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.