Sept. 28, 2022

How Support Groups for Surviving Siblings Helped Jen Schwartz (COPE Foundation)

Support groups can be very overwhelming, so even Jen surprised herself when she decided to join a sibling loss support group just a couple of days after losing her brother LB. It's been six years since that time and now she is co-president of the COPE...

Support groups can be very overwhelming, so even Jen surprised herself when she decided to join a sibling loss support group just a couple of days after losing her brother LB.

It's been six years since that time and now she is co-president of the COPE Foundation. 

Connecting Our Paths Eternally (COPE) is a nonprofit grief and healing organization dedicated to helping families living with the loss of a child.

COPE offers professionally facilitated support groups, a grief support phone line, and monthly healing workshops, including yoga, meditation, Reiki.

In this week's episode, I am sharing about how Jen found out about LB’s passing, what led her to join a support group program for surviving siblings, her advice to fellow surviving siblings, Jen’s grief journey and what she has done to move forward with her grief, as well as COPE Foundation and how it can help surviving siblings. 

In this episode I’m covering:

  • Intro [00:00:00]
  • Jen and LB’s story [00:02:11]
  • What happened after losing LB [00:14:50] 
  • How Jen found COPE and acknowledging her grief [00:19:01]
  • Jen’s first time at a COPE’s support group [00:22:13]
  • Advice for Surviving Siblings [00:26:52]
  • Jen’s grief journey [00:30:09]
  • Moving forward in her grief journey [00:36:52]
  • Everyone experiences grief in a different way [00:46:07]
  • COPE Foundation [00:58:30]

For full episode show notes and transcript, click here 



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[00:00:00] Maya: Welcome to the surviving siblings podcast. I'm your host, Maya [00:00:10] Roffler as a surviving sibling myself. I knew that I wanted to share my story. My brother's story. I lost my [00:00:20] brother to a homicide in November, 2016. And after going through this experience, I knew that I wanted to share my story [00:00:30] and his story.

[00:00:31] 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. So here I am to share [00:00:40] 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 [00:00:50] not told enough. So thank you for coming with me on this journey.

[00:00:54] And now it's your turn to share your stories.[00:01:00] 

[00:01:01] Today. I have another incredible guest, another surviving sibling here with me. Her name is Jen Schwartz, Jen and I [00:01:10] connected in so many ways about the losses of our brothers. And one major thing we have in common is we both lost our brothers in 2016. So [00:01:20] Jen, I wanna welcome you to the surviving siblings podcast. Thanks for being here. 

[00:01:23] Jen: Hey Maya, thank you so much for having me here. This is pretty cool. 

[00:01:28] Maya: Yes. It's definitely not a [00:01:30] club that we want people to join, but nice to know. We're not alone, right, Jen?

[00:01:33] Jen: For sure. I say that all the time to my sibling group that it's nice to meet you. It's I'm sorry. We have to meet, this is the [00:01:40] shittiest club. No one knows about until they're in it, but it it's a, if you have to be in it, it's good to be in it with people who get it. So yeah.

[00:01:49] Maya: One [00:01:50] of the first things you said when we connected. And I was like, we were instantly bonded. It was a nice thing to hear comforting. So Jen, [00:02:00] I don't wanna waste too much time. I wanna dive right in and talk about your lovely brother and tell his story because that's what we're here to do. So tell us a little bit about [00:02:10] your brother. 

[00:02:11] Jen: Sure. So I lost my older brother. His name is Lewis. We called him LB Lewis Benjamin lost him in 2016. Yeah, he was typical [00:02:20] older brother. Like there was nothing he could have done wrong in my eyes, although he did plenty wrong. And I spent a lot of time, like not being able to stand him, but that's [00:02:30] typical, I think for siblings. But I routinely told him throughout our lives that like just the mere fact that he was my older brother, like automatically made him like the coolest [00:02:40] person I would ever know.

[00:02:41] And like that's all he needed to do was just be my big brother. I have a younger brother, also. His name is Matt. And we were a typical three [00:02:50] child family. I was a very typical middle child. It was an interesting dynamic. The three of us could never all three get on the same page about anything at once.

[00:02:59] Two of [00:03:00] us were always speaking. One of us was always on the outs, but that's, , I think that's kind of typical and that's how it was. So, yeah, so I lost him July 3rd, 2016. [00:03:10] And I remember we were, we had been texting the night before big baseball fans, met fans and the next day I was getting updates about the back game.

[00:03:19] And I was watching it on [00:03:20] TV at some restaurant we were at, and they were like destroying the Cubs, like just kept scoring. And like, it was an insane game. And I kept texting my brother, like, did you see that play? [00:03:30] Like, look, how many runs are scoring? I can't believe this. Like they're gonna sweep them. And he wasn't responding, which I didn't think twice about, I knew he was working, he worked in the restaurant [00:03:40] business. So it was pretty common that if you texted him when he was at work, he wasn't gonna get back to you right away. So again, I thought nothing of it. So we had been out for the day with my family, like my [00:03:50] wife and kids and my in-laws and we had just gotten home and I was sitting in the backyard and my sister-in-law, so my brother's wife called me.

[00:03:59] [00:04:00] And like I am known to do, I ignored her phone call because I don't love talking on the phone, but we had also spoken like a day or two before. And I knew she was calling [00:04:10] to make plans for our kids to see each other, that coming week. So I was like, ah, call Sherry back in a few minutes. Figure out when we can meet up with her.

[00:04:18] So had a missed call [00:04:20] and she immediately called back, which was not typical for Sherry because she knows, I just don't answer the phone. And so I answered and she was like panicked and talking like [00:04:30] a mile a minute about how she hadn't been able to get in touch with my brother. She was driving home from South Carolina.

[00:04:39] She had taken [00:04:40] my nephews to visit my parents. My brother was back in New York working and she hadn't been able to get in touch with him. And she was just trying to let him know, like, we're leaving this swimmer coming back. And [00:04:50] she's like, finally, I got a phone call from him and I was still relieved.

[00:04:53] She's like, and I answered it, but like, it wasn't him just, it was a police officer asking if I was like, [00:05:00] Louis's wife. And I said that I was and wanted to know if I was home. And, , she said that she wasn't home, but she was driving home from South Carolina. She was 20 minutes [00:05:10] away, like what's going on?

[00:05:11] And the only information they told her was that the police would meet her like at the house and they confirmed the address. So she was asking all sorts of questions [00:05:20] and they just kept saying, someone's gonna meet you at the house. So that's what she was relaying to me. And I was like, I'm getting in the car.

[00:05:27] Like, I'll be there as soon as possible. So we [00:05:30] lived about a half hour away from each other. So I went into my house and I told my wife about the phone call and I said, I'm going down there. Like, I'll let you know what's going on when I get there. And she was like no, like I'm [00:05:40] coming with you. Like I'm driving.

[00:05:41] Like, let's go. I've often said it was the most surreal 30 minutes of my life, because like I knew he was dead [00:05:50] because I knew, but I didn't know because no one had told me that. , but I just kept replaying the phone call with Sherry. And I [00:06:00] was like, look, if he was in an accident, they would've said that if he was in the hospital, they would've said that like there would've been information and , we've all watched enough cop shows to know that the only thing they [00:06:10] don't tell you on the phone is when someone has died.

[00:06:12] So I spent 30 minutes, like knowing he was dead, but still actively on my phone, Googling his [00:06:20] name with like local news and car accidents or anything to like, prove that whatever I was thinking, like wasn't real. So [00:06:30] we pulled up to their house and I think I like got out of the car before it even stopped.

[00:06:35] And Sherry just like walked right at me from the driveway, hysterical, crying, and was [00:06:40] like scream, crying. Like he's gone, he's dead, he's dead. He's gone. And it was crazy. My nephews who were four and six at the time were sitting [00:06:50] like. Removed at the top step like of their house. And she was like down at the bottom of the driveway and I looked at her and ironically, the first thing outta my mouth [00:07:00] was, what am I gonna tell my parents?

[00:07:02] And she looked at me without missing a beat. And she was like, what am I telling my kids? And it took me a half a second. And I was like, fuck, [00:07:10] this, this G everything changes now. Like this is it. It was just so much bigger than I, I don't know. I don't know how else to describe it. So we were crying and [00:07:20] hugging for a little bit.

[00:07:21] And then I needed to call my brother, Matt. So I called him and he loves talking on the phone and he's always on speaker phone. So I called him and [00:07:30] he was driving and he just talked over me and he was like, oh, Hey Jen, what's up say hi to Joanna. It's his wife, my other sister-in-law like, what are you doing?

[00:07:39] And I [00:07:40] was like, Matt and I was crying. And I was like sorry, like LB died this morning. And he was like, wait, what, what did you say? And I was like, I, I don't know. [00:07:50] He died. So he asked all these questions that I at the time had no answers to, but I told him that I was at their house and could he like get there as soon as possible?

