Imagine all of your dreams, ideas, and visions of “what might have been” dashed against the rocks on the stormy seas of life as you lose your one, true love in a land thousands of miles away. A young love and promises of “forever” forfeited as your husband is tragically killed in a land thousands of miles away. Mosul takes another war-fighter’s soul, a city well known for its horrors (argued to be the worst in Iraq) stuck in a space of corrupt infrastructure and constant civil war. Over the past year and a half I’ve had the wonderful privilege of getting to know this incredible warrior of a woman. She lost her husband Josè, at 21 years old just as their life together had begun. Their beautiful daughter Jamie had just been born, bearing a striking resemblance to Josè. He had just met her while on his two week leave. All those aspirations of raising a family together were violently terminated and Sharri was left, at 21 years old a single mother, to a child that never knew the man who gave her life.
Still this tragic loss is just one part of the story. Sharri already knew grief and loss. As a youth, she’d bounced around from family member to family member, robbed of all the ingredients a child needs to thrive; a solid foundation, consistent love, and steady discipline. Her mother did a stint in an Idaho State Prison during Sharri’s most formative years, and her father was a barbarous deadbeat who couldn’t hold a job and regularly abused her mother. So, as a young child Sharri learned those things only the “school of hard knocks” can teach its pupils. She found a steady resolve somewhere within, and that face constantly carried a shy smile defying the odds that said she needed to live in a morose condition beaten down by her status. Her life was continually in a state of upheaval, moving from one place to the next as family persistently victimized her as a sort of living, breathing financial institution they could use to garnish wages at the hands of the state. Then, she finally finds a place of solidarity in the loving arms of a dashing young soldier and once again, tragedy strikes with unforgiving ferocity. The common denominator comes calling like a demon in the dark, maniacally begging for Sharri to give in and give up. She didn’t. She wouldn’t be beaten. She wouldn’t be a victim. In a day and age where we exhaust the term “courage” and position it as some sort of social statement, Sharri became the very definition of the word.
Fast forward all these years and we can all witness Sharri’s transformation from a devastated girl to that of an impeccable example of a woman and mother. She stands as the very exemplification of triumphing over personal pains and the shock of ultimate loss, into a space of elite wisdom as a mother of two. Take some time today as you read this to remember the Gold Star Wives who never could’ve known that they’d be committing themselves to such agonizing terror, but in doing so laid their sacrifices at the altar of freedom in a contribution to our individual liberties. This is Sharri’s story.
Can you talk about your life growing up?
SR: I have a plan of writing a book about my childhood because of the huge disaster it was. It actually worked out in the end to make me a better spouse and parent. It was a complete shit show to be honest. Everything that could possibly go wrong in a childhood went wrong. I didn’t meet my mom until I was almost nine-years old. There were a lot of different people that raised me. Us kids were seen as a financial gain to have around. When I was four years old my mom went to prison. My dad was highly abusive to my mom. She was six months pregnant with a baby before me and he pushed her down the stairs. The baby died from the fall. My mom had a miscarriage and six months later I was conceived. She just handled the abuse over the years because she was so accustomed to it. When I was four she began dating someone else and I have no idea where my sisters along with myself were. My mom’s boyfriend, Michael, decided to steal a car and take my mom for a joyride. My mom says she didn’t realize it was stolen and she is brutally honest. I have no questions about it. He stole the car, took my mom on the ride, and then totaled the car after he dropped her off. He crashed the car into the actual dealership window and then took off.
They lifted my mom’s prints from the car after he ran off. He told her what he did and asked her if she’d take the wrap for it. He told my mom that he had priors and she had a clean record so she wouldn’t get much time. She had believed him about it but she ended up serving four years at Boise State Women's Penitentiary. During that time my dad was raising us and I am the youngest of the four. It was just me and my older sister living there at the time. He had no idea how to raise two little girls and passed us on to his mom. She was an older woman with a lot of health issues. She ended up passing us on to my Aunt Tabby who already had two kids of her own. She couldn’t raise us either. She passed us on to her sister. We all lived in the same trailer park and just were shuffled around the entire park. We basically moved from trailer to trailer. It was at this point when no one could raise us that they contacted my family in California. My Aunt Linda lived out there and drove to Idaho and picked us up. We had no idea who these people were since we had never met them.
My sister and I had our clothes in big black trash bags and that's how we left. They introduced us to our Aunt Linda and told us to have a good life. We jumped into the van she had rented and headed to California. I have always been optimistic almost to a fault. I hopped in the van and thought, “Okay, this is what we are doing. This is my life now.” I was just hoping that when we arrived that we would have a bed. There was a point when we had no beds. I remember thinking it was cool that we would get to see the desert too. We arrived in California and my aunt was everything that I had never experienced as a kid. She loved me and doted on me every day. I had my own bedroom with a closet. I had never had an actual closet before.
How old were you were you at the time?
SR: I was six years old and my mom had been in prison for two years at this point. When I moved to California I had just finished Kindergarten in Boise. My dad had no idea how to raise me so I had never even gone to school. I had missed 50-55 days of school in Kindergarten. I ended up having to repeat Kindergarten all over when I got to California. My aunt doted on me and would do my hair. This was the first home I had ever had. My Aunt Linda raised me and at one point when another aunt saw she was getting financial assistance, went after us. She just wanted the money. She filed a claim with Child Protective Services stating that we weren’t being taken care of. While they were investigating if it was a safe place for us to live, they put us in her care. This aunt decided at one point that she no longer wanted to take care of two kids and passed us to our grandma. My grandma was in her mid 60s and I remember playing with a skippit. My sister and I were skipping in this ratchet driveway with potholes everywhere. My sister fell and scraped up her leg pretty bad. Someone called CPS and said that they thought we were being abused. We were just rough and tough kids playing. We were always dirty, bruised, and scratched up. CPS came out and took us from our grandma’s house while they did the wellness check. Over the next few years we lived with other family members. They all kept calling CPS and reporting abuse or neglect because they wanted the financial assistance. The only person who genuinely cared about us was my Aunt Linda. She was the one who wanted us. My Nana absolutely adored my sister and I too.
