Pfc Shane M. Reifert

Pfc Shane M. Reifert
Shane during a sweep of the Shuryak Valley, approximately 3 weeks before he was killed. Photo Credit: PFC Sean Stromback

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Edible Arrangements

 After Shane died, my parents and my best friend and I were gathered at home, preparing for a day at the funeral home or maybe one of the days right before the funeral home. Everyone was in pajamas, if I remember correctly, except for my best friend, who was put together and making sure that we were at least semi-functioning. There was a knock at the door. My best friend appeared to go answer the door and then came into the room where I was, muttering something slightly undiscernible and suggesting that I needed to go answer the door. 

At the door was a man with the widest smile I've possibly ever seen. He was wearing orange and purple and holding and obscenely large bouquet of fruit. So large that he was struggling to keep it upright. 


I stared back in disbelief. What was this strange little man doing at the door? What was this bouquet of fruit? Why was he so happy? Would I ever be that happy again? Was I ever that happy to begin with? Probably not. Could I even fake being that happy? Probably not successfully. Seriously, was this man on medication? Did he have a head injury? These are the thoughts that flew through my head as I stared at the man, unable to form proper words. 

Finally, I answered, "How can I help you?"

"Well, I have an Edible Arrangement for you! And boy, is this one special because it even has special chocolate sauce! And I've never gotten to deliver one with special chocolate sauce before! So this must be a very special delivery! Now, if you can just take this, I need to run back to the car so that I can get a little signature from you and give you one of our wonderful calendars!"

The man somehow placed the Edible Arrangement into my arms and, in the memory I've kept of the moment, skipped off to his delivery van to get a calendar and something for me to sign with a "little signature." 

I must have managed to hand off the arrangement to someone else, collect the special chocolate sauce and calendar from the man, and give him a little signature. He was smiling the entire time. Couldn't he see our misery, I thought to myself. Didn't he read the card? 

"Have a great day!!" The man trotted back to his van and drove out of our lives. 

I turned around to face my family and friends. And something magical happened. We all started laughing. Real laughter. Not forced, conversational laughter. But real, honest, doesn't-make-you-sound-attractive laughter that comes from deep down in your belly. 

That moment proved for me that life does, in fact, go on. Sometimes it starts to go on during a time when we least expect, like when you're minding your own business, attempting to be miserable and grieve in your pajamas. Life forces you to have moments of happiness and laughter, even if it then thrusts you into four miserable days of funeral homes and funerals and burials.

I don't remember who sent the Edible Arrangement, I think it was a friend of my mother's. It was excessively large and took a long time to disassemble but it gave us fresh fruit to eat. And it gave us laughter. Throughout the rest of that week, we kept seeing Edible Arrangements trucks and making jokes about special chocolate sauce and happy deliverymen. To whomever sent that, I don't think anything else my family was given during that time frame brought us more genuine happiness during a time of absolute misery, so thank you very much. 

Not so long ago, I saw that deliveryman again and took the opportunity to thank him. I don't think he remembered me, but when I told him that we still talk about how happy of a person he was and how he brought my family so much joy with our Edible Arrangement he smiled wider than I thought possible, even for him. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Later Doesn't Always Come"

This is a playlist off of Shane's ipod, entitled "Later Doesn't Always Come." 

Starlight - Muse
Wildcat - Ratatat

Velvet - The Big Pink
Death is Certain Pt. 2 (It Hurts) - Royce da 5'9"
Ain't Nothing Like You - BlakRoc
When the Lights Go Out - The Black Keys

Click "Read More" to see the rest of the playlist. 

The Dead Can't Testify

I've always preferred to know things rather than not know things. At Christmas time, I searched the house until I found the presents. I hate surprises. I don't like having secrets kept from me. And I abhor liars. Mostly, I like the truth and I like knowledge. Facts are comforting.

So when the opportunity arises to learn, do I always take it? I thought I would have answered this question in the affirmative, but in actuality, it's in the negative. 

