My mother’s birthday was this past Sunday. She would have been 66 years old.
For years, she donated blood whenever she could. She told me that she was so happy when her scale finally tipped 115 pounds because it meant that she could donate blood. I never really understood that. I still kind of don’t.
I once asked her why she donated blood, or more specifically, why she was so passionate about donating blood. She related a family story, one I now wish I wrote down when she was telling it because I’ve long since forgotten the specifics. Below is what I remember, though some of it may have been romanticized in my brain over the years.
Apparently, in the early 1970s (it was before I was born and while she was still living in the Philippines), amid the political unrest that marked the earliest days of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos’s regime, my uncle, one of my mother’s five brothers, was shot during a college campus protest. He lost a lot of blood, and the hospital didn’t have an ample supply. Rather than accepting this, my grandfather rallied friends, family, and neighbors throughout the town, essentially organizing an impromptu blood drive, to collect enough blood to save my uncle’s life. From then, Mom had made a solemn vow to donate blood whenever she could.
As she got older, though, she was taking multiple medications and no longer eligible, and I know this frustrated her to no end.
I had seen the flyers last week at work announcing today’s blood drive, and I did the same thing I’ve always done in the past: I ignored them. A reminder email went out yesterday announcing that there were still slots open for donors, and I considered it, but I had meetings throughout the day, and there were all these reports to finish to wrap up the month, and I thought of at least a dozen other excuses to not sign up. But this morning, I received one last email with the times of the two remaining open slots, and I was a little disappointed that they both fell during a meeting I had scheduled with my department VP.
As luck would have it, though, my meeting was quick, finished in fewer than 10 minutes. I raced back to my desk and hurriedly called the receptionists.
“Is that 10:15 slot still open?” I asked.
“No, honey, Sean already took it.”
“But I think they can squeeze you in.”
I raced downstairs and walked quickly across the parking lot to where the Big Red Bus was waiting. And for the first time in my 37 years, I donated blood.
I wish I could say that I did it to save another person’s life, but that really wasn’t the reason. Nor did I give blood for the free mini-physical (though my blood pressure was great at 96/69!), the juice, the cookies (which were too high in fat, anyway), the sticker, or the free movie ticket. I did it to honor my mother. This small act (that took about an hour because the blood wasn’t flowing into the bag as quickly as I suppose it ought) was so important to her.
I donated blood today for my mother, because she no longer can.
And the next time the Big Red Bus rolls around, I’ll probably do it again.