innermost thoughts was a therapeutic process I needed to experience.”
As she reflected on her journal-like writings to her brother in the month after his death, she re-lived those excruciating days. “I was in awe of my friends and family, as well as new friends and families I met that month and the support, love and understanding they gave me and my dad. I published this collection of stories to let them know I recognized and appreciated them more than I was able to express at the time. I made my words permanent as a reminder that I survived, I am lucky to have a strong support system and every day should be appreciated on its own.”
Carry the Load, an organization Emily champions, is an invaluable resource for families of fallen soldiers. Emily helped the Arkansas chapter gain visibility and awareness across the state. “I really connected with their message and realized my communications and marketing experience could help in Arkansas,” she says. “Carry the Load works to honor those who have given their lives to keep our country safe, which includes those who served in the military, but also firefighters, police officers and other rescue personnel.” Carry the Load supports communities throughout the country and benefits veterans and first-responder initiatives.
It’s a safe bet that Rob would be proud of his sister, her business and her role in building a stronger community.