A Little Girl Named Donna and the Recipe for Memory

Today is big on the food front. Not only is it Valentine's Day, but more important, it is Arizona's 100th Birthday (we'll tend to that soon enough).

But there's something more important still.  I and many ChicagoNow bloggers are taking the opportunity today to post about Donna and the foundation created in her memory, Donna's Good Things.  We want Donna to be before the eyes of ChicagoNow readers all day long.

Donna was a little girl who lost her battle with childhood cancer at the age of 4.  Her mother, Sheila Quirke, blogs here as Mary Tyler Mom.  And in September she ran a post a day for the full month to chronicle her daughter's entire journey with cancer, beginning with Donna's diagnosis and ending in her death.  Sheila ran the series during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, in part to bring to light pediatric cancer research, which is grossly underfunded.

Donna sparkles in these posts.  Her parents struggle.  But in that strange way that only dying can afford, the family also experiences deep joy and satisfaction, simple happinesses and keen appreciation for the miracle that Donna was.  I encourage everyone to read the series.  It is heartbreaking of course--nothing is sugarcoated, and it comes to us with the pain that came to them--but the totality of the posts is a beautiful meditation on motherhood and childhood, life and death.

Donna's Good Things is the foundation they started, dedicated to "providing joyful opportunities to children facing adversity," in the words of the foundation website. Go to the site, pore over it, pray over it, consider giving.

Donna's parents are also actively involved in raising funds for pediatric cancer research.  Soon they will hold a fundraiser, together with the St. Baldrick's Foundation, one of the largest funders of childhood cancer research in the nation.  This event, at the Candlelite, involves shaving heads, and if you are bold and whimsical, in addition to bighearted, you will learn about it here and plan on participating one way or another.

Their foundation and fundraising work are the ways in which, Donna's mother says, they parent her now.  In terms that I might express this, it is their recipe for memory.

Regular readers here will know that death seems to come up fairly often in this space.  I tell stories about food and recipes.  And the thing is, many of our most important stories, and recipes, are connected to loved ones who are gone.  Food and death seem oddly to go hand in hand, and while I've written several times about friends and relatives who are no longer alive, I've resisted as many occasions to write about the topic, bypassing, for example, the universally-understood baklava at the multicultural funeral meal for a newborn baby; or forgoing the chance to explain kolyva, the Orthodox ritual food eaten at memorial services and which I prepared for the first time last month to honor my sister-in-law's three-year anniversary of her death.  Where there is death, there is food.

Food is of course for the living, however.  So are recipes.   Recipes, as I have often said, keep us mindful of those we love.  Recipes represent a little bit of someone we get to keep even when they leave.  I don't have a recipe for you today, but I do have something you can fix.  We can work together against underfunded research into childhood cancer, and we can work together for children facing adversity.  Please do what you can.  Do more than you can.



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  • Wonderful post! People all over the place are writing about Miss Donna. She was amazing. One of my biggest disappointments in life is that I'll never meet her.
    I was one of the writers today. Check out my post, if you have the time. Thanks!

  • kantal113, thanks for sharing your post, it's really lovely. It's funny how a small person you never met can change everything, isn't it? Congratulations on all your fundraising success! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

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