When my mom came back from prison I was nine years old and she had a history. She couldn’t get an apartment on her own and was working full time at night. We lived with my Nana the entire time while this was going on. I was 11 years old when my mom was finally able to get an apartment on her own. It was right next to my Nana because she was friends with the landlord. We have always been neighbors with my Nana. If she moved, we would move right next door to her. It just worked out that way. My mom generally worked nights so she could be home while we were at school in case something happened. This was probably one of the best things she could have done as a parent. Everything else was terrible. She was the youngest of ten siblings and just didn’t know how to be a parent. When you are the youngest of that many kids you just do what you want. She was never parented right either. She was constantly in and out of abusive relationships. She just had no idea what to do. We moved a lot and I actually went to three different schools by the time I was in sixth grade. I never really minded because that meant new friends. It was never a big crazy move but usually just like ten minutes away from the previous place. I just made the best of it and knew it would be okay. My point of view was it could always be worse. That’s the same mentality that got me through Jose’s death.
Do you remember how you met Jose?
SR: We have such a funny story about how we actually met. I was dating someone else at the time and 18 years old. I moved out of my mom's apartment and knew this relationship wasn’t working. It was just very toxic. My sister Sarah was dating her boyfriend that we knew from high school. They went to our rival high school and had met through mutual friends. My sister had said, “Eric is so cute. He’s really cute.” We would go visit him at his job at Taco Bell. He deployed and during that first deployment they started talking even more through Yahoo! Messenger. He would send her music boxes, chocolates, and jewelry from Italy. I remember coming home from a late night binge drinking party with my sister. She woke up the next morning to flowers with a note saying, “I hope you feel better.” I said, “You get hangover flowers? Does he have a brother?” I wanted that kind of relationship (laughs). She told me he had a brother. I wanted his phone number immediately (laughs). She told me a week later that Eric had proposed and she was going to marry him. She gave me his brother’s phone number since we were now going to be family.
She specifically said to me, “Don’t fuck this up.” I said, “How am I going to do that? He lives in Kentucky. Don’t worry about it.” I had this cheap cell phone and I remember laying on the bed calling him. I said, “I don’t know if you heard the news or not but my sister and Eric are getting married.” He answered by saying, “ This is Sergeant Regalado.” As soon as he said those words I thought, “Yes, that’s hot.” We talked for 3 hours and he told me what he did in the military and he lived in Kentucky. I remember hanging up and thinking that I would marry him. My sister was furious because she had told me not to fuck things up. He lived in Kentucky and I just wanted to daydream about the whole thing. He began writing me cards and we talked on Yahoo! Messenger a lot. We talked like three or five hours a night. He would eventually say, “I have to go to PT and I had 30 minutes of sleep.”
It was amazing. It was so nice because there was just an emotional commitment. I felt like I could still have my own social life, while I got to know this amazing guy over the phone. I could still enjoy my friends but also enjoy the conversations too. I had never had this level of communication when I was dating so it was very different. My dating history in high school was a complete disaster. My mom went through a lot of great stories that she can one day tell my kids (laughs). Jose called me one night at around 10 pm and told me to get on Yahoo Messenger. I remember that was showing me a song from Josh Turner about going with him to the end of the world. He was singing it to me and I thought it was so sweet. Josè is from El Sereno, California and his parents are from Mexico and to have this very Hispanic man serenading me was so amazing. It was so sweet of him trying to sing this country song to me. I quietly laughed because I hated country music. I grew up with my mom listening to Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood and Reba Mcentire. He then told me he had bought me a one way ticket to Kentucky.
He said he didn’t want to know if I was going to be on it but that he would be at the airport waiting for me. I could show up or not but he would be there waiting on that day. He told me he would see me in the morning because the flight was the next day. I remember getting off Yahoo! Messenger and wondering if I even had any luggage (laughs). “How do I get to the airport?” I asked myself. I had never even flown on an airplane. I was at my mom’s house so I looked through her things and found a piece of luggage, packing it with whatever clothes I had. “What do I pack? Do I pack my books?” I wondered to myself (laughs). I had no idea what I was doing. My sister was flying to Clarksville that morning since her fiance was coming back from Iraq in a couple of weeks so my mom was driving her to the airport. She came home and I told her I had a surprise. I told her I was moving to Kentucky. My mom has never fully forgiven me for that. She texted me a few days ago that she was still sad about that day, but very proud of the person I have become. She still holds onto that with a slight hint of animosity (laughs).
What do you remember about Josè that attracted you initially?
SR: Josè was brutally honest. I was the baby of my family and people generally tried to just appease me with things they said. When I was in Boise we were so poor there wasn’t much I could ask for but they would just give in and adored me. I was just a very happy and bubbly kid that was easy to please. He would tell me things didn’t work that way with him (laughs). He had a strong personality and I am a “go with the flow” type of person. I never had any stability in my life and thought it was nice for a change. He told me how things worked and helped me to actually live an adult life. He saved me in a lot of ways. He gave me my first actual home as an adult with stability. I knew that he chose to love me before he even met me. I had never had that in my life. There was always a question if my family loved me for financial gain or just genuinely loved me. There was no motivation for him as far as financial gain. All he gained from me was a relationship.
What do you remember about your wedding?
SR: Our wedding was totally spur of the moment. I was running one of the graduations there at Fort Knox and there was a torrential downpour of rain. It was so cold and we were inside. I just sat there watching Josè do his thing and after the ceremony he said, “We should go get married.” I told him I didn’t even know how you would go about doing that. We went down to the County Clerk's office down in Elizabethtown. I was wearing these hideous white capris and a Volcom sweater with a polka dot headband. He was in uniform. We went to the courthouse and they told us we needed two witnesses. I was scrambling, texting people to find someone to be our witness for the ceremony. My friend Stephanie came along with her sister who I had never met. We had a quick 10 minute wedding and took a few pictures before my camera died (laughs). That was it. I remember thinking it couldn’t get any better. I was nervous inside but then that was it. I didn’t need fancy. My hair was soaking wet, I had a cold sore on my lip but I had a husband. I just knew this was it with him.
