Nov. 9, 2022

Janice Jernigan - Opening Up to Grief

No one gets a pass on grief, not even a three-year-old. Janice lost her sister Julie at the age of 3, she was too young to understand what was going on around her and her coping mechanism growing up was saying that she had grown up as an only child....

No one gets a pass on grief, not even a three-year-old. Janice lost her sister Julie at the age of 3, she was too young to understand what was going on around her and her coping mechanism growing up was saying that she had grown up as an only child. She didn't acknowledge that she was a surviving sibling until she started going to therapy for an ailment she thought was completely unrelated, and it ended up being “stuck grief”. Grief that Janice had not given herself the space to process and understand. 

In this week's episode, I am sharing Janice and Julie’s story, how Janice started on her grief journey, how her partner supported her through her grief journey, what inspired her to write her book: Opening Up to Grief and so much more.

In this episode, I’m covering:

  • Intro [00:00:00]
  • Janice and Julie’s story [00:02:06]
  • The start of Janice’s grief journey [00:09:23]
  • Grieving Julie [00:26:27]
  • Supporting partners for surviving siblings [00:30:02]
  • Writing Opening Up to Grief [00:38:27]
  • Advice for Surviving Siblings [00:52:11]

For full episode show notes and transcript, click here

Connect with Janice Jernigan

Instagram | @innertrailblazer | @janicejernigan

Janice’s Book | Opening Up to Grief: A Surviving Sibling's Journey with Loss and Love


Connect with Maya 

Instagram | @survivingsiblingspodcast | @mayaroffler 

TikTok | @survivingsiblingspodcast

Twitter | @survivingsibpod

Website | The Surviving Siblings


[00:00:00] Maya: Welcome to the Surviving Siblings Podcast. I'm your host, Maya Ruffler. As a surviving sibling myself, I knew that I wanted to share my story, my brother's story. I lost my brother to a homicide in November, 2016, and after going through this experience, I knew that I wanted to share my story and his story, and it's taken me quite some time to come to the mic to tell it, but I knew it was an important one to tell.

[00:00:38] Maya: So here I am to share his story and mine with you. And it's important that I tell the story of the surviving sibling, the forgotten mourn, the story that is not told enough. So thank you for coming with me on this journey, and now it's your turn to share your stories.

[00:01:01] Maya: Today I have another incredible guest on, but Janice Jernigan is really special to me. We actually met on Instagram of all places, and we started connecting back, oh gosh, even before I think my podcast came out, which is really cool. Janice has written a memoir called Opening Up to Grief. Janice, welcome to the show.

[00:01:28] Janice: Thank you. I am excited to be here, especially after hearing your season one. I'm excited to be able to talk to you like.

[00:01:36] Maya: I'm so excited to connect with you, and if you guys have seen Janice's book, it has a beautiful sunflower on the front. And as you guys know from season one, I am very connected to sunflower. So much so that I have one tattooed on my body because that's the sign of my brother. So Janice and I really connected, and she's even here in Georgia, which is so wild. So Janice, I wanna jump right into the story of the loss of your sister, Julie. So take it away.

[00:02:06] Janice: All right. Well, thank you again for giving me this platform to share my story. I have been living with grief for nearly half a century. my sister, Julie, she died from leukemia back in the mid 1970s. She was seven years old, and I was three years old at the time. Back then when you had leukemia, it was considered a death sentence. It was, you could go into remission at times, but you really weren't going to survive long term.

[00:02:38] Janice: Most people, about 95% did not survive long term. And now that percentage has flipped about 5%, are are not able to survive. But most people do survive leukemia. So timing is an amazing thing. so like I said, my sister died and growing up with grief, I always knew I had a sister. At the same time, I never really officially grieved the loss of my sister.

[00:03:14] I often, and if you're a surviving sibling, you probably get a lump in your throat when you hear the question of do you have any siblings? And I got that question a lot growing up and I really wasn't prepared to answer it. I learned, over time, I would say I had my canned response, which was, you know, my sister died when she was seven from leukemia.

[00:03:39] Janice: I was three. I grew up as an only child. That's what I would say, because over time people's response to that question, they would say, Oh, that must have been so difficult for your parents. And then they would say, Oh, at least you were only three years old. You were too young to really be impacted. And so I believe that those were beliefs that were harmful to me because it kept me from grieving and it led me to create this own belief of I grew up as an only child, which as all of you who were surviving siblings, know that was not true.

[00:04:19] Janice: An only child does not grow up with parents who are grieving or they don't grow up already having a sibling who was their best friend. And so I'm definitely, I, I grew up as a surviving sibling. I just wasn't really aware of that at the time. So, fast forward and, you know, 30 years later, I had graduated college.

[00:04:47] Janice: I had a really good job. I, you know, had found the love of my life. All these great things were going on in my life. at the same time, I had horrible, horrible pain, physical pain. It was debilitating. And at the time, my husband and I lived in a two story house and our bedroom was upstairs. I would crawl. Literally, I had to crawl upstairs. It was all I could do to. Have my 40 hour a week job, in a corporate office. Luckily, my manager was very understanding and would let me work when I could and work from home before it was something, you know, that was common. And, but in weekends I left the, i I was on the couch all the time.

[00:05:36] Janice: On the weekend I had no energy and just this horrible pain. So I went to see doctor after doctor, and I was diagnosed with all kinds of different things and the common theme to whatever disease or disorder or condition, all the ones I was diagnosed with, there was no known cure and there was no known cause either.