[00:07:58] And he said, we're like, [00:08:00] we're in the car driving now. We'll be there in 20 minutes or whatever. And I said, Matt, mom and dad don't know like I called you first. So he asked me to to wait and not call my parents [00:08:10] immediately so we could call them together, which we did. And that was yeah. A traumatic phone call, I think for everyone.

[00:08:18] And then, yeah, like the rest [00:08:20] of that night, we were just at Sherry's house and trying to. Figure out logistics about my parents getting back to New York from South Carolina, they wanted to drive [00:08:30] 12 hours through the night. And I, , they drive that often, but like they just found out that their fucking kid, , died and there was no, no answers, no information.

[00:08:39] And I was like, you [00:08:40] can't, you can't do that. But they that's what they ended up doing. And we stayed at the house until about midnight, just sitting with the boys and with Sherry and contacting family [00:08:50] and his friends. And I just, I have this distinct memory of saying over and over to myself, like, oh, that, that's why [00:09:00] he didn't text me back about the met game today.

[00:09:02] Like I was like, I was texting a dead person. Well shit. I was sending a text to my brother. He didn't answer me because he was dead and it [00:09:10] was just these weird, really short, concrete, tangible thoughts that I just kept repeating to myself. And I don't know if I was doing that because I was just trying to like, [00:09:20] get it to sink in or I don't know.

[00:09:22] It just, it stuck with me and it's always stuck with me. So so yeah, that's that's how I lost my brother. So we ultimately found out that he [00:09:30] died of a heart attack in his sleep. He the reason the police didn't have information, he, so we live in New York. He died in New Jersey. [00:09:40] So the police officers who were sent to the house, like literally had a piece of paper that they handed my sister-in-law and said, I, I don't know.

[00:09:47] We have, we, we have no information. We just know that he's dead [00:09:50] and you need to call like this police station and get information from them, which I don't know. I, I guess that's how it has to happen, but it seemed pretty like. [00:10:00] Surreal and crazy and ridiculous all at once. So so yeah, 

[00:10:05] Maya: and he was very young. He was 39, right? 

[00:10:07] Jen: He was 39 years old, which I have [00:10:10] never forgiven him for, because I had to turn 40 and he just got to be, it's always in his thirties, so that's cool. 

[00:10:18] Maya: yeah. Yeah. [00:10:20] I feel that way about my brother. He's forever in his twenties, so I, I reconnect on those things. I understand that

[00:10:26] Jen: it took me a week or two before I [00:10:30] started to have the thought like, oh shit, I'm gonna be older. Then my older brother one day. And like, I don't know, at some point pretty early on like literally calculated like the [00:10:40] number of days and like the exact date that I would turn like a day, like older than him, which happened this past year.

[00:10:48] Maybe now I'm gonna be [00:10:50] 41, but a little over a year ago. That was just weird in and of itself. But, 

[00:10:56] Maya: but I think that's a common thing. I actually really love that you brought that up, Jen, [00:11:00] because I think for the surviving siblings that are listening, which are a lot it's a common thing and it's something you may think about pretty quickly like you did.

[00:11:09] Because we all have [00:11:10] different ways of coping with it. Right. Co I'm saying this coping with funny ears. Yeah. Coping. What is that? , we'll talk about that later in this episode, but so we think about [00:11:20] odd things like that, that we never would've thought of. Right. So I really love that you brought that up is interesting.

[00:11:25] Yeah. Yeah. It, it didn't hit me till, , later two I'm like, wow, I just [00:11:30] turned 30. He's never gonna see a three in his age. Right. And like, I think about it every year, cuz we have this, my brother and I have the same birthday. I'm like, wow. So it hits [00:11:40] home all the time. And I see a lot of people in different groups talking about that. So love that you brought that up.

[00:11:45] We hope you're enjoying this incredible episode of the surviving siblings podcast. [00:11:50] I'm your host Maya Roffler we'll be back in just a minute. After hearing from our incredible sponsor.

[00:11:59] We are members of a [00:12:00] club. No one wants to join. This is how bereaved parents and siblings describe themselves. During the worst time in their lives. COPE helps [00:12:10] families COPE is a nonprofit grief and healing organization dedicated to helping families living with the loss of a child started by bereaved [00:12:20] parents, COPE offers professionally facilitated support groups, a grief support phone line, and monthly healing workshops, including [00:12:30] yoga, meditation, Reiki.

[00:12:33] Movement music writing and journaling founded in 1999. COPE has grown [00:12:40] to support children and teens who have lost a loved one, particularly through COPE's camp, Erin NYC, a free summer weekend experience to support kids [00:12:50] and parents who are grieving, traumatic and complicated grief takes a physical and emotional toll on survivors.

[00:12:57] Our COPE families learn. They are not alone [00:13:00] and gain tools that incorporate healthy coping mechanisms into their bereavement process, parents, siblings, and families row and heal as they learn [00:13:10] to live with their devastating loss, learn more and[00:13:20] 

[00:13:20] Jen: Yeah, for sure. Look, a lot of things crossed my mind and I'm sure yours and a lot of people's that we just had no reason to believe they were ever gonna cross our [00:13:30] minds. , like. Really until my brother died it, I didn't even consider the possibility that I would lose one of my brothers. ?

[00:13:37] I think a lot of people, obviously you [00:13:40] think about like losing your grandparents, think about losing your parents, not in a like, oh, I, , I'm looking forward to that, but it, you expect that's going to happen. [00:13:50] Yeah. Like my it's like, my brain just was not wired to even consider that like at any point in my life.

[00:13:55] And I don't think I knew anyone who had lost a sibling, like [00:14:00] prior to me. So it wasn't like, oh, of course that could happen. Like it, I don't know. Yeah, 

[00:14:06] Maya: no, absolutely. You and I discussed that when we first connected. And I think [00:14:10] again, you brought up another wonderful point that I'm sure all of you guys can connect with as well, that you may not know anybody.

[00:14:17] I didn’t. This was so foreign. , I was [00:14:20] connecting with people around me that were telling me, oh, I lost my mom or I've lost my dad. And that was early, I was 30 years old and having friends in their twenties or thirties, and [00:14:30] that's young to lose your parent, but little did I know there was this whole other world of surviving siblings that really got where I was coming from. So this is powerful stuff. 

[00:14:38] Jen: Yeah, totally. 

[00:14:39] Maya: [00:14:40] Yeah. So what, what was it like for you as the days went on after that with just your whole family dynamic and, and for you personally, Jen? 

[00:14:50] Jen: So, like the first couple of days and the first week was just sort of like autopilot mode, right. So planning a [00:15:00] funeral and then like sitting shva and just logistics.

[00:15:03] Like I remember. I don't know the day before his funeral going to the airport to pick up people [00:15:10] that were coming in from out of town and going to target like 12,000 times to pick up things for the house so that we had food or just, [00:15:20] I don't know. You think about people who are going through any kind of loss and I don't know.

[00:15:26] I never, I didn't think it was gonna be like that. So like [00:15:30] still routine day to day stuff that, but it has to get done. The, the world keeps going on and you just have to, you have to go day to [00:15:40] day because it's not stopping for you. , it, it, it's hard. My parents live in South Carolina and they have lived there.

[00:15:47] They had moved down there a couple years before [00:15:50] my brother died and so his funerals on a Wednesday, I will say the other weird thing. And I hate to say weird, [00:16:00] but my brother Matt's birthday is July 5th. So it was the two days after our brother died and a day before his funeral. Yeah. 

[00:16:09] Maya: [00:16:10] Wow. 

[00:16:13] Jen: Yeah. So that was weird and hard. Yeah, that was harder for me to say than I thought it would be. 

[00:16:18] Maya: creeps up on you, [00:16:20] doesn't it? Yeah. 

[00:16:20] Jen: Yes. yeah. I was going through all these things this afternoon about like what I, I knew what I was gonna be talking about, but and I cried a number of times today, but that did not, [00:16:30] I wasn't expecting that.

[00:16:31] So yeah, celebrating someone's life and then like burying our brother the next day. So, yeah, so that was that, [00:16:40] but anyway, so my parents, they went back to South Carolina three days after the funeral. and it was just weird [00:16:50] because there's so much going on like the first few days and that week.

[00:16:54] And there's so many people in and out, and then it's just like silent and there's, there's no one around [00:17:00] anymore, which was nice for like a half hour or an hour. And then I was like, well, wait, I now just alone, like with [00:17:10] my thoughts and my feelings. Like what what, so I went back to work the following Monday, which I don't know why I did that.

[00:17:18] I, I know why I did that. Right. [00:17:20] Like I could not continue to sit and just thank and feel. But within like three hours, I was text my boss and I was like, okay, never mind. I'm going home. And everybody at work was [00:17:30] really cool about it. So like that wasn't a huge deal, but I tried to distract myself for a little bit.

[00:17:35] Didn't work so well. And then I spent the rest of that summer, like just telling [00:17:40] myself, get through the summer and then you're gonna be fine. Like a new season, like school, year's gonna start, work's gonna pick back up, like, just get out [00:17:50] of like this summer season. And yeah, so that never happened because right.

