A Mother’s Loss: Part 2
My mother went about the business of taking care of his body and his property. The coroner offered her a stipend from the county to pay for a “pauper’s burial.” My mom declined and decided to pay for cremation on her own. She’s been trying to contact the owner of the rooming house to retrieve his property but hasn’t been having much luck. The police told her that there was a lot of evidence in the room to suggest her son had been an artist of some kind. My mom was struck by this because both her aunt and mother, as well as me, are all pretty creative.
The coroner has assured my mother that her son died of natural causes. There was no indication of suicide or foul play, but they are waiting on the results of the toxicology screen. My mother was surprisingly (for her) emotional when telling me the events of her past week. I told her how proud I was of her for being the last one there for her son and she replied, “Too little, too late.” Despite the fact that her adult son chose to reach out to her only one time, that by his own report he had a happy childhood, and that he alone is responsible for his choices in his life, my mother blames herself for something. For what? His life? For giving him up? That he was on food stamps and living in a rooming house? That he may have been struggling with identity and chemical abuse issues? Was it his death? The fact that he was alone when he died? Or was it that she hadn’t been there for him all along?
I asked my mother what she felt about this man whom she had never met and spoken to only once. I told her not having carried a baby myself I could only try to imagine the primordial attachment a mother has to her child - even if she does not raise him. My mother said that there was a bond; that even though she was not his mother in practice he remained her family. She said that she would think of him occasionally over the years and wonder what he was doing and what he looked like. She said she had him when she was just out of high school. The father knew but didn’t care. She went to a home for unwed mothers, had the baby, then went on with the rest of her life. She did this again a couple of years later with a baby girl. Then she tried to do it with me, but later changed her mind.
Last night in talking with my mother I felt so badly for her. She had lost something, a part of her. She was struggling with feelings of guilt. I tried to say all the right things to her to ease her pain, but no words were going to heal her heart. I asked her if I could write a blog post about our experience and she said, “Of course. Do you need more details?” (My mother is a closed book – unless you ask the right questions.) As I started writing part 1 of this post, I began to tear up. Then sob. I was sad for my mother, and the difficult choices she made. I was sad for the pain she was experiencing and that I wasn’t there to comfort her in person. I was sad for the half-brother I never knew. I was sad that he may have been lonely and that his life must have been full of struggle. I was even a little angry that he placed this burden on my mother’s shoulders. And I realized I was a little sad for myself. I was sad that I never got to know him, never got to try and make his life better, if I could. I too felt, for the first time, this sense of family with a man I’d never met. I’ve been crying all day, for all of us.
My mother plans to collect her son’s ashes and take them to Lake Michigan. I told her to wait until I saw her over Thanksgiving and I would be by her side when she was ready to dedicate her son’s ashes.
In memory of my mother’s son, my brother, William Charles, 1961-2009. May he rest in peace.
UPDATE: I don’t know why I didn’t put this together when I Googled William Jaaska the other night and saw the name Bill with the same birth year. It looks like William Charles Jaaska is the comic book illustrator “Bill Jaaska.” Here are some of his works and credits. How did this ostensibly successful artist end up on food stamps? More questions. . .
My mother and I will be cleaning out his room next week.