I'm referring to going through Shane's belongings. His laptop and his phone are sitting directly across from me. But every time I pick either one of them up, I feel like a snoop. Like I'm doing something wrong and am about to get punished. It's different than the feeling one gets when actually snooping and might get caught. This time, there's no one here to get upset. I know that, as much as I want him to, Shane just isn't going to walk into the room and catch me on his phone, asking me what the hell I'm doing and to get out of there. 

Two days ago, I opened the laptop. There are no documents. The few pictures that the Army didn't wipe off of his hard drive are mostly joke photos taken from failblog. They give me a laugh but make me sad all at the same time because I remember Shane sending most of them to me before and laughing about them with him. Now I'm laughing by myself. 

Yesterday, I turned on his phone. I didn't look through the pictures. I have no desire to read his text messages or his emails. Those are and will forever be private and none of my business. But I feel like if I delete anything, it's like I'm deleting a part of Shane. So I took his phone with me to school yesterday. I played one of his playlists entitled "Time to Die." It was mostly overly aggressive music, the majority of which I skipped because it started to make me feel angry. I kept his phone in my front pocket for the rest of the day. Throughout class, I would reach into my pocket and touch the phone, just to make sure that it hadn't somehow disappeared. And now it's sitting in front of me. 

Being surrounded by relics of the dead is both disturbing and comforting. Leaving Shane's belongings around has the potential to make everything feel like some sort of creepy museum to his existence. Knowing that he cannot come to collect his things, it becomes clear that we keep everything out for ourselves, as if we need a reminder about Shane. I know that my parents and I don't need to be surrounded by Shane's things -- we don't run the risk of suddenly forgetting about him and we have 23 years of memories in our hearts. But what if we start to put him away? What if we tuck him into drawers and pack him away in boxes? What happens then? Do the memories start to fade? Will he start to forget about us, where ever he is? Will we start to move on? Probably not. But there's a fear that these things will happen.

I remember a conversation I had with Shane before he deployed. I don't know if he talked about the possibility of his death with my parents, I have a feeling that he didn't, but it was always a part of our conversation. I was always open to the possibility that Shane wouldn't come home. I started mourning his death the day he deployed. Maybe that sounds tragic, and as much as I was still blindsided by his death, preparing myself for the possibility of such a thing has helped me. When he would bring up the topic, I mostly struggled to not cry in front of Shane or show any sign of weakness. I did not know what he was feeling, but I could imagine that keeping thoughts of one's possibly impeding demise all bottled up wasn't healthy -- that it was scary and uncertain. 

During one particular conversation, Shane said, "Bethie, if I die, I need you to promise me something."

Oh, dear God, I thought. What on earth is he going to ask me to do. "What's that," I asked. 

"I need you to promise that if I die, you won't keep my Army medals in a box somewhere. Put them out so that people can see them, or just throw them away. Because I don't want that stuff to just be in a box where no one ever sees them. I want people to remember me and what I did, okay?"

"Okay, buddy. I promise." 

Shane's actual medals just came back to us, and my parents and I have yet to decide what we're going to do with them. But a copy of his medals currently reside at my father's store in a display case for everyone to see, along with pictures of him. I hope that Shane would be happy with this. 

That's the tricky thing about the dead. As much as they can tell us their wishes while they're living, after they're gone, we're on our own. I can't call Shane and ask him if how his medals are displayed is to his liking. We just have to hope that we're honoring him in the way he would have liked.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Drop the World

Today "I got ice in my veins, blood in my eyes, hate in my heart, love in my mind. I see nights full of pain, days of the same. You keep the sunshine, save me the rain."  

Shane really liked this song. I listen to it when I'm feeling weak, which is fairly often these days, and it makes me feel a little closer to him and a little bit better. So buddy, if you can hear this, it's for you. 


It’s been very difficult for me to write lately. Every time I sit down to formulate some words into sentences, my mind seems to falter and the page remains blank.

I’ve been having a rough time lately. I think it’s because the fact that Shane isn’t coming back is starting to become real.