After your wedding did Jose deploy?
SR: I moved out there in September 2006 and I came back home in October to visit. It was Josè’s sisters wedding and he invited me. I was so lost because I didn’t speak any Spanish. It was so different. My sister had already known his family since she had met them the year before when she and Eric got engaged. She had picked up enough Spanish to be able to talk to them and had a relationship with his younger sister. This was hard for me because she was close to my sister and Josè had been married before me. He got married at 18 and strictly because he wanted the extra BAH while he was deployed (laughs). It didn’t end well. It was a deployment where you come home and the bank account is cleared. His family when I came along were expecting that and it took a bit for me to be welcomed. They were pretty jaded.
He didn’t leave right away after we got married but was in the field a lot. We were married in May 2007 and that is when we went to the courthouse. My hair was a mess and I was wearing a Volcom sweater that I highly regret wearing. There are moments in my relationship with him that I can remember like it was yesterday. I remember getting dressed in the morning and knowing we had a graduation. I was wearing white capris with a black Volcom sweater (laughs). We knew right away after we got married we knew that we wanted to have quite a few kids. We were married on May 3rd but I would always say May 5th and he would correct me. He would say, “Sharri, that’s Cinco de Mayo!” We found out I was pregnant a few days before his birthday on May 11th. I was at work and in quite a bit of pain. I ended up passing out and work and they rushed me to the emergency room. I had a miscarriage due to the hospital giving me a completely unnecessary surgery. My body went into too much stress and I lost the baby. We wanted to have a baby before he deployed. I wanted to be pregnant so badly.
They told me I had to wait three months before I tried to have another baby. I have PCOS which makes it hard to conceive because the ovaries are covered in cysts. It just makes it difficult. That was not the case for me. When they gave us the go ahead we started trying to get pregnant and found out I was pregnant on Thanksgiving. We weren’t married long before he got his deployment orders. Josè was in a pretty bad car wreck that winter from hitting black ice and had a concussion. This combined with his PTS from his past deployment left a lot to be worked on before he deployed. It seems like so much of our relationship was focused on getting pregnant. He wanted to have an entire football team (laughs). I was the youngest of four and never wanted to have a lot of kids. When you are the youngest you are spoiled, the oldest is off doing their own thing, and the middle kid is the one who no one takes pictures of (laughs).
I met him at 18 and we were married at 19. I had no idea how to cook and he comes from a Mexican family where everyone knows how to cook. Even the youngest can cook beans and rice. I didn’t even know how to do my own laundry (laughs). When he moved me out there I remember a point where I went to Walmart and bought rice packets. We didn’t have a lot of money and were actually pretty poor. He came home and said, “This is amazing.” He legitimately thought I made it from scratch and I was about to inform him I’d made it ten minutes before he got home. I debated telling him it wasn’t from scratch but instead went into the kitchen to hide the packages. He would ask me to make Spanish rice. I didn’t think they made those packets in that flavor and didn’t know how I was going to do it (laughs). He had me call his mom and ask. She speaks very broken English and the directions were not easy to understand.
I tried to understand her but I didn’t think they even sold the spices she was telling me in Kentucky (laughs). At this point in our marriage, I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. I just cared about being married to Josè. He acted like all the burnt food I cooked was the best he had ever eaten. We traveled within a certain radius that the military said we could travel. It was a relationship where you felt like you didn’t have to have a lot to have everything. We had extremely cheap sofas in the living room. His wedding ring was one from Walmart and mine was a tiny diamond from Kay Jewelers. His ring turned his finger green but he wouldn’t take it off ever (laughs). I didn't feel the need to have stuff but was happy to have just him. He made it easy to be a young wife and fall into the military lifestyle. I wanted to be where it wasn't a chore. I knew he would come home. It didn’t feel like work and it was easy.
When Jose deployed how did that make you feel?
SR: I didn’t come from a military family and Josè was my introduction to that lifestyle. He had been home for a year and was telling me there was a good chance he would get deployed. In 2007 and 2008 it was not an easy time overseas. He just wanted me to be aware of the possibility. We got his orders in October and I can remember him texting me. His text was, “Hey, I got some orders. I’m going overseas.” He had actually received an email telling him he was going to Ranger School before those orders. I told him there was no way he could deploy because of the school in North Carolina. Ranger school would need to wait. He informed me that was not how it worked (laughs). The deployment orders superceded anything and everything. I kept thinking that he had school. He just kept telling me he didn’t have a choice and he needed to go. When I wrapped my head around this not being a choice I didn’t say anything to anyone. My sister's husband had already been through a deployment and I just felt like something was going to happen. It was an instant feeling of dread. I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t want to tell Josè that I was feeling something would go wrong. I had never been through a deployment. Does everybody have this feeling? I wondered that all the time. This was a month after I found out I was pregnant and he left for Fort Hood in November.
I was living in Kentucky with my 3 cats and had a home there. Josè wasn’t leaving until January so we could sell our house and move to Fort Hood. We lived 45 minutes away from post and I knew we couldn't rent it or sell it quick. I told him to go and I would meet him there. I stayed behind to get the house ready. He wasn’t supposed to leave until January so we had plenty of time. He texted me on December 13th and told me I needed to get there. His deployment was now December 18th and informed there was a lot going on so it was bumped up. I tried to pack up all the remaining stuff we had. Josè was a huge car buff and loved taking them apart. He didn’t always get them put back together (laughs). At the time we had a 1995 Toyota Tacoma transmission sitting in our driveway. There was no way we would sell our house with this sitting there. I was pregnant with Jamie at the time and knew I needed to leave. I had a huge lifted truck and put this transmission in the back of it. Imagine a pregnant woman with this transmission strapped to her truck’s back all because I wanted to be where my husband was. It wasn’t super smart but I knew I had to do it. The very next day I got into my truck at 4 am and drove straight to Texas. I remember seeing him and he was getting his guys ready to go. The guys he was in charge of were 19 and 20 years old who had just gotten married. I was the one with no experience and telling them we would be okay. If the wives freaked out then the husband did too. There was this lingering feeling that something would happen though. It took me 18 hours to get there because I got lost on the trip and ended up in Ohio somehow (laughs). I knew I had to see him for as long as I could before he left. He had a studio apartment reserved for us. I knew that I had to handle it because I was now a military wife. Josè’s parents came down from California and wanted me to move with them so that I wouldn’t have to raise a little girl on my own. I didn’t know this plan yet (laughs).