[00:17:55] It went tear to September and I was like, okay, still dead. . And my birthday's in [00:18:00] September and I was like, well, shit, like now, now I have to have a birthday. Like he's never gonna have another birthday. And then it just, from there, it just was a spiral of thoughts and [00:18:10] about the future and what that was gonna look like.

[00:18:13] And I remember writing like just a list, like page long list of all the [00:18:20] things that I thought were gonna be different. Like from that point on and things that you don't, I guess, I don't know. I don't know that I, or like that I would've thought would be [00:18:30] different, but like just. They were different and it was always gonna be different.

[00:18:35] And I just kept saying, this is, this is life. Now this is life. This is normal life. This is [00:18:40] life. And then it wasn't, I'm sure at some point earlier on the phrase, , the new normal was said to me and I was like, well, shit, that makes a lot of sense. Like, because [00:18:50] that's what it is. It's, it's not normal, but it is your normal.

[00:18:53] And you've gotta figure out a way to get on board with that. Because if, if you can't, you're, you're just gonna [00:19:00] be stuck. 

[00:19:01] I knew myself well enough to know that I had no idea how I was gonna help myself, so I Googled because [00:19:10] that's what you do, and found an agency on Long Island that, well COPE, that has support groups for parents who've lost children and siblings who [00:19:20] have lost siblings. And I don't know. I mean, I know why I signed up to go, but I mean, I'm not someone who likes being in groups of people. [00:19:30] And I'm not one who likes to talk about their feelings. So the idea of going to a support group for this was like, I don't know what you're doing, but I went [00:19:40] and and I've said this to anyone, like number of times over the last six years, like the 90 minutes that I spent in that first group, [00:19:50] I felt more connected to like the complete total strangers, like in that room than I had, like felt to anyone in my life.

[00:19:57] Like, as it related to my brother, [00:20:00] I don't think I said more than a couple of sentences that night. There's no expectation for anyone to have to speak or whatever, but I, the words that were coming out of these [00:20:10] people's mouths, like I was like, holy cow, like yes, yes, yes. That's exactly. That's exactly. Okay.

[00:20:16] I'm not crazy. Like I'm not, I'm not a lunatic. So. [00:20:20] Just that shared, that shared connection and that shared experience like of a loss that really doesn't get talked about or yeah, acknowledged, I think in, [00:20:30] in the same way or in a, in an equally meaningful way maybe as when, , parents lose children or when children lose, , when young children like lose their [00:20:40] parents.

[00:20:41] So yeah, that was the best thing I ever did for myself was to join that support group and yeah, the people there, like I said earlier [00:20:50] there, people I never wanted to have had to meet. Like, I, I wish I didn't have to know them. I wish we all didn't have to know each other, but yeah, we're in this shitty club [00:21:00] that none of us knew existed until we were in it.

[00:21:03] So yeah. So those, those are my people. 

[00:21:07] Maya: I wanna ask you this, Jen, thank you for being [00:21:10] so I, I, I say this with everybody who comes on here, that's just so vulnerable and open. Thank you for someone who's not emotional, you're being very vulnerable. So I appreciate that about you. And [00:21:20] it's another reason we connected and we also have birthdays in September, but we've already talked about that too, but no, I really wanna understand a little bit more and I'm sure it's gonna be helpful for everybody listening.

[00:21:29] All of [00:21:30] you surviving siblings, too. What do you think was that final point for you that kind of pushed you. How far were you into the grieving journey? I, I don't think you were [00:21:40] that, I mean, it was only a couple months, right? When you realized couple weeks, how far were you into the journey and what pushed you to be like, I gotta be around some people, like, I've [00:21:50] gotta go talk to this group, cuz I was always impressed, when we first connected and you told me that because that's pretty advanced, it takes people. It took me a lot longer to get to that point. So I'd love if you [00:22:00] could share with us a little bit about that. Just a little more detail. 

[00:22:03] Jen: Yeah. So he died July 3rd funeral was July 6th and I think the first group that I went to was July [00:22:10] 20th.

[00:22:10] Maybe like I was

[00:22:11] Maya: so days, days. 

[00:22:13] Jen: Yeah. Yeah. And it, it wasn't even so much that I was looking to be around people, , like I didn't I didn't think [00:22:20] even going into it, I wasn't like, oh, I'm gonna go here and people are gonna get it. I was just sort of like, I don't, I don't know what I'm gonna need, but I'm gonna need something.

[00:22:29] And well, this [00:22:30] place says they offer something for people like me now. So so I did that and I remember, , I had to call and do an intake before you can come to your first group. And I [00:22:40] said to the, , whoever I was speaking to, I think it was the clinical director at the time. I said, is this like is this too soon for me?

[00:22:46] Like, cuz I feel like, I don't know. And she [00:22:50] was like, well, the fact that you're asking if it's too soon, like makes me feel like you're, you're aware that it's very soon. And she's like, If you're pursuing this, like, I'm not gonna say [00:23:00] no. She's like could be more triggering for you maybe than like other people who are gonna be there.

[00:23:06] And I was like, yeah, no, I don't, I, I need something. And I [00:23:10] think if I, if I wait, like I'm just gonna not, I'm gonna not pursue it again. So, so that was, that, that was two, three weeks after his death. [00:23:20] And , there weren't a ton of people there, like my first night it's monthly. But aside from hearing other people say the things I was [00:23:30] thinking and feel the feelings I was feeling, the people that were there were people who were like a year, two years, [00:23:40] three years out from losing their sibling.

[00:23:42] And I remember my friend, Nicole was, well, my now friend, Nicole, she was at there. And she said that it had been like two years since her [00:23:50] brother died. And I was like, shit, I. Years are gonna pass and he's still not gonna be here. Like it was the first time that it made me like think long term into the [00:24:00] future.

[00:24:00] Cuz I, , I was going day, day by day, hour by hour, even, maybe at that point. And I was like, oh my God, it's been two weeks. And I'm like, out of [00:24:10] my mind, I didn't even think about a year from now or two years from now. So that set me down a little bit of like a thing. [00:24:20] But then I immediately was like, well look, she's here.

[00:24:22] Like she, she survived it. Like she got through it. And , I think the other people who were there that night were [00:24:30] also like more than a year out from like the loss of their sibling. And I was like, all right, well, these people were once sitting in my shoes and having to, [00:24:40] if not say to a group, like, , acknowledge I'll shit.

[00:24:42] My brother died two weeks ago. Like, and now they're able to say it's been two years or it's been three years. So that was A little [00:24:50] bit of hope. I think that like, somehow, I, I mean, I knew I was gonna get through that and I didn't think there was like an option to not continue moving forward in life.[00:25:00] 

[00:25:00] But it was super helpful just to be with people who like, who did it, like before me, like, and they were standing right in front of me and I was like, okay. I was like, they could do it. I could do it. So that was [00:25:10] super helpful. 

[00:25:11] Maya: Yeah. I think that is really powerful. What you just shared Jen, because I think seeing people [00:25:20] and being inspired by people and knowing that you can make it even today.

[00:25:25] When I see people that have like, are 20 years, 30 years, I have people 40 and [00:25:30] 50 now that have reached out to me because I've done this podcast and I'm like, okay, I'm gonna make it. I still need that inspiration. , and I didn't really realize that. [00:25:40] So I just, I'm so impressed by you and I'm inspired by you because I did not have that insight myself, because I [00:25:50] understand your story so much about being just numb and not it it's just so much to take in.

[00:25:55] Jen: Yeah. 

[00:25:56] Maya: And you just hit your six year death anniversary of [00:26:00] LB.. So we're sending so much love up to him right now. And I know he's with us in this conversation, I can just feel it, but it's 

[00:26:07] Jen: everywhere. 

[00:26:08] Maya: everywhere. Right. 

[00:26:09] Jen: [00:26:10] Everywhere, everywhere. 

[00:26:10] Maya: I mean, I, I believe that too, but I think that's, that's really powerful, but I'd love for you to give us a little bit of advice and then we'll continue on with your story.

[00:26:19] Cause I wanna hear [00:26:20] more about the, the continuation of you going to group and how your grief journey continued. But what is some advice you would give to people? Because I see this in a lot of groups that I'm a part of [00:26:30] and , other, just another connections I've made throughout, I'm coming up on my sixth years.

[00:26:34] So I'm like right behind you. , you went so quickly again, I'm just so blown away and inspired by [00:26:40] you. But when do you think it's the right time for someone? I think, I think you just gotta know yourself, you know yourself very well, Jen. So I think it's just about listening to yourself, but [00:26:50] what's your advice on that really important to hear from you?

[00:26:52] Jen: Yeah. I mean, I, I agree you, you need to listen to yourself. But I think it's also [00:27:00] scary. Like, I think as much as people might want to seek support or seek like relationships with people who are in like their [00:27:10] situation, it's a scary thing. For some people, it makes it really real. Like it's real regardless, but to like sit in a room with a group of people and like, say the [00:27:20] words like it just, I don't know, it's a, it's a next level of real maybe.

