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A Mother’s Loss: Part 2

November 17, 2009

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. 

16 Comments leave one →
  1. November 17, 2009 8:24 pm

    Your blog continues to impress me! I look forward for each new installment. Your writing style is, in a word, awesome! Have you ever attempted to write fiction?

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      November 17, 2009 9:13 pm

      Thank you, Stephen! I sincerely appreciate your kind words. You know, I never have thought about fiction (besides my cheesy attempts in college freshman writing). Perhaps I will work on that! Maybe when I run out of semi-interesting real life tales, fiction will feel like the next natural step. Either way, thank you for reading my posts!

      • Tolanda Harrison permalink
        July 25, 2010 10:10 am

        My name is Tolanda Harrison,I am sitting here crying and cannot stop. I have been looking and wondering for several years,what happened to my brother Billy as we all would call him (known as William Jaaska ) Biologically he is not my brother,but when my great grandmother – Billy’s foster mother passed away, Billy did not want to go and live with her daughter (my grandmother in Fresno, Ca),and wanted to stay in the house that we all came up in,therefore my mom and dad told him if he wants to stay in Milwaukee with us,it is his decision. Billy did not hesitate to stay. He was happy and the three of us girls and my parents were also happy.This is why I say my brother. My children know him as “Uncle Billy”. I have pictures of Billy from when he was young and as he got older and with my family. Billy have been drawing all of his life. He was so inspired by my dad’s tons of comic books laying around the house,milk cartons and cereal boxes,he would always try to draw the characters.Him and my husband even did T shirts one year with a African American “Bart Simpson”displayed on the front.
        I hope that this message will land in the right hands.Please note: Billy is my family…and all of my family is the only family that he has ever had. This is coming from my heart because when me and billy were kids, I was responsible for him as we walked to and from school,because kids would pick on him and I would fight them off,you see Billy was bi-racial and his eyes would dance and kids seen him as different. My eyes are filled with tears writing this,I can’t believe that he has passed. We lost touch and I never gave up on trying to find him thru out the years,my kids from time to time would say”where’s Uncle Billy at?”They really missed him especially during the holidays, Billy had a hudge apetite and I would cook soo… much food,he had plenty to take home also.however,his passing away was my worst fear.
        Please someone contact me as soon as possible, my email is

  2. 1chicklette permalink
    November 18, 2009 2:01 am

    You’re brave, strong and compassionate. Thank you again for sharing, and I hope that the sharing your mother is able to do, in whatever way it comes…I don’t know. Benefits you. I can’t find the right word.

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      November 18, 2009 2:47 am

      Thank you so very much, Jennifer. I really appreciate your words.

  3. November 20, 2009 3:47 am

    My comments, part 2:

    Girl, you are so gifted! It’s not just what you share, but HOW you share it. The story is profoundly intimate (especially with your mom being a closed book and opening up to you for sharing this with others and encouraging your writing…and about this!). The way in which you write just flows from your heart straight into the heart of your reader. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your gift and the fact that you’re sharing it with the world on this blog.

    As I read this post I felt it coming. By the time I finished reading, I was overcome with goosebumps and my eyes had welled up with tears. Wow. Just a beautiful expression of life, humanity and so many thoughts, emotions and struggles we all experience in so many ways.

    Thank you for sharing this story. Your writing delivered your story straight from your heart to mine. That’s such a gift, Maija. Keep writing and sharing! :)


    • mjjaaska permalink*
      November 20, 2009 3:39 pm

      Wow. Thank you is not strong enough for how much I appreciate your encouragement and feedback, Allison. I don’t think I really “get” the fact that my writing can affect people emotionally. When I see here that it does I am rather flummoxed. I need to let this sink in. I am used to making people laugh, not so much making them cry. I so appreciate your reading, commenting, tweeting- and hunting me down! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

      • November 22, 2009 6:10 am


        Your writing is well worth hunting down. I am so glad I stumbled upon your blog, and I look forward to reading more. So far, you haven’t proven people wrong! ;)

        Keep writing lady. Keep writing! :)

  4. March 14, 2010 6:40 am

    I was stunned to read this after looking up Bill’s entry on “Wikipedia”. I saw that the site listed him as deceased. After frantically searching Google, I stumbled upon your moving entry by using his full first name. I had no idea Mr. Jaaska has passed away. I followed his art while he was at First Comics, and then with other publishers. He was a terrific talent, and I will miss that talent. God Bless you, Bill.

  5. March 18, 2010 6:40 pm

    Maija – came to your blog by way of the comic book resources message board. Sadly, the comics community is far more together now online than it used to be in the good ‘ol days of even the 1990’s.