[00:06:06] Janice: And so this went on for a period of two years. And I tried different treatments. I tried, you know, medications, natural healing, all kinds of different things and none of it really helped me. And there was a point where I, two separate specialists told me, You are going to have this pain for the rest of your life.

[00:06:34] Janice: At this point I was in my early to mid thirties, I was around 33, and it was devastating. I, I was already feeling this ho it was hard for me to get through those two years. And I thought, Wow, this is not the life that I had anticipated. And I didn't see I was at the end of my rope. I didn't see how that could happen, but I knew if that were true and I had no reason to believe it was not.

[00:07:05] Janice: I knew that I needed emotional support, and so that's when I decided, you know, I'm gonna go and talk to a therapist. So that's what I did. My ver very first session with Mary, she was a licensed marriage and family therapist. she asked me a, a basic question, If you've ever been to therapy, the very first question they ask you is what brings you here?

[00:07:28] Janice: And I hadn't really thought about my answer to that, but in the moment I told Mary, I said, Well, you know, I'm not really sure. I'm a happy, I have a wonderful husband. I have a good family. I'm about to move to a new house. I have a job I enjoy. There's just this thing that I have this horrible physical, debilitating pain that I need help since I'm gonna have this rest of my life.

[00:07:54] Janice: I need emotional support to deal with that. And so she listened closely. to me, and she said, Tell me about your parents and any siblings that you may have. And so I told her about my parents. They're still happily married. And then I, I went to my well worn statement of I grew up as an only child, this and that, you know, as, as I've mentioned earlier.

[00:08:21] Janice: And I was ready for that highly predictable response that I'd gotten for so many years. And for the very first time in my life, she had a wildly different reaction. She had empathy for me. And so she asked me to tell her more about my sister. And what was it like for me to lose a sister at such a young age? It's amazing. No one had ever asked me that question. ever.

[00:08:59] Maya: That's crazy. Yeah.

[00:09:00] Janice: It is crazy. and in that moment, it was as if my experience was all that mattered. And so she listened to me. I, I really didn't have a lot, I don't have any memories of my sister and not my own memories. All of my memories are through the filters of other people's memories.

[00:09:23] Janice: And so I told her what I knew and what I had learned about my sister. And at the very end of our very first session, she said to me, she leaned in and she said, Janice, I cannot promise you anything, but I believe you were suffering from stuck grief. Stuck grief. I had never heard of that. I. I didn't know how I felt about that.

[00:09:54] Janice: She, she said, You know, I would love to do some grief work with you if you're open to that. That was her recommendation. And you know, even though I thought, well, it's kind of far fetched that something that happened 30 years ago was causing this pain. But at that point I was out of hope and she was offering hope, which is exactly what I needed.

[00:10:18] Janice: And so, I decided it was a low risk to, you know, do some grief work. And I'll never forget, it was in November of, it was 2005 and those next six weeks, it was as if my sister had just died. It was so raw and real, and ah, it was as if she had just passed away and. I mean, I grieved, I cried more than I've ever cried in my whole life.

[00:10:53] Janice: I mean, but when I thought about it, that was 30 years of grief just waiting to be released. And so, yes, it was incredible. And so, it changed my life and we continued to have sessions and meet and I would talk and she helped me work through a lot of my grief. And we ended up, within six months, my pain was gone.

[00:11:27] Maya: We hope you're enjoying this incredible episode of the Surviving Siblings Podcast. I'm your host, Maya Roffler. We'll be back in just a minute after hearing from our incredible sponsor.

[00:11:39] Maya: Do you have any siblings? For surviving siblings, this question can spark an emotional and complicated response. Imagine facing this question as a young child. In the US alone, this is a reality for five to 7% of children, yet it is rarely thought about, spoken about, or otherwise acknowledged. This happened to Janice Jernigan a surviving sibling since the age of three, and bestselling author of Opening up to Grief. In her courageous and heartfelt memoir, Janice shares her journey of growing up with grief and her path to hope and healing. Her story resonates with surviving siblings from teens to adults, and with parents, teachers, and mental health professionals who care for them. I encourage you to check out opening Up to Grief on Amazon in our show notes or through Janice's website or Instagram account Inner Trailblazer because no one gets a pass on grief.

[00:12:43] Maya: That's crazy. Like in a super positive, crazy way. Like, that's incredible. Were you seeing Mary every single week? Like how did this, how was this working for, I'm so curious, Janice. Like, it was an every, every week thing and were you guys just kind of going back and talking through it? Like, how did this work? I'd love to hear that.

[00:13:03] Janice: Yes. So we, we did, I was meeting with her every week and I never knew what I was gonna talk about when I got there. she just would ask me questions about my sister or what it was like growing up because like I mentioned, I didn't have memories. and she told me, you know, when one person in the family goes to therapy, everyone goes to therapy, even if they don't go into the room.

[00:13:28] And it's certainly been true for me in my life. my husband, had a loss. Very close to him at a very young age as well. And by me going to therapy and learning how to grieve or getting in touch with my grief, it helped with our relationship. And of course, in talking with Mary, my therapist questions would come up that I would have conversations with my parents.

[00:13:56] Janice: And so it helped them to grieve, through that whole process. And like many surviving siblings, we wanna do something to memorialize our sibling. I, I think about Maya, your tattoo and so many other things you've done too. Your podcast. And for me, I, what I knew about my sister was that she had gone through a lot of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

[00:14:29] Janice: She had lost her hair. Back then in the mid seventies, the wigs that people had looked very fake and they were for adults, not children. And so the pictures of her like that, I mean, it was very evident that she was wearing a wig. And so as I got through, as I was working through my grief, with my therapist, I thought I want to do something.