[00:27:23] It, I don't know that it's, it was so awesome that I jumped in like AF like two weeks later, but it [00:27:30] worked for me. It doesn't mean it's gonna work for everyone. But , there are people in our sibling group now who joined for the first time and there's one woman who said [00:27:40] it's been 10 years since she lost her sibling.

[00:27:43] And after the first group, she was like, I can't believe I waited. Like, I, I was afraid of this. Like, this is the best I've [00:27:50] felt and everyone feels so freaking awkward saying it because who it, like, I'm telling you for, like the first three years, like, it was like the one thing on my [00:28:00] calendar that like, I worked my life around it.

[00:28:02] Like I was not missing group. It was fun. Like, it was a way for me to like smile and [00:28:10] laugh and we did laugh a lot. And we cuz we felt like we could laugh with each other and like share stories about our siblings or [00:28:20] share stories about our families that like they were going to get, even if they didn't know our families because they were going through similar stuff.

[00:28:28] So like, it was just, it [00:28:30] was, it's weird to say it, but I still have fun when I go to my sibling group. And I think that's the vibe that we kinda, we go for. Like, [00:28:40] there's a lot of crying. Yes. But like we. I don't know, you have to be able to laugh at something. Yeah. So yeah, listen to yourself. [00:28:50] But also like, if whatever is holding you back is fear or like feeling like you can't do it, or you don't know what to say.

[00:28:58] No one's ever gonna force you to say [00:29:00] something, listen to other people. And I just, I think hearing, hearing other people talk about the things that you're thinking or hearing other people like [00:29:10] share feelings that you've had for however long you've had them will just encourage you to, to keep going and, and encourage you to wanna speak and like share some of your truth or some of your story.[00:29:20] 

[00:29:20] Maya: Yeah. Oh, that's beautiful advice. Ah, I love that. I love that. And I think, , as surviving siblings, there's just so many. [00:29:30] Dynamics that happen for us within, I mean, you touched on this a little bit earlier, so maybe we can talk about this too, Jen, before we again, continue forward in your grief journey.

[00:29:38] I mean, we're, we're still in the [00:29:40] first year with you and just so much one unpack and I relate to that and I'm sure a lot of you guys listening to as well, if not all of you, but , you ha your brother was [00:29:50] married and so you have, , Sherry, you have his children and then you have your parents, so there's a lot of family dynamics [00:30:00] happening.

[00:30:00] So I think it's really important for you to share how you navigated that process immediately. And then it also through your grief process, do you wanna share a little bit on that? 

[00:30:09] Jen: Yeah, of [00:30:10] course. So it, it was, it was tricky at best for the first year, for sure. So, , like I said, my parents were back in South [00:30:20] Carolina My sister-in-law was now a single parent raising a four year old and a six year old.

[00:30:26] And , my younger brother at the time was still living on Long Island. He has since moved to [00:30:30] South Carolina. But , that first year, it, it was really hard Sherry. Definitely like took some steps back [00:30:40] from me and my family. And I, and I knew, like I knew in my head, it, it wasn't about me personally.

[00:30:46] She was angry at my brother and [00:30:50] I get like, I get it. I'm an extension of him. Like my parents are an extension of him. Matt's an extension of him and she kind of isolated from [00:31:00] us never, never nasty, like never, never malicious. Just the phone calls weren't as frequent. We still got to see our [00:31:10] nephews.

[00:31:10] It just didn't feel how it had always felt before, but again, nothing was ever gonna feel how it felt before. So she was angry rightfully so. My parents were angry. My parents were devastated. My parents, I [00:31:30] think their biggest fear almost immediately was that they were never gonna see their grandkids again, which I never, I never once thought was actually going to happen.

[00:31:38] And I spent a number of [00:31:40] conversations with my mom, especially she's more of a talker than my dad. Almost begging her to like give, give Sherry space, like. I know [00:31:50] you're grieving. I know she is grieving. We are all grieving, but it's different for all of us. We had different relationships with him. There were different factors [00:32:00] going on.

[00:32:00] The more, the more you push or the more you try to get in, however you're trying to get in right now, she Sherry can't handle that. Like [00:32:10] it's, you're gonna push her away, which is the thing you want to happen, like least in the world. So there was a lot of navigating, I guess, for lack of a better word, or like trying [00:32:20] to help those relationships sort of heal and repair more naturally than in a forced way.

[00:32:27] Like, would it have been great if we all were just [00:32:30] right back to where we were? Yeah, sure. That, that would've been really weird though, too, like to act as if nothing had happened and that we should just go back to the way things were. So that was never gonna happen. [00:32:40] And Sherry moved to Long Island , obviously with my brother, but her family was not from New York.

[00:32:45] Her mom had passed away three months before my brother [00:32:50] did. So she, so she had yeah, she had two really huge losses kind of back to back. And,[00:33:00] , she has a brother who lives in California and a sister who kind of travels all over for work and her dad. So she decided pretty quickly [00:33:10] that she was gonna sell the house from New York and move to Florida and start over.

[00:33:16] And it, it sucked, but I got it. A hundred [00:33:20] percent sheet deserved it, my nephews deserved it. Like she didn't, she had friends on Long Island, for sure. Like my brother's friends were her friends, but like, she just wanted to be with [00:33:30] family and. Look, was I her family? Yes, I still am. Was Matt her family? Yeah, he still is.

[00:33:36] But like she wanted be with her dad and her dad had just lost [00:33:40] his wife, , so I got that. So they before, even a year had passed like by mid June of the following year, they had relocated to Florida. And I know my, my [00:33:50] parents were upset about that because I think they felt that was just another step in, they were never gonna see our grandkids again.

[00:33:56] I think my parents were hoping she would move to South Carolina [00:34:00] to be closer to them. And, , they had offered to do whatever she needed in terms of helping take care of the boys, help raise them, help out in however way they could while she [00:34:10] figured her life out and, , decided what she wanted to do or what she felt like she could do.

[00:34:15] But, , look, I get it. She, she moved to be closer to her dad. So [00:34:20] so that was the immediate That was the first year. And then by the end of the second year, Matt moved to South Carolina. And then I found [00:34:30] myself suddenly a weird version of an orphan in New York. So it was weird and, and difficult. So yeah, 

[00:34:39] Maya: That's a, [00:34:40] that's a lot for you. And that's why I wanted you to, to elaborate a little bit more on that, Jen, because yes, you had, , your immediate, , your wife, your partner, [00:34:50] your kids, but to have, , your family just kind of all like leave, , and the extensions of your brother, , I would, I would imagine how [00:35:00] your mother feels, and this is, , going out on a limb, cuz I I'm not a grandmother and a guy have gone through that process, but what I'd imagine is, , that's what she has left of your brother.

[00:35:09] Right? [00:35:10] So that's kind of what she's grasped at and , and I think your advice was just so beautiful. Like let her breathe, , let Sherry breathe and , because everyone grieved so differently and [00:35:20] I, I think that's the wonderful advice that you were giving and , that's a few long time to realize too, because I was judging everybody else.

[00:35:26] I was like, how can you not feel this as intensely as me? [00:35:30] Or, , there's not two people in my family that grieved the same way. Right. And it's sounds the same for you. right. So yeah. 

[00:35:37] Jen: And look, don't get me wrong. I was like secretly judging [00:35:40] in my head, not judging, but like I just didn't understand all the anger.

[00:35:45] What was the anger gonna do? Like I still, I think I can honestly say I've [00:35:50] never been. Angry at my brother at Sherry at my PA. Like I just, it's just sad. It's it's devastatingly [00:36:00] sad. And I just think that the faster people can recognize that their anger is really an extension of sadness. Like the sooner you can start to maybe [00:36:10] like start healing, 

[00:36:12] Maya: that's powerful. That's powerful stuff right there. Cuz that is so true. I mean, whoa, [00:36:20] we need to just sit in that for a second. Cause it's, I mean that's true, Jen, like that's huge. Yeah, it is. Just like our, , our grieving is just the love that we have for that [00:36:30] person. And it's always gonna be with you. It's how do you move forward with that?

[00:36:33] So, yeah, I mean, yeah. So here you are now a year in and you're by yourself. So how do you [00:36:40] keep propelling forward? You know, you know, me, I don't say move on cause we don't move on. We're here six years later, still talking about these guys. Right. We love 'em. So how do you continue to, [00:36:50] to move forward in your grief journey? Tell us about that 

[00:36:52] Jen: and look, honestly, so like my wife has been amazing. Never anything less than like awesome. [00:37:00] My kids the same I COPE and my sibling group was just a huge, it like, that's it like for the first year, for the second [00:37:10] year, for the third year, just to have a place and people.

