Today is my 46th birthday. And I will be spending it with the body of the one who brought me into this world, my mother, Margaret Bailey Clark Gage.
I say, "with the body" because, having gone through death with my dad, I'm aware that the body that I will see in a casket at Brewitt Funeral Home will be the body that held the soul of my mother. But "mom," as I know "mom" will not be there. Or, at least, I hope she isn't. That would actually be more troublesome because it will mean that her soul hasn't ascended to become one with the saints, a place where I think she deserves to sit, stand, dance, and above all, organize!
People are wishing me "Happy Birthday" on Facebook, or in email messages. Unfortunately, as much as I can acknowledge that today is my birthday, I can't bring myself to be all that "happy" about it. Don't get me wrong: I'm not regretting that I came into this world on time. February 14th was my due date. My mother laughed at the doctor when he told her I'd be born on Valentine's Day. She was about to turn 40 years old, and she was pregnant with a Valentine's baby. I'm sure that was hilarious to her; of course, Sarah also laughed at the thought of having a child late in life, too.
As the legend goes, my father and brothers had failed to note that June 19, 1967 was her 40th birthday. She cooked dinner, served it, listened to their banter around the table, and at the end of the meal, in her best Peggy-style, said, "Well, now that you've all forgotten my birthday, I have a little surprise for you: I'm pregnant!" The legend continued with my mom getting active in organizing Governor George Romney's presidential campaign in New Hampshire. She had just gotten off the phone with some of his workers when her water broke. My dad took her to Exeter Hospital, dropped her off (yes, just dropped her off) with the instructions, "Do the same good job you always do," and four-plus-hours later, at about 2:47am, I was brought feet first into the world. This is apparently a hazard as there is a risk that I could have been strangled by the umbilical cord. I was not, and my mom now had her first, and only, girl after three sons. When she called my father to let him know, she began by apologizing for my gender. I guess there was some kind of expectation that I was to be Richard Sheldon Gage. Instead, I was Susan Chase Gage. The doctor remarked that he'd never, in all his years, heard a mother apologize for having had a baby.
Happily, both my parents not only got over whatever hangs up they might have been having about becoming parents again in their forties, and I'd like to think that I brought a new energy into their lives. My mom and I had many adventures. One of the most memorable was a trip by train across Canada, starting in Vancouver with a stop over in Banff and rumbling along through the Canadian Rockies and the plains and the northern side of Lake Superior until we reached our final destination of Montreal. Mom engaged with other passengers, and I think, for her, this recalled her childhood spent traveling between her divorced parents in Michigan and New York. She used to tell the porters that she was a runaway princess, and she imagined herself to be like the childhood movie star, Shirley Temple, who also died in the past week. That trip was magical and special not just because of seeing the amazing scenery and talking with mom about it, or the fact that I became the whiz kid of the Via Rail Bingo games (seriously, I collected many little prizes because I kept getting Bingo). But it was one of the rare mother-daughter times in our lives. It seemed as though my mom could relax, and so could I.
At the end of both of their lives, my parents looked at me in ways that communicated two messages: one was the immediate of their own circumstances of being ready to get out of the body; the other was to look at me for the permission to move on. I will never forget the hand-holding and hand-squeezing exchange with my dad where the phrase that came to me was, "No fear and no regrets." The other was two weeks ago with my mom. The same thing: holding hands and having the phrase, "It's going to be OK," becoming the statement of the day. That was the message I left her with when I said good-bye: it's going to be OK.
I hope today that I will carry that same message with me.