When I was a kid, my parents had a set of Encyclopedia Britannica. They were bound in dark red cloth, probably 20 volumes, likely from the 50s. I referred to them occasionally on high school reports. I never inquired how much they cost or if my parents inherited them. They sat on a shelf in the garage gathering dust.
Two years ago, Mom moved out of that old house she and dad purchased in 1962. It was the only house I knew growing up. I’m not sure what happened to that reference set. I assume it went to Goodwill, or the dumpster. In this day of the Internet, it didn’t matter. It was obsolete.
What is not obsolete, however, is the need for reference. Regardless of means or medium, a reference is the use of a source of information in order to ascertain something. For example, if I want to know about the Diet of Worms of 1521, I would need a source to show you that it was an assembly of the Roman Empire to deal with the protests of Martin Luther, because you’re thinking it was about the practice of eating night-crawlers in the 15th century.
A reference provides answers. Death takes away both.
I lost my mom in July, which means I lost another reference to my family history. I can no longer call her and ask if we had a history of gout in our family. My dad has been gone for 15 years. I can’t ask him to retell me stories that he remembers about me as a little boy. This reference is gone, and I’m left to guess.
Monday was the first anniversary of Karen’s death. It, too, is a loss of reference. There are questions I can no longer ask. I’m left to wonder or speculate.
I can’t ask her why she didn’t say goodbye.
Death affects people differently, but it overcomes everyone universally. It is the last unknown, uncharted human experience. It’s the great equalizer of all humans. It strikes the rich and the poor. Both the marginalized and privileged have to face it. The 1% don’t get a pass.
I chose to write about this today because I have to believe I’m not alone. Somebody out there like me had a loved one that didn’t say goodbye. And while plenty of speculative answers have been given, I have no idea what the true answer is. She fell asleep on a Monday afternoon a year ago and never woke up. She passed six days later. And she took the reference manual with her.
Death isn’t tidy. It is not nice. It does not play fair.
I think that’s my point today. This is the word I am reminding myself. Some things are never going to be figured out. Try as I may, I can’t move on from it. It will always follow me.
I just have to keep moving forward.