I got there and had to get everything in order so I could spend those few precious hours with my husband. When we first got married he had told me I needed to understand that I would be second to the military. It was a top priority to make sure his guys came home from deployment. On his first deployment they lost a large handful of guys and having that year at home made him more aware of that. He couldn’t have that happen again. He couldn't be preoccupied about what was going on at home. It was always, “Yes, you are pregnant but you have a home to live in. You are taken care of. I have to take care of my guys.” That was his philosophy. The deployment was smooth and easy because I didn’t know otherwise. I had no reference point for what could go wrong. We had letters and had MySpace (laughs). That made it pretty easy. I wrote him a letter for every single day of the deployment. I didn’t understand that they don’t get them every day but in bulk instead. I didn’t want there to ever be a day that he thought I wasn’t thinking about him. The deployment really was something that I was worried about without being worried about. I knew that if I thought too much about it my mind would wander. I knew not to go there because worry would takeover and send me into a panic if I did.
What would you tell anyone leading into a deployment the most effective thing is?
SR: The most important thing was to not have expectations. You have to realize that you aren't going to talk to your spouse every single day. In 2007/2008 time frame we didn’t have that guarantee every day. There were times throughout my pregnancy I only spoke to him maybe once a day. In 2019 there is Face time and text messaging to speak to your spouse. They are still in a war zone, and the best way to look at it is through the lens of no expectations. If you think you can talk and have the same type of strong marriage as before, that’s not the reality of the situation. There is stress on both sides. I got frustrated with Jose because he couldn't tell me what was going on over there all the time. I had the expectations of talking all the time and that just wasn’t realistic. Not talking to my husband in two weeks was tough at first. It’s just better to know that you need to be open-minded and understand anything can happen. There are so many things that can change when they’re deployed. You could possibly go for weeks without talking to them depending on their missions.
How long was Jose into the deployment when Jaimie was born?
SR: Josè was deployed in December and it was nine months into his 15 month deployment. I was happy he wasn’t there when she was born. Jose had bigger plans in taking care of his men in combat and making sure they were safe. That was his priority. Josè being there for this tiny, squishy human being who only poops and eats wasn’t all that important at the time (laughs). There was another guy that had a baby during the time and we agreed to let him go on leave instead of Josè. We understood that he didn’t know what he could actually do with a brand new baby. There isn’t much you can do with an infant. They feed, they go to the bathroom and they go back to sleep. I didn’t want him there for the birth and honestly wanted him to pass through the entire pregnancy. I wanted him to come home when I was calm and not so emotionally fragile because of the first stages of having an infant. It wasn't that hard for me. I was texting him the entire time I was in labor and keeping him informed about what was going on. I told him I had been induced, been in labor 14 hours and was going back for a C-Section. He texted me that he loved me. I honestly wasn’t stressed out. It was a relief to know that when he came home later I wouldn’t be groggy or exhausted. It was something we were both set on.
What was it like seeing Jaimie for the first time?
SR: Jaimie looked just like Josè from the day she was born. She had a head full of dark hair and beautiful brown eyes. She had what is called the “Mongolian Spot” on her back which is common for Hispanic kids. I instantly saw Josè when I looked at her face. That made it easier for me because she looked just like him. It was hard not having the extra comfort of him being there and reassurance but I knew I could get through it. Jaimie was a month old when Josè came home on leave. I met him at the airport and Jaimie was crying because it was time for her to eat. I got lost in the airport and I was just holding her telling her it would be okay. I didn't know which gate Josè was coming out from and I was so nervous. I had butterflies in my stomach like the first time I met him. It felt like meeting him all over again.
He came out and it wasn’t like a “There’s my wife” moment. Instead, it was “There’s my baby,” and he immediately grabbed her from me (laughs). He wanted to give her a kiss and hold her. He gave me a kiss on the forehead. He had no idea what to do or how to hold her. It was definitely awkward at first but he just wanted to hold her. That was all he wanted to talk about the entire drive home. I had spent the entire deployment sending pictures of my belly. I had 3-D ultrasounds done every two months so he could see the growth. They would send him videos. I think looking back that may have been excessive (laughs). I really tried to do everything I could so he would know that this was his baby. I could see so much pride in him when he held her. It was a huge deal. His friend Chad Caldwell had been killed the month before and I could tell it was comforting for him to see her. He wanted to come home and meet his baby. He needed to be able to see her in case something happened to him.
What do you remember about him being back home?
SR: We spent too much money (laughs). It was the best time. We had $10,000 in the bank account which was huge. He came home and had bought this ugly old BMW so he could fix it up. He loved everything about this car. He wanted to paint it and put in new seats. I knew how much he loved old cars and was okay with that. I just wanted to know if he had a plan for it. We went to the gun range in downtown LA and drove around the area where he grew up. He showed me where his dad and grandpa grew up. I have videos of us driving around and him telling me all of these things about how he grew up. He explained everywhere he went as a kid. It was the first time he told me stories of being a kid. He wasn't nostalgic and for him to give that many details was a really big deal. When I realized he was going to keep talking about it I got my camera out and had him tell me more. I wanted to know all these things so that we could bring Jamie back one day. He showed me where his Nana lived and where he played basketball. The entire time he was home, I could see this nostalgia in him that I’d never seen.
I told him we needed to have a savings account of when he got home. He was on the line of getting out and his dad wanted him to get out. His dad does flooring and is very successful. He told him to come work for him and open a restaurant. The plan was to open a Mexican restaurant. His mom and I would cook, which was a joke (laughs). He was seriously convinced I could cook (laughs). It was hard for him to be home. He was torn between going back for his guys and staying home with his family. Family was everything to him. It was a massive internal conflict. When the time came he knew he had to go. He said, “I need to get back to my guys now. It’s been nice. I love you and I need to make sure my guys are safe.” I dropped him off at the airport and he told me to stay in the car. He wanted me not to cry. He told me my job was to take care of his family and our daughter.
