Season 1, Episode 7

Jenn Oglesbee, LCSW / Melissa 

Navigating the Devastating Sibling Loss of a Sister to Cancer: A Journey of  Transformation in Grief

Licensed Clinical Social Worker and sibling loss survivor, Jenn, shares her story of her love and grief for her sister Melissa from an extremely rare form of cancer.

      • Jenn’s grief was profound and all-consuming. She withdrew from her loved ones and lost all hope for the future.
      • She shares how she has begun to find ways to live with her grief including how her work has changed.
      • Jenn describes that after Melissa died, her ability to experience joy was muted.

Additional key points:

      • Jenn highlights that finding support for adult sibling loss is challenging due to the lack of resources and understanding of the unique grief associated with losing a sibling.
      • She also points out that many grief support groups are oriented towards people who have lost parents or spouses, which can leave adult sibling loss survivors feeling isolated and alone.
      • Together, Dr. Dean and Jenn explore and emphasize that grief including disenfranchised grief like sibling loss, is not something that is broken or needs to be fixed. Rather, as you will hear, it is a natural response to loss that should be normalized and accepted.
      • For more information on working with Jenn or reading her newsletter, please see her website.
sibling loss survivor Jenn O and her sister
Transcript

Dr. Dean: 

Hello and welcome to the Broken Pack, a podcast focused on giving adult survivors of sibling loss, a platform to share their stories and to be heard. Something that many sibling loss survivors state that they never have had. Sibling Loss is Misunderstood™. The Broken Pack exists to change that and to support survivors. I’m your host, Dr. Angela Dean.

Angela: 

In this episode Jenn shares her story of her love and her grief for her sister Melissa and how her loss has changed her personally and influenced her work Links to Jenn’s work can be found in the show notes So today we’re joined by Jen. thanks for coming on today. Thanks for having me.

Dr. Dean: 

You’re welcome. I was wondering if you wanted to tell the listeners a little bit about yourself before we get started with a deep story of what’s going on?

Jenn: 

Yeah, sure, I’m, Jen I live, suburbs of Philadelphia. I live with my husband, and I have two kids, they’re nine and five. professionally I am a grief educator and coach. I’m also a clinical social worker. had a big transition in the last year after my sister died. I was working as a life coach and, you know, everything changed after she died and I found myself on a different trajectory. I’m really excited to be here because I think it’s so important that we talk about grief. One of my big things is just like truth telling. so much power and, healing I think in telling our stories. And so I appreciate the opportunity to, to, come on and share mine. And I appreciate what you’re doing to give people a platform to share these stories.

Dr. Dean: 

thank you for that and I, I’m glad that this will be part of your healing process as well. were you a grief educator before your sister died?

Jenn: 

I was not. I was not. So I had worked for 15 years as a social worker. Ended up I did some, life coaching that was pretty transformative for me and ended up, and wanted wanted to work for myself and, kind of got a little burnt out on the social work scene, working for other people and, and felt called to do my own thing. So I started out doing the life coaching and and it was going great and I was feeling really good about it. And then, my sister died. I don’t know, every part of me rearranged and it just didn’t feel like the right thing anymore. And I wasn’t planning to become a grief educator, but I kept talking about grief all the time, everywhere. even like interviews that I was doing as life coaching ended up being interviews about grief. And I was like, I think this is just sort of space I wanna be in right now. And maybe. As I thought more about it, just knowing myself and my strengths and my interests, I was like, oh, I think that this might just be the place where I wanna be. because I really had a shock to the system, having my own life changing loss, learning how grief illiterate our culture is and how difficult it can be to find good support. And so I, saw an opportunity to To move into that space and, the more I did, the more it, it felt like a place I wanted to be.

Dr. Dean: 

for sure. That makes absolute sense. I can somewhat relate to that too. so before we get into the story, I have a question, follow up question on that.

Jenn: 

Sure.

Dr. Dean: 

as a. Licensed mental health professional who didn’t work with grief, did you feel you had enough training or understanding of grief, specifically sibling loss?