[00:14:55] Janice: And at the time I had very, very long, very thick hair and I decided I was gonna donate my hair so it could be made into wigs for children. And my hair was short at the time and I grew it out. It took me a couple of years to grow it out and I went and had it, you know, cut. And my hairstylist said it was actually enough to make two wigs for two children because it was so thick.

[00:15:25] , but I mean, it was just, that day was so meaningful to me. because I donated my hair. It was 12 inches of, so I like to say I donated a foot. but I donated my hair and then my parents came over, that afternoon to my house with my husband and I, and they had put together a photo album of pictures of my sister and me and just, there's so many, so many things that I could tell you about the whole experience.

[00:15:57] Janice: And I'll tell you, I still am learning more about myself and more about, you know, my sister and getting in touch with her. I'll tell you, my mom wrote a long letter to me that talked about Julie in her life and the relationship I had with Julie and how close we were, and that is so meaningful to me.

[00:16:21] Janice: So if you're out there and you're a surviving sibling or you're, you care for someone who is, and perhaps they're too young, like I was three years old, I was too young to hear all the, the stories about my sister and what she had gone through in her life. But to be able to capture that in written form or song form or picture form, something, that will be so meaningful to the surviving sibling as they get older.

[00:16:49] Maya: Yeah, I think that's what's so amazing about your story. I mean, there's a lot of things that are amazing. We're gonna keep unpacking them. , but Janice, I mean, you were so, you were so young and I think you've brought up some just really incredible points. One, you were never validated, you know, about your loss.

[00:17:07] Maya: Right? And I think it's something that still goes on today and that's, I know you're on a mission to create awareness. I'm on a mission to create awareness. And I think that's why it's so important that you came onto the podcast to share your story. Because age, it doesn't really matter, right? We see people as young as three, losing their sibling.

[00:17:23] Maya: And look at how it affected your whole life. You were physical pain. This is a very interesting story that you're sharing and it's very real. and then there's people that, you know, it happens when they're older. It doesn't have to happen at the age of it happens. To me, right? There's so many different stories out there because our siblings are more important than we realize.

[00:17:44] Maya: And bringing awareness to this is, is huge. And you know, you brought up another just point that we all hear as surviving siblings, you know, Oh, that's so terrible for your parents. Oh, you were so young. At least you don't remember. Well, you do remember. You might not remember, remember, but you do remember and your body remembered like, how powerful is that?

[00:18:06] Janice: So powerful. My heart remembers for, for sure. And yeah, so it, it's definitely to find other, Whenever I find a surviving sibling, we just have an instant connection because you just know that you have been minimized for your grief. There's a good chance of that. And what I found, another reason why I'm on such a mission is with children.

[00:18:35] Janice: Five in the us, five to 7% of children become a surviving sibling before adulthood. That's one or two children in every classroom. And when I was growing up, I never knew anyone who was like me. I'm sure there were other surviving siblings, but we didn't talk about it. And so I thought something was wrong with me.

[00:19:01] Janice: I, I really did. I thought something was wrong with me, that I had this, you know, depression or sadness, that surely it couldn't be related to my sister, which, when I was growing up, that had been 10, 13, 15 years. and yet it was because as I've learned and a belief that we often are told, time heals all wounds.

[00:19:25] Janice: And I don't believe that anymore. If that were true, it would've healed me in those 30 years. And it's really, it's. For me, I've learned come to learn that it's about grieving well, and grieving well isn't about grieving a certain way because we all grieve in different ways. How I define grieving well is to give ourselves, when we grant ourselves the grace and space to fully feel and process our losses, that's something that it has no timeline.

[00:20:02] Janice: Like I say, I'm still learning and grieving all these years later, and I feel like that's part of my purpose in life is to validate people who feel like, wow, it's been 10 years, or 15 years or 30 years. I mean, I'm here now at 47 years later saying there's still grief because there was that deep love, that you have for your sibling.

[00:20:29] Maya: I, I love what you just said about, you know, grief and, and how processing it and there's no timeline. Oh, just so much beautiful, you know, knowledge and information you're giving here to our incredible surviving siblings out here, because I do feel like we're rushed and told, like, you gotta get through the five stages or seven stages of grief and like, no, like, it's, it's with you.

[00:20:52] Maya: It's with you for life and Janice's proof, you're telling you it's with you, but it doesn't have to be agonizing. But it was, I mean, you had physical pain, so this is a, a happier story as it moves on cuz you got relief. Yeah.

[00:21:07] Janice: It has changed my life for the, for the good. I mean, I, I, if you would've known me back then, I was described very much as even keel and, you know, you didn't really have a lot of highs and lows.

[00:21:22] Janice: Not that I let people see. And now I'm just much more genuine and authentic and just being, I, I have so much more empathy for myself and for other people as well that I never had before. I leaned into my grief. And so I really, I, I hope that your listeners can, can feel good about knowing that grief is not something that means you're gonna be in this sad, horrible place. You know, certainly there's a range of emotions, but there's so much good that can come from fully grieving and opening ourselves up to grief.

[00:22:10] Maya: Yeah, exactly. Which we're gonna talk about in just a minute. But yes, opening up to grief. I love that and I love that title, but I love what you just said about like leaning into the grief because I think it's really uncomfortable, you know, for a lot of us because it is painful and I think something that's really wonderful that you just brought up in your story as well is your parents and how supportive.