Did he seem scared when he left?
SR: When we were first married he had told me that he would die in battle. There is nothing else in this world he cared more about when he was overseas than his guys. He wanted to know they were okay and safe. He wasn’t worried about it. He never said he was scared. It was just something that he felt would happen. He believed he was making a difference and needed to go back and do his job. It was never about fear. He had made it through his first deployment at 19 years old and felt he would make it through. I believe he was mentally prepared if something happened.
We had 14 tough boxes that we ended up getting back. In one of the boxes was an Iraqi microwave and I just wondered why he didn’t leave it for the other guys. I couldn’t even plug it in anywhere so I ended up taking it to Goodwill (laughs). I remember going over every piece while laughing and crying over them all. I never knew the story behind every piece of his belongings. Most of the items were things that were in his room at the time with him. It was all of his medals and a little bit of everything associated with the deployment. I had never experienced anything like this so I didn't really have any plans. I was working full time and going to school full time. It was just to get through the day.
What were some things you did to keep yourself busy while he was deployed?
SR: I went to school full time. When I met him I was going to school and working at a Christian bookstore. I worked there full time, school full time and was pregnant. When I wasn’t at work or school I was with my mom. I walked seven miles a day while I was pregnant. I didn’t focus on the deployment because that made it too real. I had no expectations about the deployment and didn't watch the news until guys in his unit started dying. I thought at that point I should start watching the news and reading more about what was happening. The work and school kept me so busy. I had several scares being pregnant with Jaimie and was in the hospital three times with her.
Can you take me through the day leading up to when you found out?
SR: I had a sinking feeling the entire day before it happened. My sister drove a Scion TC and I was sitting in the backseat of her car. At the time I had a T-Mobile sidekick phone and we were driving to my house. I can remember driving there while Josè and I were texting each other. He had called a few days before to tell me that he didn’t feel he would be coming home and we should prepare for it. He asked me what I thought about that and I just remember this long silent moment. I didn’t want to say it but from the moment he had been given his orders I didn’t think he would come home. I told him and he just wasn’t even phased by what I said. He told me that he didn’t want anything girly or a bunch of flowers. He didn’t want to be cremated and threatened to haunt me if I did (laughs). He wanted a mahogany casket and his dad would pick where he would be buried. Josè thought I couldn’t move on or get remarried if his memory was haunting me so his dad would choose the place. His dad would be the one visiting the most. Josè wanted the picture from our wedding day on the casket. I remember us joking about all of this. He said to me, “On a more serious note, I want you to know that this is what I want.”
I went back to my house to grab a few things I needed and returned to my sister’s house. My sister’s husband was currently deployed overseas in Iraq as well. I had been living with her since I had Jamie and didn’t want to live alone in Kentucky. There was nothing about the day that sat right with me. We were watching TV and had to make a run to Wal Mart because one of the worst snowstorms in years had hit Tennessee and Kentucky. The power was out for awhile and we were picking up things we needed to get through the storm. We were sitting at a red light and I sent Jose a text. I remember watching the light turn red as I texted him, “I love you.” There was this instantly weird feeling in the pit of my stomach and I told my sister that something didn’t feel right. We returned to her house and were just hanging out inside because it was so cold outside. The FRG (Family Readiness Group) began sending emails that there were false notifications going around. If someone were to inform you that your spouse had been killed we were told to call to verify. I remember joking with my sister that if it happened I would hurt them pretty bad for doing that. I am 5’4” and 102 pounds at the time there was only so much I could do so that wasn’t too serious of a threat (laughs). The entire time I was texting Josè and I still have those texts today. I had texted him, “Hey, I’m sure you’re really busy. If you’re out on a mission I love you.” It just didn’t feel right because even if he was going out on a mission he always would text back, “Hey baby, I’m going out and I’ll talk to you when I get back in.” I think for me it was knowing he was going to answer so I would just keep texting him or maybe he didn’t hear his phone. It was my only hope.
My sister and I were watching “The Bucket List.” There is one specific part where Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman where they are talking to each other while lying in their hospital beds. I was sitting there in my sisters oversized gray sweatpants and wearing a white muscle shirt. I had a pillow resting on my lap and was eating a bowl of spicy chicken ramen. I had my laptop in front of me and thinking the entire time that something just didn’t feel right. My sister had been to a pawn shop that morning and I had the receipt from what she had pawned. She was just wanting to get rid of some random stuff. I had this yellow receipt on the table in front of me and it was 1:30 in the morning when we heard a knock at the door. I knew that this couldn’t be good. I was standing in the kitchen holding Jamie because she had woken up. My sister opened the door but I couldn’t see because it was so dark. I just heard them ask, “Are you Mrs. Regalado?” She answered that we both were. I saw that it was two men in their Class As. I couldn’t hear what they were saying except when they said my name. My sister turned to look over her shoulder at me. She opened the door a bit more and I put Jaimie down.
I said to them, “Tell me.” He walked in and gave his speech. I actually still have the piece of paper he was reading off of. He was very nervous because it was the first notification he had done. I can still hear him saying, “The Secretary of the United States Army regrets to inform you that your husband, Jose Regalado, has been killed in action.” I remember as soon as he said that I just passed out. When I came to, the chaplain was there and he told me that he had to finish the rest of the notification. I honestly don’t even remember what he said. The initial part was all I could remember. I just needed him to tell me that my husband was dead. This was all just fluff and I needed to hear he was dead to make it real for me. He said, “Your husband was killed in action. I can’t tell you the details or what happened. You will have someone here in the morning to give you details of what to do moving forward.” They left and sent me a text at six am that the Casualty Assistance Officer was coming to the house at nine am. He was this tall lanky guy with his newly-shined jump boots on and he had no idea what to do. He had just finished his class the day before and was fumbling over his paperwork. It was at the point I was telling him it would be okay. I know he was trying hard to keep it together. There was a point where I found it funny that I was helping him through this more than the other way around. He was going through the checklist and asked about cremation or burial. I remember telling him that I didn’t know where he would be buried but that it would be mahogany and he would be in his Class A’s. I just needed to know what happened next. He informed me that his body was being transported to Dover, Delaware. They would do the autopsy and then fly him home.
