Embracing death as a joy of life

On my recent visit to Israel I had the honor of escorting my dad through some of his last days in life. I’d shared my thoughts and insights with my family, as part of our daily updates. The first one below was written early one morning following a few days of traveling and social encounters. About a week after my return to Canada my dad embraced the hold of death and passed away seven days later, Saturday, November 21 2015. My eulogy below was written in response to our last conversation.
I am grateful to have family and friends supporting us in this process of growth.
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Each of us carries an invisible load of baggage. This includes what I think of the other and what I think people think of me. My conversation with Gali, my niece, raises the notion that some issues might not require discussion. Tamar, my sister in-law, knows in advance what would offend her. We face a daily effort of dismantling this baggage of landmines and firebombs.

In one early moment of the Sterns’ visit to Vancouver last year, I waived a threatening finger in front of Yohanan. His response made me wonder what exactly happened there. My parents’ stay with us, transformed into a realization, that we can all enjoy it. With my raised finger I’ve exclaimed “If you don’t trust my good intentions and Yardena’s good intentions, we have no communication.” Yohanan jumped from his spot at the other side of the table. He then charged into the bedroom. A few seconds later we could hear him screaming at the tenant in Israel to pay his rent.

I am fascinated by our use of the comic in relating to life. Laughter relieves our breath and introduces a healthy dose of oxygen to our brain. In embarrassment and hardships it seems like laughter gives me a break. Instead of sliding into depression, laughter allows me to remove the tough issue from its threatening context. It doesn't always succeed. But a small story from my acquaintance with Gerstman, one of Yeheskely Clothing's suppliers, keeps inspiring me to employ laughter and insist on it.

Yoav, the designer I used to work with, was Gerstman's tenant for a few years. He's told me that they'd always had pleasant conversations. Some of them even included stories from the landlord's past as a Holocaust survivor. The man, bearing a smile on his face, was always happy to share amusing anecdotes. In one of Yoav's encounters with Gerstman the gentleman had confided: "So, in the concentration camps have I stopped laughing? Of course I had laughed." This was enough for me.

Yohanan Stern has been collecting clown figurines for years in a variety of forms: paintings, dolls and other creations. Some of them are sad, some are smiling. They all, in my view celebrate the light hearted side of our personality; the part that helps a healthy perspective of life. The sad clown might be mumbling "What's the point in being pessimistic; life's hard enough." The happy one is saying "Every situation entails a glimmer of bliss; the joy of life stems from that." You can notice the two clowns manifested in my dad. Occasionally I cringe embarrassedly from his fooling around. In the rest of time I tell myself that I am the same.

So where is Yardena in all of this? Let's not talk about Yardena. Taking care of Yohanan is currently top priority. She chunks a couple of pain killers in the morning and the day is settled. Never mind that their influence is receding. Just make sure they are Extra Strength. My effort in finding out how I might be the same gives me a headache. There you are, I made it! Now I can relax. We agreed that with all the difficulties we have a history and present of cooperation. In all of us, the good intentions overcome our frustrations. True, I know how to be turned off by Yohanan. And the point is that I am the one who is turned off. The other side in the story is not guilty of my being turned off but, alas, he is part of it.

So here is an idea for a scientific research in sociology: our life is built upon reducing our amount of turn off from people, especially those closest to us. Once I have already told mom that my success in life results "thanks to you as well as in spite of you." And then, doesn't Meni turn me off? Sharon? Erez? Ah,… Erez doesn't turn me off. And Yardena understands immediately. At the same time she is dead wrong. Erez doesn't turn me off because we hardly speak to each other. Yardena counts the ‘hardly’. YarOn counts the ‘speak’. Sharon comforts us in saying "that's OK." And Meni? He stopped reading in the first paragraph. And that too is OK.

This update has no immediate concrete implications. It is an intermediate summary in my line of impressions from what's up in the family. I am trying to bring to light some thoughts in hope that they allow a small window into space and a breath of fresh air. In the tough and serious situation we are all experiencing, the suffocating feeling of hopelessness might sabotage the delightful effort we are all involved in. My aspiration is that these words manage to amuse the moment a bit, until the next day.
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Indeed we ate the last of the humus on your last day. Like some kind of a Hanukah miracle where you were the sacrifice. And we will continue to make humus and bake pitot (pita bread) and think of Nablus Gate, the falafel that we had to bring from the adjacent stall and the coffee that the guy poured from the boil. Much of what I could know about you came to me indirectly. Like a side observation. Something I had said off hand turned out months later to be significant to you.

Your lust for life has always entailed a measure of frightened, somewhat childish concern. As my ability to express my impression in words improved, your desire to give and nurture overcame any insult. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn something out of this. Looking from within, our life feels almost boring. Why even my effort to extract family stories for your fiftieth anniversary confronted a variety of objections from its members.

But life goes on and the memory will play its part. Much of what I will hear about you will fill the void. “I am the strongest dad in the world,” I told the impressed boy one day. At the same breath I continued “and my dad is even stronger.” Every joke has a component of truth in it. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue the joke.

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