[00:37:14] and after the third or fourth month, I guess that I had been going, I had emailed [00:37:20] our facilitator after one of the groups. And I was like, mm, do people in the group like talk outside of group? Because [00:37:30] like, I know I'm still new, but like, I, I walk through the parking lot to get to the same building and we all sort of walk in together, but like not [00:37:40] together and no one spoke in the parking lot, but then as soon as we'd like walk through the door, you'd be like, oh, Hey, how are you?

[00:37:46] And then we'd spend 90 minutes talking about like [00:37:50] this really intense, shared connection. Right. And shared experience and just being totally like raw and vulnerable. And then [00:38:00] we'd walk through the doorway to go back to the parking lot, like back to real life. And like nobody spoke again. And I was like, it's so weird to me.

[00:38:07] Like. People [00:38:10] just wait 30 days before they can like, have a conversation again. So I asked her and she said, , I think some people like, maybe are friends on like social media or [00:38:20] like, , they might like text each other. She's like, but , like you have the email addresses, like reach out to someone if you want to.

[00:38:26] So that's sort of what I started doing, like from the next group on, [00:38:30] like, if anyone knew came to group like that night, I was going home and sending an email and just saying, Hey, it's like, Jen from sibling group just wanted to say hi, [00:38:40] like glad you came tonight. Sorry, you had to be there. I'm like, sorry we had to meet.

[00:38:44] But like, I'm glad you came. And like, I hope you come back next time. Like, it's been the best thing for me. Like I look forward to this every [00:38:50] month, which again, feels so ridiculous saying, but it, it was true. It's still true. So I sort of someone at some point called be like the unofficial welcoming committee.

[00:38:58] Maya: I was just gonna call you that. I was like, you [00:39:00] were like the welcome committee for this. That's amazing. Yeah. 

[00:39:03] Jen: And then, I don't know, like a year into it. I was like, this is so dumb. Like we're all driving, like to get here at seven [00:39:10] o'clock like anybody wanna meet for drinks or dinner, like before group or like go for a drink, like after group.

[00:39:16] So we started doing that for a while and [00:39:20] obvi that wasn't mandatory. You didn't have to do it. And people had work commitments, but like for a good year or so, like before group, like, there'd be like four or five of us that would like meet at a local restaurant or a bar [00:39:30] beforehand, or like, we'd go out for a drink after and just keep the conversation going.

[00:39:34] And it was so nice because we didn't, like, we all knew each other. because we had lost [00:39:40] a sibling, but like, we just started to know each other as people also. And like, , we learned about each other's lives and what we do in real life, not inside of like our little COPE bubble, [00:39:50] where you just talk about your dead siblings and your families.

[00:39:52] And yeah, so like, I, a lot of us are like friends now and we have a, we started like a group text that we're up to like 25 people in it. [00:40:00] And it's great because we're all friends on social media. So, , we get the birthday alert. So every time it's someone's birthday, someone's setting the balloons out, wishing everyone happy birthday.

[00:40:09] Or if we see that [00:40:10] someone like accomplished something or someone's kid did something, we're like blowing it up in a group chat. So. It's great because we know each other for something so shitty. [00:40:20] And at any time, if anyone's having like a rough time or like it's a bad day, like yeah. They send a text and sometimes I like look at my phone in the middle of a work day and I have [00:40:30] 86 texts and I'm like, oh, what's happening there?

[00:40:31] And I open it up and I'm like, all right. And then I gotta like scroll up and see what was happening. But someone is always there to respond, whether it's for something shitty or [00:40:40] something like awesome. And I just, I, I think it's really great. So yeah, I think it's really great. Yeah. And , I know you have used the term surviving siblings, but we [00:40:50] affectionately call ourself like the sibling losers because we have lost a sibling, but , we're kind of like the, like no one thinks about the siblings.

[00:40:57] So we're just like, it's our sibling loser group. [00:41:00] So we like it and we, we understand it's, it's said with affection, not like, oh my gosh, actual losers, but.

[00:41:06] Maya: No. I love that. No, because I get it. And I'm sure you guys listen and get that [00:41:10] as well. I like we get that right. We get those terms just like we, for, we like forgotten more surviving sibling, sibling losers.

[00:41:17] I love it. I love it. [00:41:20] But I love just how open and honest you are just sharing this journey because this was so, I mean, obviously integral into you being [00:41:30] able to move forward and you being able to do it successfully and. Be able to feel and be yourself. I mean, you're very extroverted like me, Jen. And so we [00:41:40] need to be around and, and connect with people.

[00:41:42] And so I can't believe it. I'm gonna say like one of the people in group, I can't believe it took me this long to find these in groups. but that's a little bit [00:41:50] more just because I don't have as much around me here, but it's surprisingly enough in such a big city. Like Atlanta. There's really just not, but 

[00:41:57] Jen: I do have to interrupt. I am the last thing [00:42:00] one would describe as an extrovert. I am such an introvert, 

[00:42:03] Maya: but, but that's so weird because with this, you were so tell us, so explain that. Why you felt you wanted to go [00:42:10] to this then? 

[00:42:10] Jen: Yeah, I don't know. 

[00:42:12] Maya: Isn't that interesting? 

[00:42:12] Jen: It is interesting and I, I'm still, I'm still surprised by it. Like every month that I like willingly go to a group situation because there's [00:42:20] plenty of group situations in life. Like not support group wise, right. Even social things that I. Will shy away from, I don't love them. I don't know. Maybe it's just having something [00:42:30] like tangible or like specific to connect to with someone like, and it's not the only thing we talk about, but it is just a common thread that's there.

[00:42:39] I don't know. [00:42:40] But I, I'm definitely an introvert. 

[00:42:43] Maya: Is that interesting? 

[00:42:44] Jen: Playing the role of an extrovert maybe. Yeah. 

[00:42:46] Maya: Oh, I like that. Like how you put that. Yeah. That's interesting. And I think that's even [00:42:50] more inspiring though, for all of you guys listening that you can, you can do this and you can connect with people, especially when it's something like this that you need unique connection. You do. It's been [00:43:00] so important to me too. So I appreciate you sharing that and I appreciate you sharing that you are actually an introvert. Cause I think that's inspiring when people know that, , cause they're like, oh gosh, these two are out here just talking [00:43:10] about their life and putting it all out there. So, 

[00:43:11] Jen: And look, I'll be honest. I still, like I said, I go to sibling groups still almost every single month. I have missed. Maybe like two or three in the [00:43:20] last six years. But , the reason that I continue to go now is not so much, like for me, right. To like share my story, but I [00:43:30] just, I remember how powerful it was my first time.

[00:43:32] Right. Like being around someone who was not two weeks out of their death, who like, had gotten [00:43:40] through a year who had gotten through two years and I probably could have stopped going for like, I don't know, for lack of a better phrase, personal benefit, like years ago. [00:43:50] But I just wanna keep showing up because people need to know that like, if someone is gonna go out on a limb and take a risk and be vulnerable and like go to group, [00:44:00] I, I think they need to be able to know that like, someone there like has been through this experience and like can live to tell the tail, ?

[00:44:07] So yeah, but that's, I, I share that. [00:44:10] Pretty often that like, I, I am not one who likes to talk about feelings. I am not one who likes groups, but that's how good this group is. And that's how helpful it's been that I keep doing it and I [00:44:20] like doing it. So yeah. Introvert playing the role of an extrovert.

[00:44:23] Maya: I love that. I love that. I think some of you guys should steal that one too, cuz that's a really good one cuz I am an extrovert. So I can't steal that one, but that's [00:44:30] a really good one. An introvert playing the role of an extrovert. I love that. Well, I gonna back up to something really quick, Jen, and then we're gonna come back to the COPE Foundation, cause I wanna dive into that and, [00:44:40] and because you've been involved for six, like literally six years, like on the dot, which is really, really cool. So happy six year anniversary with COPE. That's awesome. 

[00:44:47] Jen: Thank you. Yeah. 

[00:44:48] Maya: But I wanna go back to [00:44:50] something and then we'll come forward again. We talked a little bit about kind of danced around it being the forgotten mourner and how we're not focused on really in [00:45:00] this equation of losing art, whether it's a brother, like both of us or a sister, or God forbid, multiple siblings, which happens, , and it's an awful tale, too [00:45:10] tremendous loss, but we're forgotten about, because this is something you and I have talked about. So I have to bring this up. It's really been ingrained in us from the [00:45:20] time we're very young, that to lose a child is the worst thing that could, you know, where I'm going with this already.

[00:45:26] I love it. Yeah. We are so in sync. To lose a child is the worst thing that can possibly [00:45:30] happen to you. And this will lead us into COPE very beautifully, right? Because you guys support families in general, which is just wonderful, but what is your [00:45:40] personal, , take on that. And how did you navigate that? Cuz you had so many, again, so many dynamics happening, you had your parents who lost their son, [00:45:50] you had your, your sister-in-law who lost. Her husband, and then you have the nephews that have lost their father. So those are some of the worst losses you can go [00:46:00] through, but you hear you are as the sister. 

[00:46:01] Right. So tell me a little bit about your, your perspective on that, because we all know mine. Yeah. 