Jenn: 

no . So it’s been my experience that most mental health professionals don’t get much training in grief, and I was no exception to that. And the training that I did get was. don’t, I don’t even remember, but it was 15 years ago when I was in grad school. But it was probably like a, few lessons on the stages of grief, which are, you know, a outdated model at this point. so I went out and sought additional training, to kind of help me and I’m continuing to do more training. I’m enrolled in another training course now, and I started out just reading. I just, cuz as a, I think as a social worker, My first thing is when after my sister died, once I got my bearings a little bit was I went looking for resources. And so I was looking for all the books and all the groups and all the things. And as I started reading about grief, I realized just what a misunderstanding I had of it and how little we are taught how to live with grief and how to support people through grief. And it felt like a revelation as I started reading more. And so then I wanted to learn more. There’s, much to learn. We have, we all have a lot to learn. I think

Dr. Dean: 

Yeah, for sure., your, your experience was similar to mine. That’s how the broken pack formed is there’s not a lot of resources out there,

Jenn: 

Mm-hmm.

Dr. Dean: 

alright, so before we talk about losing your sister, what would you like me or our listeners to know about her?

Jenn: 

about Melissa. Oh gosh. she was,

Dr. Dean: 

Mm-hmm.

Jenn: 

funny, she was brilliant. She was super compassionate. was a truth teller, so she was the person who would say the thing everyone was thinking, but say it in a very kind way and everyone would be relieved and laugh. she brought a lot of a hh, levity to the room. she, worked as a veterinary technician. So her passion was animals. She was a musician, she was an artist, she was a nature lover. an incredible sister and friend and wife and aunt. time continues and I learn more from other people, like hearing her stories and things like that, like just the mark that she left. always nice to hear that. And, she was a really special person and had a smile that made everybody feel good and lit up the room. She brought the energy, in a really beautiful way,

Dr. Dean: 

Sounds lovely. Yeah. Well, thank you for

Jenn: 

sharing I You’re welcome. I actually didn’t call her Melissa. I called her sister. That’s what we call each other . So yeah, sister, I don’t even know we’re, we were very silly together and at some point 20 years ago, we were talking in silly voices and somehow that stuck so

Dr. Dean: 

Thank you for sharing that. Would you like me to refer to her as that?

Jenn: 

No, you can call her Melissa. Just if, uh, I might call her sister now and then normally that was just if I was talking to her, but sometimes when I’m talking about her, I’ll say that too.

Dr. Dean: 

probably makes you feel a little bit closer

Jenn: 

Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Dean: 

So let’s transition to the story of her loss. I know that in listening to a different podcast you spoke. She shared this idea of not always sharing the whole story, and I, I love that, that there are certain places that you can and can’t share your story. So that said, what would you like us to know about the loss in your story around the loss?

Jenn: 