We went through it very quickly along with the benefits I would receive too. I didn’t care at that point. There was not one part of me that was worried about the finances. We were struggling to pay bills but the last thing I was concerned with was how much Social Security and Life Insurance I would be getting. As soon as he left, it was a scramble to figure out what to do next. I had to get myself ready along with my sister. There was this awkward feeling that I was preparing myself for my sister since her husband was over there too. The guilt really hit because my mind was saying, “Why wasn’t it her husband?” They didn’t have kids and we’d just had a baby. We had to put everything on the credit cards but the Army kept telling me it was covered. They had told me all of the family travel expenses would be covered along with mine and my sisters. The thing was they didn’t reimburse for any of that until weeks later. I just remember saying, “I don’t have any money. It’s going to have to go on the credit card.” My credit card maxed out and my sister had to pay for her flights. I ended up having to reimburse her later on. I flew out first and Jamie was really sick. I had one of Jose’s backpacks with me which had a lot of the things I would need in it. I had no idea that they would have him fully prepared in brand new set of Class A’s. I had a garment bag full of his uniforms, shoes and ribbons. Southwest Airlines had told me I couldn’t take both the bag and the garment bag. I would need to pick one. I informed them I couldn’t be separated from either bag and they both needed to go with me. The lady told me the flight was full and they didn’t have room for both of the bags. I remember breaking down and crying. I told her my husband had just died and this was all I had left of him. They were very accommodating after they learned this and everyone was crying on the flight. The entire time Jamie was crying and I just didn’t know what to do or how to handle it.
When I arrived in California, Jose’s parents picked me up and there isn’t much memory of that time. I just let them take control and my sister took care of Jamie. I wasn’t eating and had lost about 20 pounds in the past two weeks. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, and I was just going through the motions. I remember going and looking at funeral homes thinking I didn’t know how to choose one. We ended up using one my family member had used previously. The funeral home choice needed to be made rather quickly so Dover could release his body. It was constantly about waking up and visiting different cemeteries. My casualty officer was amazing. He took me to get a new military ID since you had to get one within 7 days of your spouse's death. I remember realizing I was no longer a wife but now a widow. The lady at the ID office told me, “Oh girl, don’t remarry because you will lose all your money.” I remember thinking, “My husband died three days ago and I don’t really care about any of this.” I sat there and just cried. My casualty officer told me that we needed to get out of there and come back another day to take care of the details. I tried so hard to be optimistic and the constantly smiling person I had been up until this point. I would try to joke about it all and cover my feelings with a mask. How do you talk about it when no one else had been through this? I couldn’t call one of my girlfriends and ask to talk about it. I was 20 years old and had no idea of what to do.
I would tell everyone, “I’m okay.” I couldn’t tell you anything about Jamie for a couple of weeks because I wasn’t the one parenting her. I left her with other people to take care of her. His dad took on the role of handling everything funeral wise. I was responsible for picking out who the pallbearers were going to be and there was a lot of busy work. All of the rest of the details are just a blur to me. The day of the funeral, the craziest thing happened. I had moved back to Kentucky and for some reason the morning of the funeral the mail came early that day. It never came early. It always came after 3 o’clock in the afternoon. We had to leave at 10 o’clock in the morning for his services. The mail person came and I got the mail. The first piece I saw was a letter from Jose. It was dated the day he died. There was no reason for him to have mailed it to this address because I wasn’t even living there. It had been almost a month and a half. For some reason that day he sent a letter to me at his parents house. I got it on the day of his funeral. I remember wondering if it was a joke and if he was even really dead. The one thing I remember before the funeral was the day we got his body back. That day for me was harder than the funeral. There is a separate section at LAX and it’s where the smaller planes fly into. They had the firetrucks on the end of the runway doing the angel entrance. I wondered why they were doing it. I realized the flight was coming in and it was a small charter plane.
They began lowering the casket down and I just remember running towards it and draping my body over it. This was the moment where it was solidified he was gone. They were trying to pull me away. It was time to go and get to the funeral home. The knowledge that I had to be separated from him again was so painful. It was definitely the hardest time because the funeral was surreal. I went through the motions of it. It was seeing the casket had made it real for me. The entire church service was in Spanish and I sat there not knowing what they were saying. I couldn’t cry because I couldn’t understand the language. I just stared at his casket right next to me. It was the longest church service I had ever sat through. I had no idea where Jamie was during the funeral. When the services were done all of the Patriot Guardriders came up to give their condolences. They wanted to take a group photo and typical Sharri fashion I was in the middle smiling. It was this huge shit eating grin. I look back now and realize I was trying to mask what was going on inside.
We went straight over to the cemetery and it was an abnormally hot day. Jamie was running a fever. I remember getting into the limo and we didn’t know what to do. Jose’s sister was sitting in there with us and said, “Did you know that your body doesn’t actually digest corn? Your body doesn’t have the enzyme needed to digest it. That is why it looks like you poop corn (laughs).” I sat there and just laughed. It was the craziest thing for someone to talk about. This was such a typical thing for a teen to say to get people to laugh. When we got to the cemetery and watching them pull the casket out. I walked past the crowd and our flight cases were sitting on tables with the “1-800 GO-ARMY” slogan on them. I thought, “How dare you be advertising at my husband’s funeral?” When I look back now, I realize that Jose was so proud of his service and he would’ve been proud to have the Army stuff there.
His death forced me to grow up and be the parent I needed to be. His death ultimately made me get my shit together. I learned many lessons from this and it helped me to better understand the need for those lessons. I told the people at the mortuary that I needed an hour with him by myself. They dropped me off at the chapel and I walked down the aisle to his casket half open. I opened the bottom and saw that he didn’t have on shoes. This one thing would have driven Jose crazy because he could not stand to have his feet bare. I closed it back up. One of the things I would do every night before we went to bed was kissing his cheek and trace his face with my finger down to his chin. I remember when he died laying in bed and tracing my finger along what would have been his profile. I went to the funeral home and did that to his face knowing it would be the last time I would ever get to do that. I laughed while sitting there because Dover Delaware did a pretty shitty job fixing his hairline after his autopsy. He had a bad crease along his hairline and I thought his profile didn’t match his face.