[00:46:07] Jen: Yeah. So yeah, I think [00:46:10] just, yes, it's ingrained in us from society for a, from very young, right? The worst, the worst loss you can experience is the [00:46:20] loss of a child and looking back it's so it's so crazy to me, but the, the number of times my mom said that to me and to my [00:46:30] brothers, like throughout our childhood.

[00:46:32] And I'm sure it was in reference to someone losing a child or a child being sick. But just, [00:46:40] if I have to think of like the one thing that my mom like, really like, felt that strongly about and like voiced her, like. Emotion or, [00:46:50] thoughts about it was that that is the worst loss you can endure. And I don't think she was ever saying it from the perspective of a parent who could potentially lose a [00:47:00] child.

[00:47:00] I don't think she was actively thinking. The worst thing that happened to me is if one of you guys died, but then it happened. [00:47:10] So, so that's that and then, look, I said it myself, I, it never occurred to me that siblings died [00:47:20] until my sibling died. So like, I, I get the idea of the forgotten, right.

[00:47:27] But I think it's it's a really shitty [00:47:30] thing. that siblings are kind of overlooked. I it's just something I don't think you can understand until you're in the situation. I mean, you could say the words and I would understand what you were [00:47:40] saying to me cognitively, but I don't, I could not have grasped that emotionally until I lived it.

[00:47:47] So, it, the days that [00:47:50] followed and the weeks that followed and the months that followed the questions that were asked of me the most by anyone, almost everyone, not [00:48:00] everyone though. How are your parents? How Sherry, how are the boys? And in my head, I was like, [00:48:10] fuck off. I'm great too. Thank you.

[00:48:12] That's awesome. Like what, and I, I. I don't know that people weren't calling my parents and [00:48:20] saying, how are, how are, how, how are Jen and Matt doing? But like, I don't know for sure that that was happening, but I do, , I know what I [00:48:30] know, which is that anyone I came into contact with was how are your parents?

[00:48:34] Ha ? And I was like, yeah, no, like they, how do you think they suck? Like they are [00:48:40] like, not, they, they don't suck. Sorry, mom and dad, you guys do not suck. They're in a really shitty place right now. Like, I don't know how to answer your question, but also you could ask me how I [00:48:50] was doing, even if I didn't have an answer for you you could ask it, but I just don't know that people think that siblings are impacted in.[00:49:00] 

[00:49:00] A way that is just as meaningful as, as parents or as, , someone like my sister-in-law who lost her husband or like my nephews who lost their father. Do I think the loss [00:49:10] is the same? Nope. Do I think the grief or the process of grieving is the same? Nope, but I, I don't think that the same means less than, or more than I [00:49:20] just think it's different.

[00:49:21] Things can be equally impactful and meaningful and significant, but not be the same. So, yeah, [00:49:30] you're, that's my perspective on that. Yep. 

[00:49:32] Maya: Good wrap up. I love that, Jen. You did it again. Great wrap up at the end there. My new short term for [00:49:40] explaining this is different and deep. 

[00:49:45] Jen: There we go.

[00:49:45] Maya: Done. Right. I love it. I mean, because 

[00:49:47] Jen: Different, deep and done 

[00:49:49] Maya: Different, deep and [00:49:50] done. There we go. DDD, Triple D there we go. I love, , look we're playing stuff, but obviously but no different deep and, and done. Yeah. I [00:50:00] mean, because it is, and I think you just really nailed it with that description because it's, we're not sitting here saying like, oh, it's the same thing to lose a spouse.

[00:50:09] It's the same thing [00:50:10] to lose a child. No, but we exist too. And I so relate to your story because I, I was actually just sitting here just so ingrained and engrossed in this story and listening to you [00:50:20] and going. Oh, my God. I don't think anybody ever asked me how I was doing, except for my best friend who had lost her mother just right before my brother, which I've shared with all of you [00:50:30] guys, that story.

[00:50:30] And she was really my rock during all of this, as well as my other guy, friend. And , that was it. They were the only ones and they, they almost didn't even need to ask me how I was. Cuz they knew I was terrible. The [00:50:40] answer was always, I'm not good. Right. Right. So it's like, they, it was more like, Hey, what can I do for you? it was like, they were just there. So I dunno that anybody really said, how are you? It's [00:50:50] either. They knew cuz they knew my heart or it was like, so yeah. 

[00:50:54] Jen: I'll say there, there were people who would like send a text and be like, how are you? And in my head I'm like, are they [00:51:00] saying, how are you or were they like, Hey, how are you?

[00:51:03] And I'd be like, well, all right. I don't know how, what are you asking me? Are you asking me how I actually am? Or is this like the intro to [00:51:10] like some text conversation? And I should just say like, I'm good. Thanks. How are you? So it's, it's, it's awkward and tough. 

[00:51:18] Maya: Yeah, you're right. That's totally different, and something like we relate to. So if you guys are getting those messages, like there's a, there's a difference between the two. And I think it's also important to understand too, that sometimes people just, [00:51:30] they honestly don't know. So it's important to bring awareness to this topic. 

[00:51:33] Jen: Yes. And , it's something we talk about a lot at group is that the really insensitive and terrible [00:51:40] statements that are thrown at us or phrases we hear, and we are routinely saying to each other, like, say nothing. I'd rather, you say nothing. Give me a look, [00:51:50] but don't say something that is just don't tell me someone's in a better place. Don't tell me they're at peace now. They, he might be, look, I believe I've been to two [00:52:00] mediums since I lost him and I know he is in a better place. I get it, but I don't, I don't need someone to justify or like rationalize his death to me [00:52:10] by saying he's better off, like he's in like, no, just say nothing. If you, if you're uncomfortable and you don't know what to say, really say nothing. Just say I'm [00:52:20] thinking about you. That's it make it about me? Don't you don't have to make it about my brother or anyone's sibling who has died. Yeah. [00:52:30] Cause we're still here. 

[00:52:31] Maya: And that's, that's really great advice because this is our, this is our hope, right? Jen, is that we can get the message across because we're six years into this. I'm I'm coming [00:52:40] up right behind you. If not that it's something I wanna be doing, but coming up right behind you, this is our hope that it's not just for the surviving sibling.

[00:52:46] Right. It's for the extension. Right? Mm-hmm that we're bringing awareness to this [00:52:50] so that we're not hearing those ridiculous phrases anymore. I love that you brought this up because , they're in a better place or they're do you really know that? No, you don't. You really don't know that. Nope. It's about [00:53:00] me and about how I feel about it and that's fine.

[00:53:03] So yeah, I love, oh, I love that. , I'm thinking about you. I'm here for you. That's another good one. I'm here for you. If you need [00:53:10] anything. I like that one too, but don't say it if you don't mean it, that's, that's another big one.

[00:53:13] Jen: I'm telling you since, since my brother died I have completely stopped when, when [00:53:20] learn of someone who has passed. Right. And like, obviously, I, I know someone who is still surviving from them, whether it's a friend or a grandparent who has been lost or a parent or whatever, [00:53:30] I absolutely refused to send them a text, an email, or to say in person, like, I'm so sorry for your loss. Because the number of times I heard that [00:53:40] it, it was so uncomfortable because what am I supposed?

[00:53:43] I'm so sorry. That's okay. What? It's not like, that's what you say when someone apologizes, right? Like, I'm sorry. That's okay. [00:53:50] I don't need you to, I don't need you to tell me that you're sorry. Like I, and I get the sentiment that they're trying to convey, but you hear it so many freaking times it [00:54:00] loses all meaning.

[00:54:01] And I don't know that we have words or language created to convey what it is we're trying to convey. Like, that's literally [00:54:10] what I say now. Like, I can't say I'm sorry, like, I'm sorry you're experiencing this, but like, this just sucks. Like I'm here, like, [00:54:20] I'll do what you need. Like please, like, , but I can't, I can't do that.

[00:54:24] Oh, I'm sorry for your loss. And then like move on and it just, it drives me like.

[00:54:29] Maya: [00:54:30] Yeah, that's powerful too, because I think, oh, if I had like a penny for every time, I've heard that and I'm sure it's the exact same for you. Yeah, [00:54:40] we'd be, we we'd be saving all this surviving siblings. 

[00:54:42] Jen: Right, right. And, and I get it like, and again, before I lost my brother, like, that's what I would say to anyone. You go to a funeral and you give them a hug and you're like, [00:54:50] I'm so sorry. And I meant it, but like being on the receding end of that, I was like, oh shit, that means nothing to me now. Like, because it, it puts this weird burden on [00:55:00] you as like the person who lost someone to like, I don't know, make the other person feel better about like, like, oh, I'm so sorry.

[00:55:07] Like, you can't say nothing to that. So I just [00:55:10] found myself being like it's okay. Thank you. But, that was a weird exchange. And I was like, I'm never doing that to another person ever again. And I'm sorry to all of [00:55:20] you that I said that to prior to my own experience. So here you go. 

[00:55:23] Maya: This is Jen's, mass apology for that. 

