Like more than 8 million people in the United States, Jarrett J. Krosoczka — a New York Times bestselling author and illustrator of children’s books — grew up with a parent who was an addict. Looking in from the outside, it’s not obvious that Krosoczka endured the pain of watching his mother’s 50-year battle with substance abuse — after all, he’s a prominent, successful professional and has a beautiful family of his own.
The 39-year-old came clean about his parental roller-coaster ride in one of his recent TED talks, but kept his mother’s identity anonymous to protect her. That is, until Thursday, when he revealed her name and photo in a candid, heartfelt Facebook post. “I wanted you all to see how beautiful my mom was and I wanted you to know her name,” he wrote. “Look at her, she was beautiful, right? And her name was Leslie.”
He also revealed that she had lost her battle with addiction about a week before, on March 23, when she passed away from a fatal heroin overdose. Krosoczka described how he had spent his entire life thus far coming to terms with his mother’s disease while striving toward fulfillment and happiness in his personal life.
The post, titled “a farewell to my mother,” quickly took off with 1.3K reactions, 127 shares, and almost 400 comments, and it’s still picking up momentum. In the insightful and surprisingly objective essay, the author shows an extraordinary amount of compassion and a lack of bitterness about his mother’s struggle.
“While she spent the majority of my childhood either incarcerated or in rehabilitation centers, we worked hard on building up a relationship. And for a while there, we had a really good one, considering the circumstances … She was there at all of my hometown book signings cheering me on, we danced at my wedding, she held my first-born child,” Krosoczka wrote, while saying that he found peace in knowing that his mother passed at home in the company of a friend. “She will no longer be suffering, no longer experiencing the inner turmoil of being who she wanted to be versus feeling the need to fill her body with that poison.”
Though he acknowledged the torment of living with his mother’s ongoing addiction — “I am mourning, but I have been mourning her loss for many, many years now. This horrible disease has been taking her from me piece by piece for my entire life” — over the years, he also learned to forgive her and even to honor the positive things she’d contributed to his life. “Throughout her time in correctional facilities, my mother and I mailed drawings back and forth to one another — I kept every single thing that she ever sent me. She was incredibly talented,” he recounted. “Had I not seen how my mother squandered her talent, maybe I wouldn’t have been so motivated to make a career out of my art. I am who I am in spite of my mother, but I also am who I am because of her — she taught me to never shy away from expressing my love for family.”
One of the most significant impacts Leslie Krosoczka had on her son, though, was a simple one: She truly loved him, and she made sure he knew it. He implies that he believes — despite her tumultuous, unstable life — that it was this maternal love that served as their salvation. He wrote, “At the memorial, I also read aloud letters that she wrote while in prison. I’ve been revisiting them a lot lately. What had become clear to me became clear to everyone listening — she loved me so very much. Some kids are being raised by their biological parents and they aren’t loved half as much as my mom loved me.” Love, for Krosoczka, was more powerful than addiction.
That said, the man famous for titles such as Lunch Lady, Naptastrophe, and Star Wars: Jedi Academy did recognize where to draw the line to protect his children from being exposed to her illness as he had been. “As my own family grew and as I got to see my name and books up in lights in Times Square, I started seeing my mother’s name in the court records of the newspaper once again,” he said. “She was getting into trouble. It was an excruciating decision, but I withdrew my children from any exposure to her. I would not allow my kids to experience the same pain that I had.” He continued, “Now that we are here, they are none the wiser about what is happening. They are living a wonderful childhood, and we are teaching them about my mother’s life as it becomes developmentally appropriate for them.”
Though he created a boundary, he never withdrew his love for Leslie. Far from bitter, he hosted the memorial he believes she would have truly wanted. “She would have absolutely loved it. I displayed photos of happier times and had a table covered in all of the drawings that she had made for me over the years,” he wrote. Does he have any regrets — or feel like there’s something he could have done to save his addicted mother? He admitted, “‘I wish things had been different,’ is futile. There is no changing the past. Everything that has happened, no matter how difficult, has made me the man I am today.”
Krosoczka posted his epic message not just to vent, though. He had a few more intentions. The first reason being that she was beautiful and he wanted everyone to know her name. “The other reason I’m sharing this is because I know that there is somebody out there reading this right now and they are nodding their heads as they read every. single. word. I see you. I hope that you can find the inner peace that I have found,” he shared.
With his presence of mind, sound decisions, empathy, and protectiveness, Krosoczka’s approach — and seeming closure — on the situation is nothing short of phenomenal, considering the sobering statistics. “Children with parents who abuse substances are three times more likely to be abused, and more than four times as likely to be neglected, than those who grow up without an addicted parent,” says Drug Rehab by Elements Behavioral Health. The site adds, “A child exposed to a parent’s drug use may be more likely to exhibit behavioral problems at home and school. These issues can make it difficult for parents, teachers, and other caregivers to manage the child. Kids with addicted parents are also at higher risk for developing a mental illness, such as anxiety or depression.”
If this story resonates with you and you’re feeling generous, Krosoczka kindly requests that “in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Leslie Krosoczka’s name to the Joseph and Shirley Krosoczka Memorial Youth Art Scholarships at the Worcester Art Museum [Massachusetts], should you be so inclined.”
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