a really long journey. So she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, April of 2016, and they thought it was benign, so it was really weird. Like my sister just gets in touch with me at work and was like, I have a brain tumor. she had had some like balance issues and vertigo for over a year that they had been trying to fix different ways, and I’m not sure why they didn’t do an mri, they thought it was benign. they were gonna go in, they were gonna take it out. She was gonna have a long recovery time, but all science pointed to it’s not cancerous, is what we thought because. a one in 2 million chance that it was a cancerous tumor. so the kind of cancer that my sister had was, is extremely rare in adults. so they got in there, they discovered otherwise, she did radiation, did not have to do chemo, and actually, a few months later was cancer free. But the thing that really changed for her in those first few years was the removal of the tumor left a giant hole in her cerebellum, which, if you know anything about the brain, how the brain works, the cerebellum like impacts basically everything. so her speech was impaired. she couldn’t walk unassisted. She, basically all of the things. we think of that make ourselves, us the things that we do, she couldn’t do anymore. So she couldn’t work anymore. She couldn’t drive anymore. She couldn’t play music, she couldn’t go hiking, she couldn’t make art. she had difficulty speaking. And of course that’s, you know, make all kinds of assumptions about you and your cognition when actually you just have a motor issue. and difficulty speaking. So, a really difficult transition because we got through the cancer and it was like, okay, she’s going to live as far as we know for now, but there were so many losses along the way. I mean, you can’t have all of those things taken away from you and not be a different person.. And one of the things that was happening is that they kept pushing the timeline for when they thought she was gonna improve or get better. they started throwing all the speech and physical therapy and occupational therapy at her. the brain’s very mysterious and how it heals or doesn’t heal. And so we thought for a while that she was going to get better. We thought she was gonna regain a lot of those skills. and after a year or two, I think we all sort of privately came to the conclusion that things were not going to change. My sister and I were incredibly close. so I think for me, I just had a, I didn’t, I couldn’t connect with her in the same way. She couldn’t talk on the phone, she couldn’t play with my kids. in the same ways. And so it was what we thought was the big challenge. It was like learning how to adjust to this big shift in our lives. And I had just started to get to the point, it took me a long time where I had to sort of accept that things were different and that we were gonna have to find new ways to be together. And then right around that time, which was in 2020, of course is also when the pandemic hit, discovered that her cancer had come back. But the thing about my sister’s tumor is that they actually think it might have been there since childhood. Like it was very slow growing, and so it was like, it’s back, but we don’t see any indication or reason right now to do chemo or anything like that. So we were just waiting and watching, waiting and watching for a long time, and. Medically, it’s super complicated and I don’t even know how to go into the whole story without taking way too much time and making it very complicated. But basically there was a turning point in the summer of 2021, and it was frustrating because. So I live in Pennsylvania. She was in North Carolina. Her husband, did an amazing job like managing her care and taking care of her. But there were just some things going on medically that I didn’t understand. Like it looked to me like she was in bad shape, even though everyone was telling us the scans look fine. could see declines in her cognition. She was having a lot of trouble eating. And, you know, me being a social worker, I just like releases to start talking with all of her doctors. And, was essentially trying to manage her medical care from three states away. it just took a quick turn even though the doctors were telling us that everything was fine or looked pretty good, which is like a whole nother tangent. I could go down about medically how these things are handled and how we talk to people about dying and, death in the medical community. And prepare people for some of those realities. she ended up going into palliative care. and the day that palliative care told us we might need to start considering hospice, they sent a hospice nurse out that day. This was in December of 2021. They sent a nurse out that day, the nurse listened to her lungs and said, I think this is her last night. So it was. We thought we were starting the process of hospice and then all of a sudden she was dying. So she had had recurring pneumonia and when the nurse listened to her lungs and she’d been in outta the hospital, it was being treated, but we could tell like it kept coming back. all of a sudden I had to hop on a plane. I had to find someone to take my kids cuz I really wanted my husband to come with me. have an amazing group of friends who rallied in, got my kids. Someone picked me up in Atlanta at 10 o’clock at night and drove me to Ashville, North Carolina at one o’clock in the morning and, got got my husband and I there and then she died on December 10th. So I got there in time, but she wasn’t awake. I had no idea we were even close to the last time when I had seen her in November. Cause I had been going down there about once a month to help out with her care and provide some caregiving. cancer just started spreading to her spine and. There were all kinds of complications that made it difficult or impossible to treat, or difficult, or impossible to tell what was going on until it just became a snowball. And then it was this is it. She’s, this is probably her last night. that was a huge shock, especially after we’d spent five years thinking that we were in the clear. I was able to be there with her. was not there at the moment that she passed. I had stepped outside. if you had asked me what’s the thing that you can’t survive, I would’ve said, I can’t survive the death of my sister. I mean, I remember when she first got diagnosed, my first thought was not her, just not anybody but her, not her. I can’t handle it, if something happens to her. I. Really in a rough place for, I’m still, I wouldn’t say it’s now, right? you know, it doesn’t, work like that. But, I am a pretty joyful person by nature and it was a very surreal experience to. Not really care about anything anymore. To see my kids and feel not connected with them, for me, it was a complete disintegration of self when my sister died, Everything was dark, nothing was good, nothing was, I had no hope. I couldn’t see the future. At all. and ended up basically taking a grief sabbatical from my coaching practice. I had some clients that I hung onto, I didn’t take anybody new. I was, I stopped doing any newsletters or marketing or anything. everything stopped. and last year, 2022 was not a good year.