[00:55:27] Jen: There you go. If I ever said, I'm sorry for your loss, I'm [00:55:30] sorry for saying that to you. 

[00:55:32] Maya: Oh, my gosh, Jen. And I like to keep it, bring some levity to this. Oh my gosh. But no, I think you brought up a really [00:55:40] great topic here and language in the way we talk about this and I hope it just continues to improve. And I think, I think that's just anything, right. As we bring awareness to it and bring [00:55:50] light to it, cuz this has been going on. I mean, people have been losing siblings forever, right? We've just not mm-hmm talked about it. We've not brought awareness to it. So [00:56:00] I, again, we don't wish you to join this club, but it's a good thing to bring awareness to and.

[00:56:06] Jen: For sure. And I just wanna say, , going back a little bit to how [00:56:10] losing a child, right. Is like the worst loss you can experience and again, different losses, but I don't [00:56:20] think anyone ever considers that, like your siblings are really aside from your parents. The people, you know, from the day you're born, that you [00:56:30] ex and now you're excluding your parents that you expect to know for the majority of your life.

[00:56:35] Like you expect to have an entire lifetime with them. So [00:56:40] yes. Did, do parents lose children? Yes. Did, did parents, like all parents were once just individuals who didn't have those children. So they, they [00:56:50] had a whole life before children and I'm not, I'm not minimizing that and I'm not being insensitive.

[00:56:57] I'm just trying to get people to understand [00:57:00] the significance of the sibling relationship, because it's not just like, oh, it's your first friend. Like he was the first person, the only person aside from my parents that like was in my [00:57:10] life from day one. And the difference between him and my parents was that I was supposed to know him and have him in my life until like the last day work close to the last day.[00:57:20] 

[00:57:20] And it's just, it's gone. So. I don't think it's, it's really looked at like that or talked about like that. As much as I think it could be or should be, or needs to [00:57:30] be, to help people maybe understand the loss 

[00:57:33] Maya: well said again very well said again. And I know that's why it's so traumatizing. I know it, I mean, living through it [00:57:40] myself, you've lived through it.

[00:57:41] You guys listening, most of you have lived through it as well. And we, we don't and that's yeah, it's not just that. It's your first friend. It's also your first enemy. So it's should be [00:57:50] your first fighting partner. It's your first for person they make forts with and play with. I mean, do it's a lot first, but you spend, and they know more about you than even [00:58:00] your parents most of the time, because you do.

[00:58:01] I mean, again, you just said that so beautifully, Jen. Yes. Thank you for adding that because we're not trying to minimize, we're trying to maximize [00:58:10] what people are minimizing. So I think that's really important what you said there. So yes, I wanna, so we're gonna jump back to where we were before jumping forward to jump back.

[00:58:19] Let's [00:58:20] talk about COPE. So COPE has, has been integral and totally just helped you in your journey, but now you are super involved with COPE. So tell us a little [00:58:30] bit about that. 

[00:58:30] Jen: Yeah, I am. So , like I was in, I still am in the siblings support group. But I guess in [00:58:40] 2019 the president of the board at the time popped in to our sibling group. She was like, , the newly elected president of the board. And she was making the rounds to [00:58:50] introduce herself and to, , see the groups , firsthand and listen a little bit. And so she was someone who had lost a child and she didn't stay in our [00:59:00] group for very long, but she did say as she was leaving that she, she thanked all of us and I don't remember exactly how she said it, but she was [00:59:10] so moved by everything we were saying and how we all related to each other and how we were all sort of saying the same exact thing [00:59:20] about our families. Right. And about our losses and the relationships with people in our families since the loss.

[00:59:27] And she said, these are [00:59:30] conversations I've never had with my kids before. And I have no idea what they think about me and I have no idea how they think I've like done, like as their parent, since the loss [00:59:40] of, , their brother or my son. So , she thanked us for like letting her share the space for a little bit and she left.

[00:59:46] And of course I went home that night and I sent her an email and thanked [00:59:50] her for coming and for like speaking. So honestly the way that she did and said that I, I really think. it's important for there to be some [01:00:00] kind of help to for families to have better, different, more meaningful conversation about [01:00:10] their losses.

[01:00:10] Because again, it's you all, you've experienced the same loss, but it's, you're not experiencing it in the same way. And I think, and I, , saying all this in an email to her that I [01:00:20] think, , the surviving kids or the sibling losers, don't always feel comfortable talking to their parents about their sibling who has died [01:00:30] because it upsets, obviously it's gonna make your parents cry and no one wants to make their parents cry.

[01:00:36] And I think parents don't know what to [01:00:40] say to their surviving kids, or don't know if we want them to say anything to us. So. Yes, that was my email to her. Just that I [01:00:50] appreciated that she was able to share that with us. Whatever. So we emailed back and forth for a couple of months. And then she had asked me if I was interested in getting more involved , with like the program committee or the [01:01:00] family advisory committee.

[01:01:01] And I was like, yeah, no, totally. That's cool. And then like, COVID hit. So everything kind of shifted within the organization. Nothing was happening obviously in person [01:01:10] for a, a pretty long time, but I, , joined committees and we did zoom meetings and tried to plan for programs to be done virtually and brainstormed different [01:01:20] ideas.

[01:01:20] And then towards the end of 2020, I guess she asked if I would be interested in applying to join the board of COPE. [01:01:30] And I was like, oh, that's like the most ground up, like grown up thing I've ever. I've ever heard in my life for myself. And I was like, yeah, that's yes. I would be like a legit [01:01:40] grown up if I was on the board of directors for something.

[01:01:43] So yeah, she was all about trying to like grow the size of COPE's board and I think she wanted to, and in a sincere [01:01:50] way, integrate more siblings onto the board. A lot of the board members are parents who have lost children. But there had not been at that point, I think a sibling who had lost a [01:02:00] sibling that was on the board.

[01:02:00] So submitted my application and did that. So I joined the board in March of 2021 and at the [01:02:10] end of 2021 That woman, Sandy, who was the past president announced that she was stepping down. She had to move out of state and just didn't think she could give everything that she wanted to be able to give [01:02:20] to COPE.

[01:02:21] And that the board was gonna have to come up with a new president. So a lot of eyes, and we're still on zoom at this point, like turned to this guy, Larry, who was [01:02:30] the vice president of the board at that time. And he was like wait, what? He's like, I, I don't think I'm in a position to do this. Like I got a lot going on and, and [01:02:40] I, I think everyone respected that, but then it was sort of like, well, what's gonna happen now.

[01:02:44] So. I text Larry in the middle of the board meeting. And I was like, yo, we should do this [01:02:50] together. And he wrote back like, what? And like that was the end of the conversation. I was like, okay, nevermind. So a few weeks passed. And , we had had conversations since [01:03:00] then, like Larry and I, and he sent me a text and he's like were you serious about that?

[01:03:04] And I wrote back and I was like, serious, serious about what? Like I don't. And he was like , like being [01:03:10] co-presidents and I was like, oh shit. Yeah, no, I could be serious about that if you're serious about that. And he was like I'd be serious about it. Like only with you though. And I was like, cool.

[01:03:19] So [01:03:20] we kind of like spoke a little bit and decided that we were gonna like, make a pitch to Sandy and see what she thought about it as the president. No, I think [01:03:30] she thought it was creative. She had a lot of questions and I think the board as a whole had a lot of questions and I think the best answer that Larry and I came up with, which was honest [01:03:40] and true.

[01:03:41] So we might not have all the answers right now, but you have two people who wanna wanna do it. And we work well together. I've told Larry, he reminds me so much of my [01:03:50] brother. And it's fun to have like that bantering back and forth. Yeah. So yeah, we're, we're pretty different, but we our heart's in [01:04:00] our heart is in it.

[01:04:01] And yeah, so now I'm co-president of the board with Larry and if I thought being a board member was like a grown up thing, like [01:04:10] being like a co-president that's like really grown up. So yeah, so it's really cool. It's still a little bit. Surreal to me that that's, [01:04:20] that's what I am. But yeah, so that's that.

[01:04:23] And since then we have welcomed another board member, another sibling from our sibling loser group, also named [01:04:30] Jen who also feels pretty strongly about getting the word out about sibling loss and trying to just create more awareness and opportunities for [01:04:40] siblings who have lost siblings to have like a space and a place to be heard and, , feel acknowledged.

[01:04:44] So that's how that happened. Yeah. 

[01:04:47] Maya: Thanks for sharing that story. Congratulations [01:04:50] again, on your presidency and your collaboration with, with Larry. And I know what it's like to collaborate with someone that reminds you, especially of like your sibling [01:05:00] that's passed. It's, it's a special thing it's like again, indescribable and only people listening that understand that.

[01:05:06] We'll understand this but it's indescribable. [01:05:10] So and how cool that you have another gen, so you guys are like gen squared on there that really gets it so really, really cool. Really excited about that. And just so you guys know [01:05:20] too in a couple weeks, October 11th. So just a few short weeks after you guys listen to this episode, we are going to be collaborating on a workshop.