When I check Facebook, I see status updates about when other soldiers are coming home on leave or coming home from deployment, and they break my heart. “_____ will be home for good in 2 months!” “Picking up ____ from the airport tomorrow morning!” They’re wonderful things to be able to share. Much better than most of the dribble on Facebook (“insert overly descriptive recent medical problem here;” “insert mundane task there”). And a part of me is really and truly happy that someone is getting to come home. But there’s another part of my heart that absolutely breaks when I read things like that. Because my someone will never be coming home on leave. He will never be coming back after a deployment. He will never be leaving for a deployment, either, for that matter. There are a billion things that Shane will simply never do again. And that’s a really difficult fact to wrap my head around.

I know that it’s going to be a bittersweet time in my life when Shane’s platoon comes home from their deployment. On the one hand, I can’t wait to meet some of the men who have become like family to me. But on the other hand, I know that my brother should be among them when they return. And it will be devastating when he doesn’t return.

Wasn’t Shane a good enough soldier? Wasn’t he a good enough person? Yes, and yes. But unfortunately, how good someone is does not determine whether they live or die. Maybe that sort of stuff matters for the afterlife, but it doesn’t really seem to matter in the here and now. Shane is dead and the world is still brimming with terrible people who get to walk around and live their terrible lives without a second thought.

“No one ever said that life was fair,” is something that I grew up hearing. It was mostly in reference to me not getting what I wanted. I never paid much attention to the phrase then, but I do now. Things really aren’t fair. So then what’s the point? If you’re a hard worker, if you have a good character, if you have a clean conscience and your heart is in the right place, what does all of that get you if life can get taken away in but a mere moment? I don’t really have an answer to my question and I don’t think anyone else could give me a satisfactory answer, either at the moment. Mostly because I’m convinced that there isn’t one. And for the time being, that is fine.

I keep waking up every morning. I keep getting out of bed and showering and I’ve even started going to my classes and interacting with other human beings besides my parents and sometimes I catch myself having little moments where I’m happy. They never last long, sometimes less than a second. But they’re there. Yesterday I spoke with a dear friend on the phone and I laughed. We both did. I don’t remember about what, but I remember my stomach hurting because I had laughed with my entire body. At another point in the day, I received hugs from two of my other friends and remembered that people really care about me, which I sometimes forget, and I felt the love they had for me in their hearts and I hoped that my heart was giving off the same love for them.

And maybe those little moments are the point. I know that for some people who are lucky enough to have a happy disposition, those little moments might be long stretches of time in their lives. But for people like me, happiness isn’t a constant. Rather, it sneaks into my heart in quiet little moments when I’m not looking or expecting. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to have two of those little moments. Maybe I won’t have any today. But I’m going to stick those moments in my metaphorical pocket and hold onto them today, just in case I find myself asking what the point of everything is.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

One Tough Week

To be honest, last week was not easy. As I walked out of the house on Monday morning in the darkness of the early hours, my eyes turned upward in search of that special star. I couldn’t find it because the clouds were blanketing the sky.

So, off to school I went (papers still waiting to be read and graded) – really not sure if I was truly ready to be back. Again, the questions kept coming into my head – is it too soon, can I really do this, am I strong enough, am I being the best teacher I know how to be?

Once inside my building I hoped I had made the correct decision and then my kids (and former kids) came in, hour after hour, and in my heart, I knew I had made the best decision.  You see, my students are never my students, they are always my kids.  I have a passion for my subject matter, and I believe that passion will win.

Later I walk out of the building, again in darkness, and head off to return an item I purchased.  To be honest – it was one heck of an ugly sweater, which I purchased in September.  As I pass by a rack of clothing a top catches my eye. It looks like “Beth,” so I stop and find the correct size.  Someone calls my name and tells me she is so sorry for my loss.  Then with tears filling her eyes she tells me how she tried coming to the funeral home or funeral Mass, but couldn’t because all she could think of – what if that was one of her kids in the casket.  And with that my heart stopped for a moment. What if? My jaw clenched and I just stared – and then I asked how her children were doing.  And then she proceeded to tell me. Finally, I said I was weary, that I left my house twelve hours ago, and needed to get home. Yes, get home to my family, yes, go home to Kurt and Beth (and the Lola).