    I worked with Bill on one issue of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for Acclaim comics (issue #23 i believe), but in comic book terms that means that I spent three weeks working over Bill’s pencils to produce the inks on the book (the black and white line art that then needs to be colored), and yet never met or talked to Bill during that time. Frequently, creators will request phone numbers and call people out of the blue, but more often we work in solitude creating our little fantasies in our heads and putting them down on paper. Many artists are, by their very nature, solitary. Had Bill continued to do the book, I would have called him, but I was told this was a one off issue and so didn’t make contact.

    In any case, its a sad story, one that i’m sorry to hear for both you and your mother’s sake. I still have someof the originals from that book and would love to send you one if you would like. Please feel free to contact me via my blog or email.

    best –


  6. March 22, 2010 3:50 pm

    You should make a little tinychat room for your blog, I’d love to see what you and your readers look and sound like haha

  7. Linda K. Durham permalink
    July 26, 2010 5:17 pm

    I am William Jaaska’s oldest non-biological sister. We never called him William. We always called him “Billy”. So I will continue to call hiim Billy. I was desvastated and shocked to hear of his passing. My sister, Tolanda, called me and told me that she saw it on the internet. What an awful way to find out something so tragic about your loved one. We always considered ourselves brother and sisters because we group up as such. We always wondered what happened to Billy, since he kind of disappeared later in his adult life. We didn’t know where he was or how to find him. I’m just hoping that he was happy in his life. He certainly was growing up as a child and well into his adult life. My brother was a phenomenal artist, but it sounds like he didn’t get the recognition that he should have. I was very saddened to read that he was receiving food stamps and living in a rooming house. Like my sister, I’m having a hard time accepting his death. MJJaaska, I read your blog and I realize that you are connected to William biologically, but we are the only family he’s ever known. Your mom made a choice to give him up for whatever reason and I’m not faulting her for that. She did what she felt she had to do at that time. I just want you to know that Billy was a very happy child. He was loved very much; however, he was picked on quite a bit because he was bi-racial and he had dancing eyes. We always had to defend him, especially my sister when we went to school. Please know that we love him and miss him so much. My heart breaks to read that he died alone. He was such a kind-hearted, funny person. We all miss him.

  8. Jim permalink
    May 8, 2013 2:06 pm

    I, too, knew Bill (we just called him Bill) from my time at college in Milwaukee. A group of us there used to get together and enjoy talking, drinking, and whatever college kids did in 1984. Everytime we got together with Bill, he would have a pencil and paper in hand and would doodle out some sort of sketch by the time we were done talking. He would think nothing of it…and throw most of them away. I have a few of his doodles that he did during some of those discussions. Bill had talent oozing out of him, and even in those days, he had aspirations of working on comic books…he talked about it all the time. We had no doubt that he would be able to do whatever he wanted…artistically.

    My fondest memory of Bill was his love for the arts and reading. I lent to Bill my three-volume copy of the Dune Trilogy. It was a story that I really loved and I thought Bill would enjoy it as well. We didn’t see each other for a while, so I thought I’d not see them again (which was OK since I’d already read them). However, when I did see Bill next, he returned my books, thanked me over and over for introducing him to this series, and the handed me a 17″ X 20″ artwork he had done depicting a critical scene in the book. He went on and on about how much he loved the story and that it had essentially changed his life.

    I still have that artwork framed on my wall. I don’t know why it took me this long to Google him and sadly find that he had passed at such a young age,

    I can tell you this. In my small group of friends at college, he did not get teased about being bi-racial. We just enjoyed who Bill was. The world has lost an incredible talent and a wonderful person.

  9. Sheila permalink
    January 14, 2018 4:49 pm

    Bill was a bright. Funny. Intelligent, and kind person. We grew up in the same Milwaukee neighborhood. He and I attended and graduated from an academically challenging high school completing a precollege program. Art was his life. And he was amazingly talented. As a teen he wrote a regular original comic strip in a local river west community news paper. It was clear that he was headed to a great future with the art that he loved. There was a sad part to bill. I remember speaking with him late at night by phone about his chaotic home lige. I could hear the commotion in the background. He felt I think that he did not belong there. I felt I think that he was having identity issues. He was biracial and identified as black. This is a challenge for fair skin blacks like bill. He rocked his huge afro. He went to art school i went to college and i eventually moved to another state. I got updated from mutual friends about how bill was doing and how he was making his art. But I never connected with him again. I was sadden and stunned to heat about the death of this vital and talented man to whom the whole world was open. Love you bill and praying for peace for you.


  1. Well, We Did It. « Pinch A Pig Toe
  2. Bill Jaaska has Passed Away – Can Anyone Confirm? | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources

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