Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

October 26, 2012

Husband builds lasting memory of wife

Ryan Ellis
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — Jesse Bratton has found a way to make the memory of his wife last after her body no longer could.

    Bratton had a gazebo built in memory of his wife, Nellie, at the Burton-Devore apartment complex at 610 N. Henrietta St.

    Bratton said the people in the apartment building had always wanted a gazebo. He talked to the owners who asked if he was sure he wanted to spend the money to do it. Bratton told them, “Money doesn’t mean anything to me anymore.”

    “I couldn’t go on trips ’cause I couldn’t enjoy it,” he said.

    Jesse and Nellie Bratton were married Aug. 29, 1942, and were husband and wife for 69 years before she passed away Oct. 27, 2011, from complication with Alzheimer’s.

    “When my wife was alive, I wanted to live to be 100,” said Bratton. “You don’t think someone will go ahead of you.”

    Bratton recalled the night his wife died. The couple began having late-night coffee every night in March. About 2 a.m., they were getting ready to have their coffee.

    Bratton’s wife had trouble with her wrists, elbows and knees. She couldn’t walk by herself. Bratton went to retrieve her wheelchair and when he got back, his wife had fallen and hit her head.

    “I seen her fall backwards and never heard her shout. I seen her fall forwards and never shout. I seen her fall sideways and never shout,” said Bratton.

    He said when he saw her on the floor, he wasn’t sure how, but he knew she was dying.

    “She died and she quit breathing. I died, but I’m still breathing,” said Bratton.

    Bratton said in nearly eight decades of marriage, he was only away from his wife twice. He served in the military from 1942 to 1946, and he went to Alaska for two weeks without her because she wasn’t able to.

    “We’d go to the movies every time they had a new one,” he said. He and his wife went to the drive-in often.

    As much fun as they had together through the years, Bratton said his wife couldn’t cook very well.

    “She could cook for 50 people, but she couldn’t cook for the two of us,” said Bratton. His wife worked in a restaurant when they first got married.

    Then, things changed, and Nellie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Bratton said she didn’t recognize him or their children.

    “I was the guy who cooked for her. I was the guy who took care of her. I was the guy who went to bed with her,” said Bratton.

    He said the doctors wanted to send her to another clinic. “I said no. She could die there unhappy, or she could die here and be happy.”

    Bratton said the thing he’s most grateful for is his wife didn’t suffer.

    “There’s some comfort in that,” he said. “It’s not the Alzheimer’s that kills you,” said Bratton, but the physical problems that follow it.

    Still, Bratton has trouble with his wife’s death.

    “I can manage in the daytime, but at night, I get about four hours of sleep,” he said.

    He said when his wife first passed away, he couldn’t sleep in their bed.

    “I had to sleep in the chair,” said Bratton, motioning to his living room.

    When he slept, he’d dream of his wife.

    “When she first died, she used to come visit me. When she left, it bothered me,” said Bratton. “I told her not to come back cause it bothered me.”

    Bratton said he now can sleep in his bedroom again.

    Meanwhile, Bratton thought of the gazebo as a way to remember his wife. He shrugged as he talked about the $10,000 it took to build it.

    That proved somewhat of a challenge because of the location. When the gazebo’s construction began, the ground had to be leveled out.

    “Holy God, they’ll never get that thing fixed right,” said Bratton at the time.

    Eventually, the gazebo was complete. A sign put above its doorway reads “Nellie Bratton.”

    Since its completion, Bratton has added a two-layer frame of stones and flowers to the outer edges. The first frame has decorative stones, while the second has mums, tulips and rose moss spread through. In the summer, he put 70 individual lights around the gazebo. He’s thinking of making it 80 next summer. All of this Bratton pays for out of pocket.

    “It makes me feel better,” said Bratton who motioned to the completed gazebo.

    “I’m not gonna be around all these years, and these people here aren’t gonna be around all these years,” said Bratton as he motioned to the apartments. “But, other people are gonna be here, and they’re gonna see Nellie Bratton written there and wonder what she had to do with this.”

    Ryan Ellis can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 138, or at ryan.ellis@effinghamdailynews.com.