When we got word, my daughter and I were trying to make Christmas trees out of Cheerios. She had made a large pan of green, gooey muck, which (the directions said) we could pour on Cheerios and easily assemble them into little green trees. Soon our hands were so sticky that every time we pulled our fingers away from the tiny trees, the whole tree would collapse or pull apart. Buttering our fingers, we later learned, would have solved the whole problem.

It was in that context that the call came from home that my 85-year-old father had died a peaceful death after a severe illness of about a month.

On the phone were my lawyer brother Tal and my silver-haired, eternally nurturing, inwardly tough 75-year-old mother who had just returned from the hospital. I told them I would be on the first plane home. Within three hours, my wife and I were headed to the airport. As we made our way through the Christmas-clad towns toward the airport, I was filled with a flood of emotions ranging from a deep sense of irretrievable loss, to gratitude and relief that Dad’s suffering had not been extended longer.

Above all, I was feeling a deep sense of incongruity between death and Christmas. All about us were signs of Christmas, this most joyous season of birth and celebration, of sparkling decorations and happy carols. Internally I was feeling loss, grief, dissonance, brokenness. This incongruity became a kind of theme that would run all through the week ahead. It is the main reason I am sharing this personal recollection.

Each moment, every sound, smell, and touch, came in an intense relation to the loss I felt. Everything was reflected as if seen through an enormous lens—the lens of my relationship with my dad. A barking dog, a shiny ...

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