By Dany Diaz Mejia, MSPPM 2013 “ The sea seemingly a constant to the naked eye is one long good bye” ~ Bronzed by Dean Young It might seem strange to talk about farewells and economics at the same time. At Heinz we talk about the costs of decision-making but not the pains of choices. A funeral is a farewell, the word economics comes from the Greek word for “household management,” and this article is about farewells at home. As they teach us in Public Policy School, a cost is the weight of all you did not choose once you make a particular decision. If you do nothing to help a dying person, then you are not choosing to prolong his/her life. Have you, my dear reader, ever made a painful choice yet one you would make again? I once made such a choice. A funeral is always a very awkward event, especially if it’s your father’s. In my dad’s case there was a brown coffin, white flowers, and three pictures sitting on top of the casket. There was an overwhelming amount of bread and coffee. There were many rosaries, crosses, some neighbors and a couple strangers. There was a white plastic chair in the middle of the front of the room. I never found out who put it there but each of my siblings and I took turns sitting in this chair to cry. None of us agreed to this particular routine, but it was our way of privately saying good-bye in what became an otherwise public affair. I knew my dad was dead. We had paid the bills, taken care of the flower arrangements and made sure there would be a wide hole in the local cemetery for the burial the next day. My brother Luis had an official document to certify my dad had died and I had just seen my father’s body. However, it all felt like one long big dream. My dad was wearing an oversized white dress shirt, a black tie, and long blue pants. Perhaps, it was the tie that made it seem staged. My dad never wore ties. Plus, I thought, fathers do not die and children do not bury their parents alone. None one slept that night. Hugo, my younger brother, asked me why we had to put our dad in a hole. I did not have a good answer. We couldn’t just keep his body or carry him around with us. People die and you bury them. I never wondered why before but there was something absurd about the whole matter now that my brother had brought it up. My sister had not stopped crying since I had gotten to the church. I had no wisdom for her either. But what does one say in such moments, anyway? Earlier that day I had to call my mom in Spain and tell her dad had died. I rehearsed five times what I would tell her. When she picked up the phone, she told me- in a distant voice- “I know.” She told me she had felt something “ugly” in her body while riding the bus that morning and knew, somehow, that I had bad news for her. She asked me how he died. I didn’t know the exact cause and I had been too afraid to ask Luis. She wanted to come home and say good-bye. There was no white plastic chair for her to cry on but I didn’t bring it up. At the funeral mass we placed a picture of our parents on the coffin. Although the priest forgot my dad’s name, he gave a solemn speech. Our friend Johan did some readings, Luis said some beautiful words, and Gustavo, a former teacher of both my mother and myself, sang Schubert’s Ave Maria as the closing song. At first I was asked to say some words. I stood up and all that came out were a set of superficial sentences. I did not want to say what I was really thinking. And that’s why there will be something disloyal about this piece, a betrayal to a secret. Who was my father? I was not sure. I went back to all my journals to trace him, smell him, and grasp him. I failed. All I could think about were the final days. I was asked to make a choice, a difficult choice. We could let my dad spend the night in my house or let him sleep outside, in our backyard. Although I had a minor in economics I was not prepared to evaluate, explain or justify this choice. This is a confession and a farewell. Letting him stay in our house would have saved him from the severity of the dirt and dried grass covering our backyard. Letting him stay home would have been the humane thing to do, but it was not what I chose. The cost was too high. I thought if he drank he could be unpredictable and maybe Hugo would be in danger. But on the other hand, the man only weighed 80 pounds. I also thought it wouldn’t be fair to leave Hugo alone with my dad in our house. It wouldn’t be a good example and I knew he was not ready for the emotional burden of hosting such a difficult guest. I was also angry with my dad. He was such an extremely smart man with beautiful handwriting, handsome eyes and a deep voice. I did not want him to be an alcoholic or homeless. He once threatened to burn down our house and to get a new set of children. He had started developing memory problems. He told me he was applying to a scholarship in Brazil, that he was going to get a post in the government, and that my mom was the love of his life. He was also sad, alone and malnourished. The last time I saw my dad he was sober but very ashamed. He was dirty, smelled bad and did not have a place to stay. He tried speaking to me and asked me about school and my life. Even though I wanted him to be sober I felt very uncomfortable talking to him and I made no effort to hide it. He was unemployed and wanted my siblings and I to economically support him. I did not want to help. This was all I could think about at the funeral. About how I had not let him stay inside my house but instead left him to die outside in a black barrel. When I was asked to speak at the funeral I wish I had said something nice or clever, kind or genuine. I wished I had spoken of the footprints of his love. Like how I had a hard time learning to walk and my mom thought that maybe there was something wrong with my legs or my bones. How my dad did not listen to my mom and he kept trying to teach me how to walk until one day I finally walked towards him and then cried. How he once stole food to feed us and got beat up at the market. I wish I had spoke about how he liked going to the river and eating hot dogs. My dad would always carry candies in his pocket, tell us to walk fast, say thank you and please. He liked to watch us play. If we fell asleep in the living room he would take our shoes off and carry us to our beds. He always told us to never try alcohol or any other vices. He would help us with our homework and he wouldn’t let us swear. He always said the first thing you ought to do in the morning is wash your face and make your bed. He would also say that one could be poor but that our shoes must always be clean and polished. I had forgotten he was this man as well. I haven’t slept well these last two months. The saddest part of death is the world that ends with the person you lose and the chance to make it new or better -the realization that it is over. The weight of all you did not choose. My dear reader, I know you are kind and you want to forgive me for my choice. But let us be honest. A man has died and I did nothing to prevent it. This cannot be fixed or changed. Sometimes optimization fails. And this is the cost of my farewell. What is the cost of yours?]]>
About the author
The Heinz Journal is a student-run publication of the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, dedicated to publishing works that link critical and theoretical analysis with policy implementation.