Planning Ahead

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.

Comments? See our Facebook post.


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.

Help the Arundel Patriot continue to bring you excellent journalism.
Help the Arundel Patriot continue to bring you excellent journalism.