Planning Ahead

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Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

At fifteen, I planned for my death. Born during World War II, I was a child of a German mother and a Chinese father, and I spent my early years escaping death by moving from Berlin to Rome to Chong-qing to Washington, D.C. These years shaped me into a meticulous planner. And so if I died, I wanted the perfect funeral.


I imagined myself in a lovely casket, flowers in my long hair, wearing a white dress. But if death did not take me, I vowed to do what I loved best. Even by the age of ten, I cherished teaching reading to unschooled neighbor children in Shanghai. If I were to live, I wanted to become a teacher.
At thirty, my plans for death changed. Burials are expensive and it seemed a waste to use beautiful wood for a casket when it might be better used for furniture. Also, I read American Way of Death and realized that the embalmed body oozes disgusting streaks of molds, so I decided cremation was the way to go. When I called a local Annapolis mortuary to be cremated, the undertaker said, “We only embalm black folks here.” Too upset to learn that dead folks were segregated, I didn’t bother calling another mortuary.


At forty, my philosophy changed once more. Loving my job as an impoverished science teacher, I donated my body to the Maryland Anatomy Board, so the future medical students, dissecting my body, might learn a little bit more from me. No funeral costs were a bonus.


At sixty, I considered changing my donation to the Smithsonian Forensic Lab, where I had the opportunity to be displayed as a skeleton for students to see. I’d be up inside a glass case, year after year. A skeleton with my bionic knees, now that would be cool! However, the lab’s contract insisted I pay $750 for my own defleshing. No thanks.


Now at eighty-two, I believe I’ve found the perfect solution: my organs will be plastinated. Using a special technique, the Maryland Anatomy Board is able to preserve organs so that they can be held. The plasticized organs are then donated to educational institutions. I imagine a student in North Dakota holding my brain while a curious fourth-grader in Annapolis marvels at my liver. Who knows? Some things you can’t plan for and have to be left to chance, but I do hope that I will forever be in a classroom, giving my heart to teaching.

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Katherine Haas taught at Key School in Annapolis for 43 years. She now spends her time enjoying the arts with her husband, teaching Chinese, working part-time at Key as a Storyteller and engaging in progressive activism.

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