Means blended letters and emails exchanged between her and Ryan with her own narrative to create “My Special Force: The Warrior Who Taught Me the Meaning of Life and Love,” published last month by February Books.
The book chronicles the couple’s journey of falling in love, getting married, experiencing multiple deployments, starting a family, Ryan’s tragic death and life in the aftermath of loss.
Ryan, an Atlanta native, joined the military after his childhood best friend, Adam White, died during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. After serving his country for about five years, most of that time as a Green Beret, Ryan was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2009 while deployed overseas and had to give his wife the horrible news over the phone that he had 30 days to live.
He died just weeks after Means gave birth to their second child.
“[I wrote the book] within maybe a year after he died so that hurt was very fresh in my mind,” she said. “Going back and reading all of those very happy emails, I think, really saved me, because rather than addressing the grief 24 hours a day, it sort of gave me a way to escape back into happier times. It was very therapeutic.”
Means said she hopes the book will teach readers to live life to the fullest and to appreciate each day and their loved ones.
She has read portions of the book to her daughters — Elizabeth, 5, and Sophie, 4 — to keep their father’s memory alive.
“I read [Elizabeth] some of the letters that he wrote me and she’ll say, ‘Oh Mommy, he really loved you,’” Means said.
The book has also given her a platform to raise awareness of organizations that support military service members and their families, such as the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Before formally publishing the book, Means self-published it and donated proceeds to the organization, which gives college scholarships to children of special operations soldiers who have died in active duty.
The book is sold at www.amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and local booksellers.