[00:22:32] Maya: They were, because you know we do hear that, right? Oh my God, it must be so terrible for your parents. How are they? And so we do get lost in this. We are called the Forgotten Mourns for a reason. , we both know this. You guys out there listening know this too. But I love that advice that you just gave. Like, you know, if there's some way that you can, you know, bring the memory up like they did for Julie, for you.

[00:22:57] Maya: That's such a beautiful gift, right? Especially if you've lost at such a young age, because you're not going to remember everything, but your heart remembers. That's a beautiful message. But I think that's a great message for parents listening to this and supporting because we lost as well, and we feel it very deeply as well.

[00:23:17] Maya: And that's a part of our grieving journey. And so I think it's, it's interesting because I didn't realize how many parents actually listened to the podcast to Janice. So that's really,

[00:23:27] Maya: I think it's beautiful. It's wonderful because they wanna understand this journey as well. So little did you know, you were giving some incredible advice to parents here as well, because I think to your point, there's so much focus on the parents and it is an incredibly terrible loss. Of course. but we suffer too. We have a loss too.

[00:23:49] Janice: It's so true. And, I have often said comparison is the thief of grief because when we are focused on is it harder to lose a child or harder to lose a sibling, or harder to lose a parent, when we are focused on that, we're taking the the focus off of grieving, and that's where we need to put our focus.

[00:24:13] Janice: Because every, every person's relationship is different and there's not one that's harder than the other. They're all hard. I mean, it was hard on my parents, tremendously hard on my parents, and it was hard on me. It's not an either or situation. It's a both, and it was hard on both my parents and me as well.

[00:24:39] Maya: Yeah, absolutely. Beautifully put. And I love that phrase, I'm gonna start using that as well, . Cause I always say comparison is an issue, but you're taking it to another level, having a, a complete phrase. I love that, Janice. That's perfect. But yeah, I, I think so, So tell us, so here you are six months later, and your, your pain is, it's gone. Like you're, you're feeling back to your yourself or re-energized. Like, tell us a little bit about where you are. Six months after this. Wow.

[00:25:08] Janice: Six months after, you know, I, I was behaving like a mid, you know, 30 year old person would, should, you know, I was active. I was, you know, I had this load lifted because I really did have 30 years of grief and there was a lot of healing.

[00:25:27] Janice: That happened too, because as you can imagine, and especially since you mentioned there are a lot of parents that listened to this podcast. Parents can only have space for so many memories. And oftentimes as in my experience, my parents often talked about my sister as this wonderful, perfect person. And growing up, just because I lost my sibling at a young age doesn't mean we skipped the sibling rivalry.

[00:26:01] Janice: We certainly had that. It was just one sided. I was trying to compete with someone who I felt like was perfect. And you know, back then my parents, the pictures that they took were on slides that you actually had to have a projector and have them projected on the wall. And there was one picture of Julie, my sister, where she was pouting.

[00:26:27] Janice: And I loved that picture, cause she human. And that's what I wanted. And you know, in the letter that my mom wrote to me, I'm so grateful that she included, you know, Julie pitched a fit about this or got upset about that because it made her human. And so I would definitely encourage parents to, you know, offer a balanced approach about their, you know, memories of their child that they lost.

[00:26:59] because for that surviving sibling, it's really helpful to know that, you know, they, they weren't perfect, you know? And so I had a lot of healing after that six month, or during that six months and even beyond, even when, when writing about it, I, I healed a lot, about, you know, feeling like I needed to be small to give my sister, the space that she needed to be remembered and just things like that. I, I felt like I couldn't, you know, show how sad I was for things because other people, like my parents, they were sad about losing her. So I really, by having someone who was there to support me, and that could be a therapist, it could be a grief coach, it could be just a caring and compassionate friend who can hold space for your grief without trying to fix you.

[00:27:59] that truly helped me to, to grant myself that grace and space to, to grieve for my sister. And I learned so much about my sister. My parents told me that her favorite song was Delta Dawn. and. So I didn't really know that song, but until they told me that, I went and I listened to it on repeat. My husband and I, during around that six month time and beyond, we actually went to the cemetery where my sister is buried and blared we blad delta dawn in the cemetery. and you know, but that was, that was part of grief, you know, is part of letting my grief come to the surface and not trying to hold it back.

[00:28:50] Maya: Yeah, that's beautiful. I'm like, so envisioning the two of you going and like blasting that song and just jamming out. I love it. I love it. I love it. So this is something I wanna ask you because you've mentioned how supportive your husband is and sometimes I, you know, Ha We have so many amazing surrounding siblings that listen to this, and sometimes I do see that there are partners that just don't understand. Right. And this is kind of the opposite side, unfortunately. I'm, very lucky to have a very supportive, husband as well. we weren't together, as you guys know, the story when my brother passed, But it was, I met him very shortly afterwards and, he's been such an integral part of my grieving journey and probably will for the rest of my life.

[00:29:32] Maya: And I'm, I realize how lucky I am when people write to me and tell me their stories. I'm sure you've seen the same thing, Janice, but what, I mean, I guess, what advice would you give on that as, as we're hearing your part of your story? Because you know, I, I've said a couple things about it, but I'd love to hear your, your take on that.

