A birthday worth celebrating

(From left) My’Chau Ngyuen, Georgia Gates, Crystal Rozier and Theresa Nichols celebrate Gates’ 30th birthday last weekend by collecting donations for Presbyterian Hospice & Palliative Care.

South Charlotte’s Georgia Gates describes her mom Deborah Austin as intelligent, caring, loving and almost near perfect; someone she could always count on and admire, an 11-year survivor of breast cancer and a woman of great strength.

But when her mom died more than four years ago in June 2008 from lung cancer, Georgia’s life changed forever. And as each holiday passed and another year went by, there was one special day Gates couldn’t bring herself to celebrate – her own birthday.

“After she passed I was ready for every holiday, except for my birthday,” Gates said. “It really hit me the first birthday after she died. It was easy for me to let them pass by and not acknowledge them because she was the one who always made them special.”

But this year was different. With her 30th birthday approaching, Gates wanted to do something more. So she came up with the idea to honor her mother through her birthday, asking instead of gifts for monetary donations to an organization so dear to her mom’s heart – Presbyterian Hospice & Palliative Care.

“It just hit me in February. Mom had seen the wall where (Presbyterian) put the name of people that contributed. She said ‘I want my name up there,’” Gates said. “It hit me that we never put her name on that wall.”

Kathy Brown, manager of marketing, development and volunteers for Presbyterian Hospice & Palliative Care, told Gates about a remembrance wall to be located in an area of the Jack Matney Memorial Labyrinth Courtyard found within the center courtyard of Presbyterian Hospital, an area that Gates’ mom seemed to gravitate toward during her stay with the group.

Money from Georgia’s 30th birthday will benefit the Harris Hospice Unit expansion, the inpatient component of the hospice program.

“This is her thirty, flirty birthday… we’re just so honored and touched that she would think about us. It shows so much compassion and care,” Brown said.

Gates, whose birthday was actually July 29, had a party Saturday, Aug. 4, at the Pisces Sushi Bar & Lounge in Myers Park, where she invited family and friends and restaurant owner Brian Li donated his space and door prizes to help raise money. With donations still coming in, Gates said the benefit has already raised $1,200, plenty of money to get her mom’s name on a tile in the courtyard of Presbyterian.

“One big thing about mom is she was just extremely compassionate. This is not me… it’s something I completely learned from her. She came through the aid of so many people I didn’t even know until she passed,” Gates said. “This is one thing where she said I always surprised her. I think she wouldn’t have wanted it if she had been there because she liked to keep things low key like me. But I think she would be so proud that I went and did something so positive. I think proud would be her emotion.”

As a nurse, Gates said she was never trained to deal with the trauma of losing her own mother, but with the help of Harris Hospice Unit in the program at Presbyterian, she was able to find an outlet of hope.

“My mother was happy and it eased us through that time. And to be honest, it made me a better nurse,” she said.

And now, with this birthday behind her, Gates is starting to look forward to birthdays again, finding joy through her family and friends.

“This one was amazing… it was phenomenal, actually,” she said. “My mom always harped that if you leave this world with five friends, you are one rich woman. Through this experience and this birthday, I learned I have some awesome friends and family and that’s priceless. This year for me has just been a powerful, reflective ah-hah kind of moment for me. I’ve had to say to myself, ‘Wake up! Look at all these people around you! Stop being selfish about losing your mom.’”

Morgan Smith, morgan@thecharlotteweekly.com

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