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, December 25, 2011

Black Olives

Well, this holiday season is tricky because last year I could convince myself that Shane would not have been home for the holidays. If Shane hadn’t been killed he would have still been in Afghanistan. It is a silly game the mind plays, but it was a game that helped me get through the holidays last year.

This year, I did not have that luxury of playing a game with my mind. Instead, I knew that Shane should be home – yes, home for the holidays because the tour was over. Yet, Shane was not home because the brutality of death truly wins. Shane will never ever be home again.

Instead, I (we) create a new existence without the physical presence of Shane. Those of us who knew and loved Shane have changed. The change is a necessity to process my life without my son, but every once in awhile something happens that tugs on the strings of the heart.

Traditionally, we spend Christmas Eve with Kurt’s side of the family and Christmas day with my side of the family. True to tradition, we continued with our holiday plans.

Yesterday, I received a telephone call for a simple request. “Will you bring a can of black olives on Christmas day? I forgot to grab a can at the store.” The request was from Shane’s godmother; Shane loved his Aunt Jane. Jane just happens to be married to my brother, John. Jane is more than my sister-in-law, she is my best friend.

You see, Shane really liked black olives. Beth and I like black olives, but Shane loved black olives. A year ago, I would have had at least six cans of black olives in the pantry. This year, not a single can in the house, not even in the back corner of the refrigerator. Kurt, being the brave one, ventured to the grocery store and purchased a couple of cans of black olives.

When we would have family over one can was never enough because when the kids were young, they would put black olives on their finger tips and laugh and laugh while they nibbled away on the olives. Never the green ones, only the black ones.

I know it is silly, but this simple request made me realize how many little things I have altered in my life. And then I wondered why I stopped purchasing black olives, but subconsciously I knew why.

Tonight, I put black olives on my plate. And with a smile on my face and a gaze up to the heavens, I thanked Shane for his love of black olives.

Oh, and that other can of black olives was placed in my refrigerator.

As I continue to “put one foot in front of the other.”

Always and forever,
Shane’s Mammy and Beth’s Momma

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Monuments and Men

A couple of months ago, we traveled to Fort Campbell. It was a trip which I needed to make to help with my healing process. We drove through continuous rains as if the heavens were crying with me. My heart was so heavy, so wanting and waiting to feel whole again.

The drive to Kentucky was beautiful; the colors of fall still remained on the branches. Through the raindrops I wondered where all the other people were going on their travels. Were they going to work or a day of errands or on a trip of discovery?

We arrived at Fort Campbell in time for a ceremony for the Gold Star Families. This was not the reason for our trip, but we felt it was important to attend the ceremony. We were honored to be escorted by CPT Sean Hinrichs, who was Shane’s platoon leader. I am sure that Sean’s parents are as proud of their son as we are of Shane. And now I finally had the opportunity to meet the man who spent so many hours with my son.

The ceremony was very moving and, at the end, a family member placed a yellow rose inside the blue star. When I returned to my chair, I felt so small and was so glad to be able to hold Kurt’s hand. 

Sean then took us to the site of the monuments for the fallen Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), 327th Infantry Regiment. This was my reason to venture to Fort Campbell; the trip gave me an opportunity to lay my hands on a monument. It is the monument that bares the names of the Soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Operation OEF XI May 2010 – May 2011. The monument is inscribed on both sides with the men who gave their lives for honor and country.

It bares Shane’s name. And then a Merlin caught my eye – it flew low and settled in a pine tree. At that moment, I felt a wave of peace come over me. It is a fleeting thing, but I am so grateful for those precious moments of peace. I began to grasp that brotherhood of honor, duty, and commitment.

Later in our visit, we got to meet Shane’s brothers-in-arms and their families. We spent lunches and dinners in conversations wrapped in love and respect. We laughed and we cried. I was able to put faces and voices to the men; the men so important to Shane. We were invited over to Doc’s house; a house filled with love.

I was now able to fully realize that I will never truly understand this brotherhood, but that is okay because it is something only the men of the 101st Airborne Division, 1/327th, Bravo Company – those Bushmaster Brothers can understand.

Each of the men will forever hold a special place in my heart. I am grateful to have been given this opportunity to witness the brotherhood.

As we drove home, the skies were no longer pouring rain; instead, the sun was poking through the clouds as my thoughts drifted in and out of peace.

As I continue to “put one foot in front of the other.”

Always and forever,
Shane’s Mammy and Beth’s Momma

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Wreaths Across America

On the second Saturday of December, coordinated wreath laying ceremonies occurred at Veteran cemeteries sponsored by Wreaths Across America. I did not attend the ceremony on Saturday; instead, I went to Great Lakes National Cemetery today. I did not attend the ceremony because my time at the cemetery is filled with quiet reflection.

I am thankful for this group and the many volunteers who gave up their precious time to attend the ceremony. Personally, I know kindhearted people who attended the ceremony, people who knew and loved Shane and everything he stood for. I know the young boys who placed the wreath on Shane’s tombstone.

It was a bitter cold morning, but the sun was shining, which has a tendency to make everything a little bit better. As I turned into the drive, the first things to catch my eye were the flags. Today, all the flags were raised and waving in the wind. It is a magnificent sight – the red, the white, and the blue. It is a brutal reminder of the ultimate sacrifice that Shane freely made to help keep us safe.

I pulled over and parked near Shane’s tombstone. I can sit in the Jeep and view Shane’s final resting spot. I have my little rituals for my visits to the cemetery. Today, we listened to the new cd by the Black Keys from start to finish (no skipping songs because that is one of Shane’s rules for listening to a new album).

I always read poetry when I visit Shane’s grave and today was no exception. On some visits I know which poems I will read, but today, I let the book decide for me. I opened the book and let the page come to me. I brought John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us. When I opened my eyes and saw the title of the poem, I closed my eyes and said – no, this must be a mistake, but I did not change my draw. Instead, I read the following poem. And even though the tears did not stop flowing for the longest time, I knew in my heart, this was the poem for the day.

“For Grief”
~ John O’Donohue

When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you gets fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence.

Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.

There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it know its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.

As I continue to “put one foot in front of the other.”
Always and forever,
Shane’s Mammy and Beth’s Momma