[00:29:51] Maya: Or, or share a little bit about your husband's support. It sounds like he was not a stranger to loss, so he could relate. but we'd love to kind of hear your input. Cause I know some people struggle with that.

[00:30:02] Janice: Yes. Well, it's, it wasn't easy for either one of us. and certainly when we met and early in our relationship, grief was not something we really talked about.

[00:30:14] but you know, over time, I mean, he was open. I think if someone can just be open to realizing, he may not have the right words to say exactly what I need to hear, but just knowing that he's there and to be able to give me a hug if I need it, just to give me space when I need it. those types of things.

[00:30:36] Janice: And you know, if you don't have a supportive spouse, it's having someone or a partner. It's having someone in your life that you can be. You're full unfiltered self with that's so important. And so, you know, now if you fast forward all these years later, it's, we're very upfront about wow, you know, there's, there's a, a dog in our life that we are so attached to, and he's getting older and we know, you know, his time is coming.

[00:31:17] Janice: And I don't know if other people as surviving siblings have this experience, but I, I think about death more than the average person and my husband is okay with that. So when I talk about this dog that we love so much, and I, I'll say, Oh, I'm just so sad when something will, he's not gonna be with us forever.

[00:31:43] Janice: We're gonna outlive this dog. and my husband, he somehow knows to say we're giving him the best life he can have while he's in our lives. And it's so true. And so I'm kind of going on a tangent there, but, but it's being able to have those difficult conversations and to just be upfront with how you feel, even when you're feeling angry or sad or whatever the feeling is.

[00:32:16] it, it helped because it's all wrapped up in our grief as well. One thing that my therapist said to me early on that has stuck with me, so this may be another soundbite you might enjoy, she said, No one gets a pass on grief. And I tailored that to myself to say, No one gets a pass on grief, not even a three year old. but it's also true that no one gets a pass on grief, even if you didn't have a good relationship with them. No one gets a pass on grief, even if it's been 30 years since your loss. So there's so many ways you can tailor that to yourself, but it all comes down to none of us get a pass on grief.

[00:33:07] Maya: Ok, I think what you just said is really powerful. I, I've gotta give you feedback on this one because this is super powerful. And for all of you guys listening, this is really powerful because no one gets a pass on grief. And I always say it's going to come out in your life and manifest. And Janice, you are embodying that literally. And this story, again, your, your story's very powerful, but I love how you fill in the blank afterwards, even at three, even if you didn't have a good relationship because it's so true.

[00:33:37] Maya: And you know, some of you guys have written to me and told me, you know, some just really incredible stories too about your losses. And, you know, sometimes we think I'm, I agree with you, I think more about death than I ever have in the past six years, ever since losing my brother. It's just a thing. I'm more empathetic than I ever.

[00:33:56] Maya: Just a thing. It's just what happens to you. So, but yeah, you don't get a pass on it. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter when you lost your sibling. It doesn't matter if you had a good, bad, happy, sad, wherever you were. a lot of people regret maybe the last thing they said, you know, but as you work through these things in grief, counseling, therapy, whatever you go to, it evolves.

[00:34:16] Maya: That's what I learned. And we're definitely learning through your story too. And I wanna ask you this other question as well, and then we'll continue through your journey. But Mary was so integral and important in your journey, and this breaks my heart a lot with you guys as surviving siblings, some of some of surviving siblings.

[00:34:34] Maya: And this happens in general for grief. People get really discouraged when they go to therapy and they don't have a Mary right away, right Janice? Yeah. So what's some advice, because I always say, Oh, keep going back, try a couple therapists. You know, it's like, it's kind of like dating is what I like to say, , because you gotta find that, you know, chemistry and the person you really trust. But we'd love to hear your advice because Mary sounds like a rockstar and gem that you found. So what, what's some advice you can give these amazing surviving siblings?

[00:35:06] Janice: Yeah. Yes. Well, you're right. She was absolutely a rock star. is a rock star. So I, I like what you said about, it's kind of like dating and it's, you want someone that you feel comfortable with.

[00:35:19] Janice: So be open to shopping around, you know, find someone who, not necessarily, you're not necessarily looking for someone who makes you feel good. It's someone who you, you respect. You can, you can be open to what they offer. I'll tell you, there were some times that I was not happy with what Mary had to say because she said things that were what I needed to hear, and I wasn't really wanting to hear it at the moment, but it was, again, it was what I needed.

[00:35:54] Janice: So, you know, I, I definitely, some people find support through support groups. You know, for me, I needed the one on one support. but I know a lot of people have had great success with support groups. so it's really finding what works for you. There are a lot of Instagram accounts that I follow and in, in addition to the Surviving Sibling Podcast, that it's amazing.

[00:36:24] Janice: There are so many awesome folks out there that are offering, you know, insights not just about grief, but about setting boundaries and. All these things are interwoven with grief and our connections with ourselves and with others. So I would, you know, if, if one route that you take doesn't feel right or doesn't work for you, you're not getting what you need, don't be afraid to take a right turn and try something else or someone else.

[00:36:59] Maya: Yeah, I agree. I was, I, I am and was like you, Janice. The one on one just was so important for me and I was used to going to therapy and, you know, before my brother passed away, so it was comfortable for me. But I relate so much to what you're saying because you're not always gonna love everything they say to you, but you should feel comfortable opening, being like, Okay, I didn't love that.

[00:37:27] Maya: You, you get what you need, not what you want. And that's really when you know the relationship is working. And love that you mentioned that. And, support groups are fabulous. I know a lot of people, we've actually, you'll hear them on the season that, that was life changing for them and they needed that, They needed that social connection.