I called my dearest friend and vented to her.  I thought I was over this, but all week it hung in the back of my mind just as that ugly sweater hung in my closet.

It wasn’t until Saturday night as Beth and I were talking – she under the freshly washed comforter and I on top, that I decided to share the story with her.  Instead, this time I laughed and said – I believe that is now the number one thing not to say to someone.  And we both laughed.

And then it made me think of Shane and how he could turn someone’s comments into a bit of laughter.  So, thank you Shane for another one of your gifts as I continue to put, “one foot in front of the other.”

Peace and Love,
Always and Forever,
Shane’s Mammy and Beth’s Momma

Monday, January 3, 2011

Mama I'm Coming Home

"Thank you for your service," I say to a soldier with a 101st Airborne patch on his arm as I walked out of security at the Nashville airport. 

The soldier seems somewhat surprised that I spoke to him. He pauses for a minute, nodding his head, saying "Thank you for your support."

I never thanked Shane enough for his service and am grateful when I get the opportunity to thank a soldier, especially one from the 101st. 

*     *     *     *     *     *

"How are you doing today," the woman behind the counter asks as she scans the book I purchased to replace the one that I had left at a house to which I shall never return.

I sigh, debating on whether or not I should be honest or just smile and say that I am fine. I opt for the latter option. 

"Did you have a good new years," I ask, for some reason feeling the need to continue conversation. 

"Oh yeah, it was fine," she responds, "and you?"

"Well, actually, no. I really didn't have a good new years. And I'm also not fine today."

"Me neither." She lets out a slight laugh as she answers. "In fact," she continues, "2010 was the worst year of my life."

"Me, too."

"At least we have a new year then, right? We just both have to hope and know that things can only get better. Just be hopeful for the possibility of something better." 

I sign my credit card receipt, collect my new belongings, and tell her that I hope she has a good day, genuinely meaning it. I walk to find my gate.

*     *     *     *     *     *

I find a seat and look over to notice over 20 soldiers in ACUs, standing with the loved ones, hugging, crying, waiting to board a plane to Fort Benning. I sigh out loud. I remember what it was like to say goodbye to Shane. I am jealous of the families who have this opportunity to say "I love yous" and give hugs and kisses. I contemplate staying in my seat. I think about crying. I think about calling someone or reading my book. Instead, I pick myself up and walk down the terminal, everything still being too fresh. 

*     *     *     *     *     *

I sit on the plane next to a brace-faced high school girl. I make up a story in my head about her: her parents are divorced, she was visiting her father in Nashville and is now returning to Michigan, where she lives, where he mother will pick her up and take her back home, just in time for her to start class on Monday. During the flight, she takes out a copy of Things Fall Apart. I had to read that in high school and can now determine with a fair degree of certainty that she is in A.P. English. She manages to get through a chapter before putting it down. 

During the flight, I think about Shane. I think about how he might be disappointed in me but also proud of me that I had finally realized what I should have known from the very beginning but couldn't see because of my grief. I think about my broken heart. I think about who caused it. I think about how we all are really the ones who break our own hearts, as we choose to allow people in or not. I think about coincidences and if they mean anything. I think about how my life has turned into one giant coincidence, from which I am constantly attempting to extract meaning. I think about how rare it is that I find any actual meaning. I read Player One: What is to Become of Us, by Douglas Coupland. And I read it slowly, savoring the words. I find it a coincidence that Coupland's narrator discusses coincidences throughout the novel. I wonder what my life would be like if I would have just become a writer and an English professor. I have no desire to go back to law school when I get back to Michigan. I have no desire for almost anything anymore. I attempt to listen to music but it all makes me sad so I just sit for a while, drinking Sprite and eating airplane cookies. 

The plane lands. For some reason, the girl who had sat next to me in silence during the entire plane ride, like I prefer, begins to speak. 

"Ohmygosh. I can't believe it. My flight has like, gotten delayed, like 3 different times. And now it's gotten changed again. And I'm just so tired of being on airplanes and in airports and having to talk to people on the phone about, like, connections. And all I want to do right now? Is to just be home, ya know?"