I sat there in the chair they brought me with my elbows propped up. I just sat there talking to him and telling him about the room. The smell of the flowers was so overwhelming that it made me nauseous. It was the first sense of me being aware that it was okay to step outside. I went outside and the lingering stench of flowers just made me feel incredibly sick. It took me 9 years to be able to appreciate the smell of flowers. They didn’t represent beauty at all. They represented death. Everyone began showing up at the funeral and giving their condolences. The music was playing in the background that I had chosen. It was all very typical church music that you would normally hear at a funeral. His sister and I had put a playlist together that included a song by the Dixie Chicks called “Traveling Soldier.” When the playlist ended they brought in a band and I was holding Jamie in my lap. They began playing “CIrcle of Life” from The Lion King and I just began laughing. I was laughing that they were playing this song at my husband’s funeral because it was just so ridiculous. People were wondering if I was having a breakdown. To tell you the truth, I was very much was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. They took me out so I could just cry.
My mom is not a nurturing or mushy mom. She just wasn’t that way. I remember her coming back and just handing me a tissue. It was all I needed at that point. I didn’t need words to be said. The funeral ended and I told everyone to come to my in-laws house to eat and have a good time. I listened to his funeral playlist for at least two years after that. Music was a really big deal for me. I listened to it over and over. I felt like I had to. I moved back to Kentucky and was issued a new casualty officer. I had gone through 5 of them from different states. They issued me someone who was soon to retire, Master Sergeant Ward. He came up to my door to meet me and he informed me we would get my husband’s stuff home. He told me I could call him at 2 o’clock in the morning that would be fine.
The first thing I said to him was that I wanted him to be comfortable and I needed to be comfortable. I didn’t want it to be in a sterile environment and I told him to not come in his Class A’s unless he really wanted to. He pushed to get me all of Jose’s things back from Iraq because he had so much stuff. He had a box full of plastic bags that we had to count and document the contents. If he wrote a letter every single day it had to be read and then documented. It was a lengthy process. He sat there with me when all 14 boxes came in and helped me document it all. When he left I remember being upset that they washed all of his clothes because now they didn’t smell like him. When Master Sergeant Ward left I crawled inside one of the empty boxes and just covered up with his clothes. I just didn’t know what to do. I had his stuff but I didn’t have him. I am not nostalgic and usually if I don’t see a reason for something I get rid of it.
I initially told myself that I couldn’t keep it all because it would keep me from moving forward. I loaded stuff up and donated it. I had hopes that someone else could use the gear he had bought. I gave all of his clothes to his brother. I pieced out his gear that he had purchased and told his guys I would be sending it to them. It would benefit them and not me. I would sort through his stuff through the years. I wished I would have waited and not got rid of things so quickly. I did regret that. I wasn’t prepared to handle the grief with his things around. We went from 14 tough boxes down to 6 tough boxes. I gave his parents most of it because I didn’t feel like I was in a place to hold on to it. If Jamie ever wanted to know anything she could go over to their house and look through it. It was over time that this box is ultimately what ending up representing Jose. I have all the letters that I wrote to Jose over deployment.
What was the hardest part of moving on with your life after Jose passed away?
SR: The hardest part after Jose’s death was knowing that I would have to be raising Jaimie on my own and not knowing how to do that. How do I raise her so that she would know who her dad was? How would I balance being a single parent and a widow? I didn’t know who I was. I had quit school and had no idea what I wanted to do. The hardest part was figuring out how to raise this little girl all on my own. It was really hard dealing with the loss because I’m a person who doesn't like to show emotions. I hide my feelings and mask pain pretty well. I ended up moving on quickly and thought if I started dating someone that the void of being alone would be filled. I got into a relationship with someone who didn’t have my best interests at heart. It took me a bit to realize that was what was going on because I wanted to get back to normal so badly. I was willing to accept something that was not a safe relationship. During that time I was constantly telling myself that things could be worse and could be dealing with a dead spouse. I dated this person for about three and a half years and during that time he took part of Josè’s Life Insurance Policy to supposedly start a business. I did not approve of this at all or say he could do it. He had access to my bank account and took $60,000 from me. It was then I realized he did not have my best interests at heart and I left him. The entire three years I kept telling myself that everything would be okay and work out. I had put myself in the position of getting hurt. I hid behind a relationship that brought me nothing but grief.
What advice would you give to wives who had experienced similar things?
SR: If I was giving advice to someone who’d just lost a loved one I’d say, “Take it slow.” I wish I would have been able to understand that emotions change so quickly. You can go from one moment of feeling alone to feeling like you have it all under control. I masked those emotions for so long until I didn’t know how I truly felt. Take time to understand the changes. If you need to cry then cry. It’s okay to be happy as well. I had to learn to grasp that being happy is an emotion too and I had tried to force it. I was hard on myself for wanting to feel happy. When I ordered Josè’s autopsy photos I kept them to remind myself when I was feeling happy that this was the reality. I would go back and look at them because it took me back. I felt like I was leaving Jose behind when I was moving forward. I would sit and watch war movies and they would make me really sad. These photos would make me sob because I didn’t want to be too happy since Josè was never coming home.
It’s all about time. The one thing that people need to be aware of is judging. If a widow starts dating right away they are so quick to judge. She’s promiscuous, she didn’t really love her husband but we are the same as anyone else we just want to feel loved. It’s a sad situation and we want to be taken care of. There is such a strong sense of loss and we want that person to take over and just tell us it’s going to be okay. I think most people fail to realize that. We are just normal everyday people and human. We now a title of “Gold Star Widow” and you have this legacy to carry around with you. It gets heavy because you know people are watching and looking at you closely. It’s almost an aura where you carry on your husbands name and people judge him based on your actions. This was very hard since I didn’t know what I wanted. I drank a lot of wine in the shower (laughs). People would look at me with the, “How dare you make mistakes?” look on their faces. You now have this title of being a Gold Star Wife/Widow and nobody saw me trying to figure out this new life I had been thrown into. You don’t receive a handbook when your loved one dies, on how to do things. I know women who waited for two or three years to get into a new relationship and were still scrutinized over it. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You will make mistakes and someone is going to hate you for it.
