In Memory of Mom August 15,1925-June 26, 2017. By: Wes Brittenham

Author Wes Brittenham

Excerpt from journal entry 6/25/17

My mother loved to garden. You might not have expected that from a girl from New York City, a first generation American, born just at the dawn of the depression. She lost both of her parents to tuberculosis by the age of five, and with nine siblings entered an orphanage funded and run by the Scandinavian community. Her parents had emigrated from Sweden and Finland, coming through Ellis Island to seek better fortune in America.

Determined and intelligent, and endlessly resourceful, her interests were broad. After marrying our Army Officer father, she found herself having her second child, me, in Manhattan, Kansas that is. The last stop on assignment before the Major’s retirement, at age 45. Our father came from a long line of Midwestern farmers, and between tours of duty and Wars, usually managed to grow a small vegetable garden. And Mom loved her flower beds.


I remember her on her hands and knees, garden trowel in hand, turning rich Kansas soil. I waited eagerly for my treasures-the occasional black and yellow tiger salamander or orange bellied ring necked snake, as soil and mulch were dug for the new addition to her flower bed. She helped to plant the seeds of my life, though I couldn’t know it then.

A couple of years later, she found herself in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A third son had been born, and she carried her daughter within her across the miles to the desert that would become our home. Gardening was more of a challenge here, but still, she persisted. Beds of bearded iris, rose bushes (one of her favorite flowers), and even a cactus garden. We grew some vegetables too, but dad could never get used to trying to grow gardens in the New Mexico soil.

Our mom is dying now, and dad has been gone for years, but the seeds they planted in me are growing still, and I have made horticulture my life’s work.

Excerpt from journal entry 6/26/17

A hospital bed in a room in a rented house. That is where our mother lies. Is she sleeping or unconscious? The last few days have been rough, especially on our sister, who last night sobbed at our mother’s bedside that she deserved better than this. She had overcome so much adversity in her life, and had sacrificed so much for the benefit of us, her children. Hospice is here to help us, and having each other to share responsibilities and memories, helps too.

Mom always supported us in our aspirations, for me, my love of nature and art and music, and she had all of us reading for pleasure and education from a very young age. It is hard to watch her laying there, thinking the words we spoke to each other a week ago were perhaps our last. We have to learn to let go. I am going out to water the garden. No, I am not.


The truth is I have made an appointment this morning to do a landscape consultation, and the hour is approaching. How can I go do this while my mom lies there in that bed? I call to cancel the appointment, leave the watering for later, and jump into my truck for a trip that is so necessary, but that I dread.

Excerpt from journal 6/27/17

We lost our Mother yesterday. I was alone with her in her room, and I held her hand. I stroked her fingers with the fragile translucent skin, and remembered the paper mache alligators those hands had made for me when I was five, and all of those fabulous meals, and sewing and mending our clothing, our torn knees, our broken hearts. And the flower beds those hands had tended even when arthritis made it so difficult. I listened to her breathing, quiet now. I told her how much we all loved her and what a good mom she was to us.

My sister came in briefly to ask if I was okay, and commented on mom’s breathing, which just then had gotten a bit rough. She left us alone and I continued holding her hand and listening to her breath, which was becoming quieter and slower. Thoughts of the last few days stumbled through my mind. She had given my sister a Last Request for a meal on Saturday, cocoa and toast, something we had loved as children. I reminded her of that. On Sunday she had told my younger brother that she was dying, and later that day she told our older brother she was ready to go. I spoke of that to her as well. They had all spent time alone with her that Monday morning before I arrived.

Now alone with her, I was happy that our last words spoken, a week ago, were “I love you.” I told her that if she was ready, those had been good last words, and that we were ready too, though I must admit I think I was lying. I listened as her breathing stopped. Then returned. And stopped again for a longer time. I searched her face and felt so helpless. Her breathing stopped completely. Her neck pulsed a time or two, and she was gone.

Wes 2

I called in a whisper to my siblings. Again. And again. I couldn’t bear to leave her and raising my voice seemed somehow disrespectful. Finally I managed to call loud enough to catch their attention in the next room. We cried together for a time, but we had to take care of the official business, and when the sudden influx of strangers documented what was necessary, and took our mother away in the silent ambulance, leaving us alone, we talked for a while.

I drove home, feeling lost, as darkening clouds gathered over the Sandia Mountains and flowed down over the city. Back at home, with emotion and memory moving in waves, I heard the gathering thunder. Then came the rain. And it rained. A good rain, a pouring rain, a cleansing rain, a long rain. Washing down from above, cleaning the air, the trees, and flowing over the parched soil into the flower beds, the grasses and shrubs and trees.

The garden was watered.

4 thoughts on “In Memory of Mom August 15,1925-June 26, 2017. By: Wes Brittenham

  1. You will always remember
    We will never forget.
    The love. The compassion. The stories.
    You have such descriptive passion.
    My younger years with your family brings me so much joy.
    As I got older, the turmoil.
    The understanding The judgement
    Took away so much
    You have brought back so much wonderful memories to me.
    Thank you Wes.
    Celebrate the love. The life of your beloved mother. Mrs. Brittenham
    #hotteaandtoast. #coffeecake.


  2. I can’t quite grasp the fact that it’s been a year. Sometimes it seems like it was yesterday. And still I sit here sobbing as I read your words. I thought by now there would be no more tears but I was wrong.

    Will you print this for me, Wes?


  3. There will always be tears probably. But that is a good thing. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, Joni warned us. I am grateful.


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