[00:37:44] Maya: So again, great advice. keep going. Just, just don't stop, just because it didn't work the first time. And I know it's tough when you're grieving, right? You just, it feels like a lot. So, but finding that person or that group that you connect with, and I love that you mentioned Instagram too. Like we're, I love to see the awareness that we're all bringing.

[00:38:03] Maya: This is, this is huge. This is a huge time. Definitely. So as we're opening up to grief, continue to tell us your story and how we got to today, this year, and opening up to grief. Your memoir, like you not only overcame your physical pain, opened up to grieving Julie, but now you've written a book. So tell us about the journey to that. Yeah.

[00:38:27] Janice: Yes. So, so many years ago, probably 15 years ago, 10 or 15 years ago, a friend of mine said, You should write a book. And that planted a seed. And I thought, well, one day I'll write a book one day. It was always one day and I had decided to write the book and a book about my story, my growing up with grief and my path to hope and healing.

[00:38:52] Janice: And because I, I do feel like it's a story that needs to be told. And a very dear friend of mine, about two months into me writing the book, he died long before his time. And I told my husband, I said, It really ignited a flame. Under me that I really needed to write this book because I told my husband, You know, if I don't tell this story, no one will.

[00:39:24] Janice: This is my story and I know it can help people. And I set out writing my book. I hope to help at least one person. People often say that when they write a book, I hope I help one person. Well, I'll tell you, before I ever even published and released my book, I had helped one person and that person's me. It was amazing.

[00:39:50] Janice: Just I had done so much healing and I did so much healing. Even in the process of writing my book, it was, as you mentioned, the title of opening up to grief. It was like all the puzzle pieces of my life came together and there were. Things that I had never even uttered, allowed to myself, to my husband, to my parents that are in the book.

[00:40:22] Janice: I had carried shame in so many ways, even leading up to as much healing as I had done. I still had a lot of shame, For instance, in my high school years, you know, I was very manipulative with my best friend and my first boyfriend, and I would look back on that as an adult and think, Wow, what a horrible child I was, or teenager.

[00:40:53] Janice: But when I think about how, yes, I was very possessive because I was afraid I was gonna lose someone who was important to me because I'd already. My sibling. So writing my book really helped me to give voice to those things and you know, it really helped me to, to heal that much more. And so I had a working, a working title as well, and I worked with a writing coach, which I highly recommend working with a writing coach if you go into that, mode of writing a book.

[00:41:36] and again, it's kind of like Maya, you thing with, with a therapist. Sometimes they tell you things you don't really wanna hear. Same thing with a writing coach. And so, but it was very helpful. And so I had this working title and at one point, My coach said, You know, that's, that's not a good title. you really need to come up with a different title.

[00:41:58] Janice: And so I, I didn't know what I was gonna do and I remembered this painting that a friend of mine had done, and it's of a sunflower and it's opening up, you know, it's, I'd never seen a sunflower like that. Normally we see sunflowers that are fully open and this one was opening. And so I picked that image for the cover art of my book before I came up with a title.

[00:42:30] Janice: And then looking at that image and, she's actually on Instagram. I'll, shout out to her, at Holly Michelle Fine Art. And I saw that image and I just started brainstorming. And that's how I came up with a title of my book, Opening Up to Grief. And it was important to me that it is, has an i n G at the end of the verb because it's not that I've opened up to grief, it's that I'm opening up to grief and that we are opening.

[00:43:06] Janice: It's, and grief is something, it's not something that is in the past. It's something that we, you know, as surviving siblings, there's all, grief is always an element. if we've had any kind of loss, grieving is part of, you know, our, who we are. It's integrated into who we are. So, opening up to grief, I'll show you.

[00:43:32] Janice: I know Maya will like the, the art with it being a sunflower. and, you know, so opening up to grief is, it was, it was fun to write it, It was exciting to write it. It was scary to write it. It was intimidating to write it, all these things and, you know, but I'm glad that it's out there in, in the world and I've had a great response from my book.

[00:43:57] Janice: I've heard from people with all kinds of different backgrounds that have resonated with the messages in the book. So thank you for, for asking about my, my book and my writing experience.

[00:44:11] Maya: Yeah, no, thanks for sharing that. And of course, yeah, it was, we were immediately drawn to each other with the sunflower. I was like, Oh my gosh. And the, the picture is absolutely beautiful. We'll definitely tag her in this episode as well, the artist, because she deserves it. It's so beautiful and I love that story. I, I didn't know that that's the inspiration, like behind you changing the title. So thanks for sharing that with us too.

[00:44:33] Maya: But I totally understand and I hope you guys too do too in cuz we say we're grieving, right? So opening up to grief, I just think that that resonates so much with me as a surviving sibling and hope, hopefully it does with you guys as well, because it's a journey, it's a process. It's. It's with you for life, you know?

[00:44:53] Maya: And like we were talking about earlier in the episode, it doesn't have to be intimidating. I know it was for me in the beginning, I'm like, Oh my gosh, I'm gonna feel this way forever. I'm going to be grieving in like a dark place forever. But grieving evolves and it evolves through your life. And I think you having this titled Opening Up to Grief, I think that's so beautiful.

[00:45:17] Maya: I think it really embodies that, that feeling. and what I've learned in only six years coming up on my sixth year. So, you know, you're, you're much further down the line than I am with this, but I'm, I'm learning. I'm in a different phase of it. But, you know, I think it's inspiring for people to hear that there can be positivity that comes out of this.