What are the joys of parenting for you now with two kids?
SR: There is a certain joy in knowing that I raised my kids in a much different way than the way I grew up. I knew that the one thing that came from me having a horrible life as a child was I could give my own kids an incredible upbringing. It important to see that all the troubles I went through as a kid can be used as a guide to make my own kid’s lives better.
What are you doing in your current occupation?
SR: I currently work with students who are on the autism, aspergers, OCD, and other issues. Our school is a very small private school where everyone has to take on various roles. I run an administrative aspect of the school as well as being the health aide. I can jump into our girl group when we are discussing nutrition and food. There are many of the students that have food aversions and don’t understand why they have to eat certain foods. We talk about their bodies and health with them as well. The crazy thing is that some of the students have parents on the same spectrum as well.
The topics we cover with them aren’t generally going to be discussed at home with the children due to that. I provide some of those answers that they may not get at home. All of the students understand that they have autism since we talk about at school. We don’t want them to feel different about themselves in a bad way. Some of the students have come from a public school setting where they have been shamed for having autism. When they come here we don’t harp on their autism because we don’t want them to feel like that’s their identity. We help them understand the issue and move on immediately.
How has your life in the past prepared you for what you are doing now?
SR: It’s taught me to understand that we all go through so many different things in our life. Our kids have been through traumatic experiences and will sometimes cause them to slow down a little bit. There are times when we have kids who are very aggressive and I know how they feel. I felt that way as a child often. They were so quick to judge and shut me down instead of helping me work through my emotions. Even later in life I’ve struggled with that. It would have been so much better if people would’ve just asked me if I wanted to talk about Jose. It has taught me to slow down and understand they have issues at home. I don’t judge quickly because of my own experiences.
I have never had this crazy aspiration to make 6 figures or be away for my kids with a high paying career. I wanted to do something that was healthy. I didn’t care if it was nutrition or fitness. I had an eating disorder because of my upbringing. I was able to understand what I was doing to my body early on and changed what I as doing. I know that not everyone else has the same thought process of being able to stop an addiction so quickly. When Jose died I understood that I had some benefits but not the full of extent of school and college. I was raising Jaimie on my own and going back to school was not my focus. I didn’t have the plan of going back and getting my degree at the time. I just wanted to raise my baby. I eventually did go back to school and majored in Healthy Lifestyle Coaching. It encompassed everything. This could help people with eating disorders, food addictions, and so many more health issues. Josè’s death pushed me into having to stop and think about who I really was. When I was with him my whole focus was my husband and I were on the back burner. After he died and I moved on from the toxic relationship I knew it was time for me to focus on me. I wanted Jaimie to have something positive to look forward to as well.
How do you want people to remember you?
SR: The way I see it is if I can make a positive impact on one single person I don’t need people to make a public display about me. I love the spotlight because speaking to people is great. When I help people I don’t want it because I don’t feel like I deserve that part of it. When I am gone one day if there is one person who can say that, “Sharri helped me” that is my hope. If it’s a small thing it doesn’t matter. One small thing can impact people and change them for the better. People often fail to realize that what they do can impact others around them even if it’s small. They go throughout their lives being selfish when there are small acts of kindness that can be done.
Can you talk about being married again?
SR: When I met Nate it was completely unexpected and didn’t want to be in a relationship. I think in the back of my mind there was the thought that something could happen to him. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put myself in the position of losing another loved one like that. I was a really good Army wife and very able to hold my own when deployments came around. I knew that if I ever remarried it would be back into the military, otherwise it would feel like a waste. I have this ability to be a good military wife and I think that’s rare. I had come to the realization that I was okay with being single for the rest of my life. Nate and I met on Tinder and instantly when I saw him felt something. I sent him a message when I first saw his profile and he ignored it. My response was, “Fine, I’m done.” I closed out of Tinder and deleted it for 6 months. I turned it back on and he sent me a message. When we started talking it was instant chemistry. I knew he was military by his picture.
When I actually met him I remember a similar feeling of “this is where I am supposed to be.” I had dated in between him and Jose dying and never felt that kind of spark. The moment I met Nate I knew I was going to marry him. We went out on our date and I was so nervous I stumbled over my words. He made me nervous because I knew that there was something special about him. When we were coming back from our first date I had to tell myself to not text him or ask for a second date. I needed to let him do it. While I was saying this to myself he texted me and that was it. There was never a day that we didn’t talk at least three or four hours. It was completely unexpected because I didn’t want to fall for anyone. The first time I had done that I got hurt badly. Nate has really put himself into a place that I could handle on my own if the roles were reversed. The sense of “I wasn’t your first love and wasn’t your first husband.” I know he thought, “There is a little girl who looks just like her dad and I can't fill that role.” Our very first date he told me he understood that I had a little girl and he didn’t take my husband's death lightly. He said he wanted to honor my husband and know that it was okay to cry if I needed to. He took on a major burden, although he doesn't see it that way.
Without some sense of faith or foundation, life almost appears to be completely random in its direction. Some people seemingly experience more tragedy than others, some prosper, some find struggle at every turn, while others thrive. Experientially, Sharri’s path has served as a reminder of how a positive outlook and the light that stems from that place can overcome the darkest of our experiences. Those experiences as a youth are often traumatically scarring, and the cycle of that an almost assured entropic journey headed towards certain disaster. Instead, Sharri flew forth from those smoldering ashes and has forged her own destiny; becoming the change she’s always desired. Those dreams must’ve felt so distant as a youth, yet she never lost hold of hope. A mother’s imprisonment, a non-existent father, her only love struck down in the prime of his life, and still, she fought forward with furious courage. We can all learn something from Sharri’s story. The takeaway is your own to decide, but something is there for you to harvest and gather.