[01:05:29] So [01:05:30] October 11th, 7:00 PM, Eastern Jen, if you wanna share a couple tid bits about it, but I will be on the workshop and two of COPE's own, [01:05:40] we'll be on the workshop. Jen, if you wanna add a little bit to that. 

[01:05:42] Jen: Yeah, totally. So Maya and I have talked about this and I think we both feel pretty strongly that we, that FA look, families need [01:05:50] help having conversations, understanding where each other are coming from for no reason other than like you're still family and.[01:06:00] 

[01:06:00] if your family feels a little bit broken that's pretty normal. Doesn't mean it has to stay that way if you've I, yeah. So we're gonna have a sorry, a sibling [01:06:10] loser from COPE. Maureen, and we're gonna have a COPE parent who has lost a child, Jeff. And they're gonna have a sit down conversation with Maya and share their perspectives.

[01:06:19] And I [01:06:20] think maybe ask, ask questions of each other to try to maybe help other parents and surviving siblings out there, like learn how to have conversations with [01:06:30] each other about their loss and their experiences moving forward through, , the loss and moving forward through their life. And just to again, encourage maybe the [01:06:40] healing process even just a little bit, so hopefully you guys can tune into.

[01:06:44] Maya: Yeah, definitely October 11th. If you're listening to this another time, it's 20, 22 [01:06:50] Sept. Yeah, so it'll be at 7:00 PM Eastern and the link will be in the show note. So really excited about that. Well, Jen, before we let you go, you've given us so much information. [01:07:00] Thank you for sharing the story of, of you, your grief journey and of course the story of your incredible brother. But what I gotta ask before we let you go, [01:07:10] what would you wish? I mean, this is such a loaded question, but what do you wish you would've known as a surviving sibling before you lost your brother? What's, what's some little [01:07:20] pieces of advice or maybe a big piece of advice you can give us as surviving siblings or somebody, , that's like you, , two weeks, three weeks in maybe going into group thinking about it, thinking about [01:07:30] going to therapy, what do you wish you knew?

[01:07:33] Jen: So, I mean, honestly, I don't think there's anything I wish I had known before I lost him [01:07:40] because I don't think it would've meant anything to me. I, I don't think I would've been able to comprehend it in a way that I was able to comprehend it. Once I had lost him, [01:07:50] I will say the, the best piece of advice or the best thing anyone said to me like at the time of his death was to be kind and to be [01:08:00] gentle with yourself.

[01:08:01] And I read it in the email and I was like, huh, I wonder what that real, like, what does that mean? And, , weeks pass and months pass. And [01:08:10] I would find myself in these like crying fits right. Grief, bursts, and I would random things would set me off and I would get so irritated and I'd be like, why are you still doing this?

[01:08:19] And [01:08:20] I was like, oh, be kind to yourself. May, maybe that's what she meant. Like, so I don't know that I really knew it at the time. Like what it. What it meant. So I'm gonna [01:08:30] tell all of you now and anyone else who knows someone who maybe has lost a sibling or anyone be kind to yourself, let yourself feel what you're feeling [01:08:40] ignoring it, or getting angry at yourself for feeling it isn't.

[01:08:43] Is it gonna change them? It's not gonna make your feelings go away. Yeah. Let yourself have your feelings. And look, it, it [01:08:50] could take a year. It could take two years. It could take six years at, at some point though, it, it will feel a little easier. Your day will not feel quite as shitty. It won't [01:09:00] be such overwhelming pain or grasping for air every time you like, think about your sibling.

[01:09:05] But be patient with yourself and be kind. 

[01:09:09] Maya: That's great [01:09:10] advice. I wish I knew. I wish I knew what they meant too. I love that you said this because I'm sure there's a lot of you that have been told that or will be told that through your grief journey, be [01:09:20] kind to yourself, be patient with yourself and you feel so much pressure to move on, Ugh. At a certain point, or do certain things. Like, I [01:09:30] love that advice be kind yourself. And I love that. You just really define for us what that means. 

[01:09:34] Jen: I will also say that if anyone tells you to move on ju move on from them. I love [01:09:40] that. I mean, there there's no moving on from this, right? Because it just sort of gives the idea that it's something to get over and like put behind you [01:09:50] and it try doing that.

[01:09:51] I dare you. Like, it's not going to work. So like, there's a big difference. And we've talked about this between moving on and moving forward, we have to move forward. But like, it [01:10:00] doesn't mean we're leaving anyone behind doesn't mean we're just gonna get over this. And again, like I'm six years out, I'm sure.

[01:10:06] I'll be 20 years out and something, one day randomly is gonna make me [01:10:10] just start sobbing and that's just that's okay. That it is what it is and just be cool with that. So if someone tells you to move on, I'm telling you, move on from them. Turn the fat.[01:10:20] 

[01:10:20] Maya: Yep. It's happened to me. People told me that and I moved on from them. So another great, great piece of advice. Well, Jen, thank you again for sharing [01:10:30] your story LB's story. I again, feel him today here with us and thank you guys so much for listening. Where can we find you, Jen? Where can we find more about COPE? Obviously we're gonna [01:10:40] share all of the information in the show notes and where to find us for our exciting workshop.

[01:10:44] Can't wait to do it on October 11th guys, but again, where can we connect with you, Jen and 

[01:10:49] COPE? 

[01:10:49] Jen: [01:10:50] Sure. So COPE find them on Instagram Facebook it's COPE, which is connecting our paths eternally is the website. And if [01:11:00] you wanna send me an email it's one N and Jen, not two.

[01:11:05] So yeah, reach out. Yeah, join us.

[01:11:08] Maya: Wonderful. And [01:11:10] you will get a welcome wagon or welcome email from. Jen, right. 

[01:11:14] Jen: yeah, a hundred percent. 

[01:11:16] Maya: Awesome. Jen, thank you so much for being here today. 

[01:11:19] Jen: Maya thank [01:11:20] you for having me, but also thank you for doing this. And I remember when I first, cause I first saw this in one of the Facebook groups that were in a sibling loss too, or something, right.

[01:11:29] They [01:11:30] all sort of called the same thing. And I was like, oh, this woman's a fucking genius, like a podcast because there's nothing out there. I, I remember looking even [01:11:40] for books or, and I wasn't into podcasts really at the time, but I like, I was so desperate that I was looking at podcasts and there's like a couple out there, but it's.

[01:11:49] It's weird and [01:11:50] awkward and it's just poorly done and it's not really about sibling loss. And I was like, genius. She's just a genius. So thank you for for sharing your story [01:12:00] and for, and, and sharing it with everyone and, and allowing everyone else to have this space with you. 

[01:12:05] Maya: Thank you so much for listening to the surviving siblings podcast. If [01:12:10] 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 [01:12:20] 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 [01:12:30] follow us on all social media platforms. We're on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok at surviving siblings podcast. All links can be found [01:12:40] 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 [01:12:50] siblings.[01:13:00]

Jen SchwartzProfile Photo

Jen Schwartz

Sibling Loser

Jen Schwartz graduated from Long Island University at CW Post in 2007 with a Master’s Degree in School Counseling and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Psychology from Lehigh University. During her graduate school internship, Jen co-facilitated a bereavement support group for middle school students who had expressed a need for a space to talk about their losses and the impact it had on them.

In 2008, Jen started working as an educational advocate for the Long Island Advocacy Center (LIAC), assisting students with disabilities who were involved in the juvenile justice system, to obtain the appropriate educational services to be successful in school. Jen co-wrote a youth-centered curriculum and co-facilitated groups for teens with behavioral and/or emotional difficulties. LEAP (Learning, Exploring, Advocating, and Persevering) focused on helping teens to become more self-aware and to develop helpful communication skills so they could become self-advocates. She continues her work in advocacy and is now an Assistant Director for LIAC.

Jen also works as the Youth Engagement Director for the North Shore Jewish Center where she creates and implements programs for the synagogue’s youth groups. In 2015, Jen started jGAY! (Jewish Gay and Allied Youth), the first support group on Long Island for Jewish LGBTQ+ youth and families.

Most recently, Jen has partnered with a social worker to co-facilitate Gender and Neuro Diverse support groups for middle and high school students.

When Jen’s older brother passed suddenly in July 2016, she attended her first COPE (Connecting Our Paths Eternally) sibling support group. COPE Foundation is a non-profit grief and healing organization dedicated to helping parents, siblings, and families living with the loss of a child. She remembers feeling more connected to a group of strangers than to anyone else in her life at that time. She continues to attend the Long Island sibling group monthly, not because of her individual ‘need’ to attend, but because she knows there will always be someone new starting the group and if people stopped attending once they felt they didn’t ‘need’ it, then who would be there for the next person to show up?
After serving on COPE’s Family Advisory and Program Committees, and becoming a COPE Ambassador in December 2020, Jen joined COPE's Board of Directors in March 2021, and in November 2021 she and Larry Mergentime were elected as Co-Presidents of COPE.