[00:45:41] Maya: There can be a light, there can be, you know, fill in the blank as we say. Right. you. But I relate to you too in the fact that, you know, you go into it wanting to share your story, wanting to help one person, and then yes, you've definitely helped a lot of people and will continue to help a lot of people, which I'm excited about that for you.

[00:45:59] Maya: But I do wanna ask you this too, Janice, about your book. So how was this writing this and then what was the kind of, I guess, reaction from your family to when you wrote your book? How did they feel about that?

[00:46:12] Janice: Yeah, so interesting that you asked that because that was my big concern in writing the book. And my mantra to myself was, I'm writing my story. I am not here to write my parents' story. I am here to write my story. And so that's probably why it, it kind of reinforced with your podcast cuz you often say that I'm here to tell my story and so I, I'm close with my parents and. I knew that I, it would mean a lot to me to have their support.

[00:46:48] Janice: And I didn't know a hundred percent how they would feel about me writing this book about such an important topic, but close to our hearts. So I purposely did not tell them I was writing this book until I was far along in writing it, because I knew that if they weren't supportive, I knew I wanted to write this book no matter what.

[00:47:14] Janice: And I wasn't confident that I would've moved forward if they would've expressed concern. And so, but once I was at that point, I thought, no matter what, how they respond, I'm going to release this book. And so, so I did. and I told them they were so supportive and in writing my book, I also, my intent was, I didn't want them to come across as perfect, but I also didn't want them to come across as, you know, unloving because they were not unloving.

[00:47:55] Janice: They were very loving sometimes based on what people knew back in the mid seventies, they made decisions that, you know, we wouldn't make today. But based on what they knew at the time, they did the best they could based on their love for me. So I really, that was my intent in writing the book. And there's, you know, some parts of the book that I thought, ugh, surely, you know, people in my family are going to frown upon this.

[00:48:25] Janice: And I haven't had that reaction. I have had, I, I am very close with certain parts of my family. there's some members of my family for other reasons that were not as close. Long before I wrote the book. And like I say, I, at the end of the day, it's really, it is my story. And so being able to share it in a way that stays true to my story, like I say, that was my mantra the whole time writing it.

[00:48:58] whenever I felt like I was veering off and maybe say, Oh, well this is how so and so felt. That's not my story. My story to tell is, is this one. So that, that's what I did. And in, in my book too, at the end of my book, I have a support section, resources I have for surviving siblings before adulthood, those who care for them as well as surviving siblings.

[00:49:23] Janice: Some tips and tangible things, that have helped me and that I've heard from others that could be helpful for surviving siblings in adulthood as well. So it was important to me and Maya, like you said, you, you, scoured and found every book you could find about surviving siblings. Any of the ones I found about surviving, being a surviving sibling, or even grief in general that were helpful, I included those in the book as well.

[00:49:51] Maya: I think that's so important. Yeah. It's because the resources, Thank you, Janice, are growing. but. We've got a long way to go still. And so I'm really proud to be a part of this and I'm so proud to be sitting here talking to you, you know, and that we're doing this. It's, it's really important because, you know, yeah, like when I was scouring for books and resources and groups and, you know, they're out there and they found me once I put the podcast out too.

[00:50:17] Maya: But, you know, it's, we got work to do and it, it's exciting to be a part of that. again, not, not the way I wish to meet you, Janice, or any of you guys listening, but you know what? Life hands you things and it's what you do with it. That's what I often say. And, , that's how it goes, you know? But I think it's really beautiful, how your parents handled it.

[00:50:37] Maya: I think that's really great and to be supportive, and I so relate to you and, and having that mantra, Nope, this is my story because I, part of the reason it took me a while too was because I'm not the person that cares what people think. but when it's your family, it's different. When it's your family, it's different, and you want to be respectful of them.

[00:50:58] Maya: And so I really had to think of how I was gonna do it and how I was gonna be respectful, but also honest because it was my story and my brother's story. And it, it just relate to you so much, Janice, because it's your story and your story of the loss of Julie through your eyes. So I think, again, I think a lot of you guys listening can relate to that too. And I think it's important that we have a voice and whatever that is. If it's a podcast, if it's a book, if it's therapy, if it's a group, whatever it is, I. . That's really important. janice, I wanna ask you this too. this is a very big question, but what are some things I ask everybody that comes on the show, this question?

[00:51:38] Maya: What are some things that you maybe you wish you knew as a surviving sibling? maybe some of the tools you wish you had, maybe some things we haven't discussed. It's a big question. I know. And you losing your sister at three, you didn't know that you needed those tools. Right? But if you were kind of looking back, what are some things you could tell me and these incredible surviving siblings, some tools or some advice that maybe you wish you had known going through life? You know, I know there's so many things, it's a loaded question, but what are some things you wish you knew?

[00:52:11] Janice: Yes. Great question. I can't wait to hear everyone's responses cuz this will be helpful. so first I would say know that you're not alone. Realize you are not alone. And pay special attention to the beliefs that you have when you hear yourself saying, you know, it's time to move on.

[00:52:35] Janice: Or in my case, I grew up as an only child. Those beliefs that you think are true, just pause for a moment and see if they actually are true because they may be holding you back from your grief. So that's something that I, I would suggest. and you know, just really thinking about finding that outlet of someone who you care about and who cares about you.