I don't respond at first, surprised that she had given so much information. "That all sounds very frustrating. And I, too, just want to be home."

"I just don't understand how I'm not home right now and how airports work. And I had to stay in a hotel last night and I just want my mom."

I look into the girl's eyes. I have a strong desire to hold her but instead begin to retrieve my bag from the overhead compartment. 

"It's really tough being away from your mom. And I'm sorry that you had to stay in a hotel alone last night. If it makes you feel any better, I had to stay in a hotel alone last night, too. And even though I'm 26, I still missed my mom."

The girl gives me a weak smile, but it's still a smile. 

I see a bright blue coat and a white bag with a stuffed animal in it and hand them to the girl without even asking if they are hers. She gives me a stronger smile at this. I stand in the aisle way so that she can get out of her seat and get off of the plane, even though I normally would have only been concerned with getting myself off of the plane. It's a small gesture but it's the best I can do for this girl who just wants to get home to her mother.

We exit the plane. I consider asking the girl if she'd like me to stay with her while she waits for her next connection, decide that would be creepy, and instead tell her that I hope she finds her way home soon. She says thank you and we part ways. 

I make my way toward baggage claim, through the light tunnel, down the escalator, where I see my own mother and father waiting for me. It's not until I'm in their arms until I feel the sense of safety that I had attempted to find while traveling. And I know that I am home.

Video Documenting Shane's Funeral

This video was created by Rick and documents the day of Shane's funeral, from the vantage point of the many local heroes who came out to support Shane and our family. Thank you so much, Rick, for being there that day, creating the video, and sharing it with us.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

"Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant." Joan Didion

Shane and I stayed at the Sheraton in Nashville last February and ate lunch in the restaurant. I had a Caesar salad and he had a bowl of beef barley soup. We both had Pepsis. Shane complained about the butter being cold as he buttered his bread. I took pictures of the light fixtures because I thought they were beautiful. 

This evening, I ate dinner at the same restaurant alone. I had a Caesar salad and a Pepsi and one of the best steaks I've ever eaten. The bread was different and the butter was room temperature. The light fixtures that I thought were so beautiful have been changed. And I sat in a chair that would have been right behind the one Shane sat in last February, purely by coincidence. As I ate my meal, I imagined that Shane was sitting right behind me the entire time. I could almost hear the conversation that we had in February with one another. At one point I even reached behind me to touch the chair in which he would have sat. 

Before finding myself unexpectedly in Nashville, I was in Fort Campbell the past few days and drove by Shane's old barracks. I remembered his building number. I had happened upon them accidentally. They are under construction right now, but my memories of being there with Shane flooded back to me and I needed to pull over to compose myself as I became overwhelmed with thoughts of Shane. I kept driving by the barracks, as if I expected Shane to come walking out at any second. Of course, he didn't, but the possibility seemed quite real in my mind. 

I've been doing a lot of magical thinking lately. I keep telling myself that if I perform certain actions, go to certain places, that I will see Shane. That I will somehow be able to make him come back. Part of me knows this to be impossible. I am generally a logical person. I apply logic to all scenarios and I do so without thinking. 

But there is another part of me that has developed. And that part defies logic in its entirety and thinks that Shane is still very much alive. Or that he can become alive again. I make up versions of my life in which Shane is still in Afghanistan, but that something has happened to the internet and phones and he cannot contact me. Other times, I imagine that a part of him is living on in a time loop in the past and that if I just recreate an event, I will see some former version of Shane. 

As I ate my dinner tonight, I reflected on my magical thinking, wondering if it's healthy or unhealthy. I allow myself to think in such a way because Joan Didion did and even wrote a book about it. (Note: if you have not read The Year of Magical Thinking, I highly suggest it). I allow myself to think in such a way because it's comforting. Because it makes me feel like I'm not quite so alone. But there is a fear in the back of my head that allowing myself to engage in magical thinking means that I'm slowly losing my mind. That I am becoming delusional and am losing my grip on reality. But I suppose that it is this fear that keeps me clinging to sanity.