All you ever did was write love songs about me mom. You were there for my first breath. I'm here for your last. Your passing seals the contract we have with each other from now until eternity. Anna, I am your daughter. Rest in peace mother.
Anna Marie Bracken (February 1, 1940 to April 28, 2016) working class hero, retired waitress, and vigilant neighbor was the first born daughter of Peter Marks (Frankfurt, Germany) and Marie Billich (Chicago, Illinois).
The beloved grandmother of Jennifer Rose Baldwin, and her super-hero husband Logan Taylor; cherished mother of Christine Bracken; Laura (Bracken) Stepping and soul-mate Paul Burke Inman; and many others who sought her out for maternal love and guidance.
Little sister to brother John Billich & Mary; Mary Anne & Joe Naughton; Lucille & Eddie Healy; big sister to Helen & Maurice Bauman; Patricia & Daniel Naughton; Viola (Cookie) & Robert Holt.
Aunt and (frequent Godmother) to John R., John J., Steven & Dawn; Joey, Mary Joyce, John, Helen, Kathleen & Patrick; Joanne, Jaqueline, Sharon, Deborah, Karen, & Kathy; Jennifer, Michael & Melinda; Colleen, Daniel, Peter & Jeffrey; Kimberly & Bobby.
Anna grew up on the Southside of Chicago with a mouthy Irish & Scottish mother, and her father, a German immigrant & baker, who died when Anna was very young. With four older siblings, and three little sisters, she was the quiet one, preferring to read, draw, watch films and take walks. Family life was tough in the 40’s and 50’s. Anna had a talent for painting and drawing, but often missed school due to illness, both physical and emotional. In seventh grade, she was awarded a scholarship to attend a program at the Art Institute of Chicago, but declined because she couldn’t afford the art supplies. Anna didn’t graduate from 8th grade, but went on to be a prolific reader, and passed on her love of books to both her children.
In 2004, Anna made the big move from Chicago to San Francisco, where she immediately felt at home in a cozy studio apartment (#204), directly next door to her daughter Laura in apartment #205. Anna was recovering from Non-Hodgekins lymphoma, and would endure multiple setbacks including two major strokes. In both cases she was left paralyzed, and had to learn how to walk and talk, requiring several months of therapy. Congestive heart failure, diabetes, etc. resulted in frequent hospital stays, and constant care. All of these situations only served to balance out the complete joy and exuberance she had for life. None of those illnesses mattered, as long as she had her TV, scary movies, True crime books, Walgreens, cards from her sisters, updates on her grand-daughter Jennifer, and jaunts up Polk street. There were always equal parts laughter and tears. For more than 10 years, her trusted and closest companion was Marianna, her full-time homecare provider. They had hilarious conversations which no one could interpret, and it was never clear if they were laughing all the time, or yelling at each other (as Marianna speaks a unique combination of Spanish and English, though Anna had no problem understanding).
Anna was always looking out her apartment window onto Sutter Street, tracking the scene at Aces bar, commenting on locals, the plain clothes cops, and the tourists always walking to and from the hotels. Anna said her neighborhood was being "re-gentrified" and noted “It's a good thing I'm not poor.” Her monthly social security check was always sufficient in her eyes. She always had what she needed.
In May 2015 Anna moved out of her studio apartment into the Jewish Nursing Home. Eventually she began identifying as Jewish, and remarked "I've never experienced such anti-Semitism in my life." In deed she was correct, and truly felt it in her heart. I reminded her she grew up Irish Catholic.
Her health was typical roller coaster style. Deep illness, followed by full recoveries. On one miraculous event coinciding with a harvest moon – which she saw set over the Bernal Hills from her room – she had an awakening of sorts. That morning, after spending several days, “weak as a cat” and in bed, she awoke energized. She told me there was something special about that moon, and imagined the Jewish Home was built deliberately in this location just to make it easier to see that moon set. To the surprise of everyone, including her hospice nurse, she was walking again, shopping in the Jewish Home gift store, playing bingo, and longing for trips to Target. It was a last hurrah of sorts.
In my mom’s final weeks and days, she offered pure love for all who came to see her. As I sat next to her, in her twin size bed, she'd cozy up to me like we we're cuddling on the couch.
She wanted to hug everyone who came to see her. When she could no longer speak, she'd stretch her arms out to lightly clap.
During the last hours of life, I spent every moment with her. As her life passed before her, I sat next to her, remembering the stories she told me about her childhood. I could see her father, and my mom as a toddler upon his shoulders, picking out penny candy at the corner store. I could feel her grief when he died, and how she carried that sadness throughout her entire life. I could feel the moment she realized she was pregnant with me. Unmarried and only 21 years old, it was fear, and it was also elation. I imagined my birth, it wasn’t easy. I could hear my Aunt Mary and Uncle Joe – who were with her during labor. They were more like parents than older sister, and brother-in-law. I felt her pain, I felt her joy. I felt my own pain, and my own joy. My first breathe. Followed shortly by her last breathe in this world.
My mom lived next door to me for 12 years. Sometimes she’d call me on the phone, and ask, “What are you doing?” Nothing, why? I’d say. “Can you come over here and give me a hug?”
I miss those calls.