I don’t know how many pints of blood my daughter received during her almost-three-year battle with leukemia. Marika had many transfusions to keep her life going. And she kept going for a good while with college, road trips, concerts, and music. She partied, sang, and stayed out late nights. She lived like the lights could go out at any time.
“But Mareek, you shouldn’t … you can’t … you … but … but …, ” I’d say and she’d just roll her eyes at me and say, “Mom. Get a life.”
Stuck in the hospital so much those years, often there was little I could do for her other than hold her hand or rub her feet. But one day in the cafeteria I saw a sign for a blood donation event. That’s when I first started giving blood. It was something I could do. If not directly for her, at least I could give back to the American Red Cross that was giving so much to my daughter.
“Look what I did,” I said to her proudly afterwards, showing off the “I GAVE BLOOD TODAY” sticker. She didn’t roll her eyes at me even though I was wearing my sticker in the middle of my chest like a five-year-old. She smiled. She’d given blood several times herself in high school, before she got sick.
Parked flat out on a table at a local blood drive, I wait and stare up at fluorescent lights. I think back to all the poking Marika had put up with. She hated shots and needles.
“Are you okay?” a technician asks.
“Yeah. I’m just squeamish around needles,” I say, hugging myself. I remember how Marika always grabbed my hand whenever her veins were surveyed and stuck.
“Are you okay?” the tech asks again after she nicks the side of a vein and another technician rummages around to get the right spot. I grit my teeth. I squeeze and release the tiny foam football they’ve given me and count to five in between, as instructed. I think to myself that Marika should be at the center of all the attention and fuss, not me. I’m the one who is supposed to stand by and hold her hand, rub her feet, ask if she’s okay. The other technician’s face is suddenly over mine. I try to smile through tears that well up in my eyes.
“Are you all right?” he asks.
“I’m okay,” I answer, flexing my toes, squeezing and releasing the football. One-two-three-four-five. One-two-three-four-five. One-two-three-four-five. “Are you getting enough blood?” He gives me a thumbs-up. I smile and wipe the tears that run down the sides of my face.
It’s always like this. Three or four times a year now I give blood to honor the memory of my beautiful feisty daughter. It shakes me apart every time. But sharing blood is part of my new life. It’s something I can do. It helps me and someone else in the world feel better and keep going.
What does this photo have to do with giving blood, or Marika, or healing from loss? Well, I wanted something cheerful. And a few weeks ago I found this very special photo of my father which was taken by one of my children when (s)he was very short. My father would be proud of me for giving blood today.
What makes you nervous but you go ahead and do anyway?