[00:53:07] Janice: That will really listen. It would've been so wonderful if, when I was growing up into my teenage years, if I would've had a grief mentor, you know, someone who was 10, 20 years older than me, that was a surviving sibling that had walked the path before me, that could have, you know, I could have had certain conversations with, it, it would've fast forwarded some of the information.

[00:53:36] Janice: Like Maya, you and I in talking, we don't have to go into all the things about being a surviving sibling because we automatically have that relationship. And so a, a grief mentor, I made up that term by the way. they could, they could be helpful. one thing that I would offer to people who know of a surviving sibling, especially, you know, As they're growing up, often the sympathy cards are addressed to the parents, but just taking a moment to send a sympathy card to the sibling, and I would think this would be true, even whether at any age, really helps to make them feel seen and acknowledged.

[00:54:26] Janice: So that's something I would offer to to others. I did a lot of journaling, growing up, and I would recommend that to folks. if you're not a writer, just spending time in nature doing something where you give yourself that grace and space to really feel your feelings and feel your grief and have time to process that.

[00:54:52] Janice: That would be my biggest, my biggest. Recommendation is to give yourself that grace and the space when grieving.

[00:55:02] Maya: I love that grace and space. I love it. Yeah. And, and you know, people will say that from time to time, you know, give yourself grace. And I think sometimes surviving siblings, especially in the beginning, don't know what that means, Right.

[00:55:16] Maya: And what we're talking about, is, you know, it's, it's okay. It's okay to not, you know, be fully, you know, functional and life is perfect after a year . Like, that's okay. That's giving, you know, fill in the blank, right? As we're talking about on this podcast, right, Janice? Like, that's giving yourself grace.

[00:55:35] Maya: It's okay to grieve. I mean, how many years later, am I sitting here talking to you, Janice, about Julie? That's giving yourself grace and knowing that this is a lifelong journey and you know, you need to do things for yourself. And I love, I love all the advice that you just gave and this is why I love asking this question because everybody has a different perspective and a different piece of advice.

[00:55:57] Maya: And no two people answer this question the same, which is really cool and it's valuable for ev all of you listening, but I think that's something that I didn't understand a whole lot too when I was first grieving. People are like, Give, give yourself grace. Like what does that mean? I'm like, Oh, don't beat myself up

[00:56:12] Maya: Don't be so hard on myself. You know, I had to really learn that and I take that very seriously today and I, I agree with you. It's really important. And I love the grief mentor too. I. Oh my gosh, I don't even know what would've happened if I had had a grief mentor going into, you know, just even the first year, second year even.

[00:56:34] but now I am surrounded by a, an incredible community, so I'm just grateful for that. But if you're you, someone who's just lost a sibling or still early in the journey, get a grief mentor. I love that. I think that's huge.

[00:56:48] Janice: Yes. And I like what you said about, well, what does grace and space mean? And it does, it varies based on the person.

[00:56:56] Janice: And if you're early on and it feels overwhelming, just ask yourself, What do I need in this moment? You know? And it may be, I need to phone a friend. I need to walk, take a walk in nature. Whatever it is, you'll know. But just ask yourself, what do I need in this moment?

[00:57:18] Maya: You're exactly right. And it because it's so individualistic, it really truly is because some people, like I was mentioning, some people wanna be around other people, they need a support group, some people need to be alone.

[00:57:30] Maya: I'm kind of a hybrid. I needed different things at different times, and you may find that. So I think that's wonderful advice. So Janice, here's the big question. Where can we find opening up to grief and where can we connect with you? I know opening up to Grief is on Amazon, but where can we buy, buy? Can we buy it through your website as well? Where can we connect with you? Tell us, tell us all of that.

[00:57:52] Janice: Yes. So opening up to grief is absolutely on Amazon, and you can also go to my website, inner the best way to find me is on Instagram at Inner Trailblazer and. There's a link to my book. Anywhere you find me, there will be a link to my book because I definitely want to get this in the hands of as many hurting hearts as possible.

[00:58:21] Janice: So thank you Maya, for giving me this opportunity to share more about my story and to get to meet you and, share with your listeners about Surviving Sibling and what it's like all these years later. hopefully my journey can help others. My story can help others heal, learn, heal, and, and grow in their own grieving journey.

[00:58:46] Maya: It's my pleasure and I loved having you on, and thank you so much for writing the book and I'm so glad we connected over just the sight of a sunflower, how beautiful, right? Opening up to grief. So thank you, Janice, for being here, and it's been wonderful having you.

[00:59:02] Maya: Thank you so much for listening to the Surviving Siblings Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode as much as I did creating it for you, then share it on your chosen social media platform. And don't forget to tag us at Surviving Siblings Podcast so that more surviving siblings can find us. Remember to rate, review and subscribe to the podcast. And don't forget to follow us on all social media platforms. We're on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok at Surviving Siblings Podcast. All links can be found in the show notes, so be sure to check those out too. Thank you again for the support. Until the next episode, keep on surviving my surviving siblings.

Janice JerniganProfile Photo

Janice Jernigan


Janice’s life’s work is centered around deepening connections within, with nature, and with each other. This shows up in her roles as a vineyard and winery owner, inner trailblazer, and best-selling author.

In her courageous and heartfelt memoir, Opening Up to Grief, Janice shares her journey with loss and love, growing up with grief as a surviving sibling since the age of three, and her path to hope and healing. She offers loving guidance for grievers to feel seen and acknowledged, gain insight into their own personal journey, and spark a level of healing that is truly transformative.