Dr. Dean: 

Mm

Jenn: 

took me a long time and I’m still finding my way after that. yeah, I don’t know. she my only sibling, so that’s been a really, dynamic too, cuz. I was never prepared to be an only child, and there’s a lot that’s changed in my world now that I’m the only living child in my family.

Dr. Dean: 

Absolutely. Was she older or younger?

Jenn: 

She was younger, so she was two years younger than me, and my parents are divorced, so they divorced when I was nine and she was seven and then they both remarried two years later. she was my family. I mean, she was my constant. So when we would go back and forth between our parents’ houses and we were getting integrated into these blended families at a young age and all of these things, she was my constant, I think of her. I don’t know. To me she was like the through line of my life, like the, beginning to end. Like I thought, was my center of gravity for 40 years cuz she was 40 when she died. I’m 43 now. And, um, just always imagined that we would be there. I imagined that we would get older and, the women in my family live into their nineties, so I thought one day it’d just be me and my sister, like living together. husbands have passed, the kids have grown, and, we’re, doing old age together. It never occurred to me that I would have to do life without her, and that just didn’t even feel like a possibility.

Dr. Dean: 

Mm.

Jenn: 

so we were, I think in some ways extra close because, just cuz we liked each other, I mean we fought too, right? We were siblings, but, because of our family dynamics, we relied a lot on each other. And in some ways, she was the most constant person in my life for most of my.

Dr. Dean: 

which is what I think makes sibling loss so unique is that. Expect them to be there for so long. Like at some point we expect our parents to be gone, unfortunately, or other people come and go, but our siblings, we expect to be there in some capacity forever.

Jenn: 

Right. Yeah. I think people realize, like, I’m like that the longest relationship of your life, your sibling. Now it looks different for everybody. Not everyone’s close with their sibling. for me, That was my supposed to be in my head, like my 90, 95 year most important relationship, like beginning to end. yeah, and our, our spouses, our kids, whatever, they come into our lives later. But, she was, the bookend, I thought. And one of the things I really overwhelmed me when she died was just thinking about how long I was gonna be without her. Like, god. How am I gonna do 50 more years? you know, if I’m I’m lucky enough to get that time without her. overwhelms me sometimes, but I’m like, I know it’s not helpful to think about the next 50 years. So but I try not to. But, but you know, our go there, right?

Dr. Dean: 

Mm-hmm.. Well, it’s comforting in some way to think through the logic of it, right? That, that, okay. I’ve. Lived 40 years. Oh. And then that’s shocking, but that’s fi that’s potentially 50 years without this person. That was very grounding to you

Jenn: 

Mm-hmm.

Dr. Dean: 

and it sounds like you grounded each other through the, the chaos of, of going back and forth.

Jenn: 

Yes. Yeah. We were each other’s, point in a lot of ways, and just friends, also the person I told every little, you know, I sent goofy texts to, and I’m like, no one else cares about except for my husband, my, parents too. But they’re just little things in my life that I’m like, nobody will appreciate this like my sister would. which true for every loss, you have these unique things and you in these unique relationships. And, there’s those little pieces and then there’s the bigger pieces of the family dynamics. and how that has changed for me now that I don’t have a sibling.

Dr. Dean: 

That is always such a weird question now, right? How? Like how many siblings do you have? Or saying, even hearing you say, I’m an only child now. That’s an adjustment

Jenn: 

parents are age, you know, my dad’s turning 80 tomorrow. My parents are older. They’re aging. And you one of the things that keeps me up at night sometimes is, oh my God, I’m, I’m, gonna have to, like, when my parents die, I’m gonna have to do everything. I’m gonna have to deal with that loss in some ways by myself. I won’t have that sibling. And like stepmother died about a year before my sister was diagnosed. And it very comforting to have my sister, to have my stepbrothers, who I’m not nearly as close with. We didn’t really grow up together in the same. just to know that we were in it together. And I sometimes think, oh my gosh, I’m gonna have to do all that by myself. I’m gonna have to, even just the little things like I’m gonna have to go clean out their house and my sister’s not gonna be there to help me. And, decisions that are gonna have to be made as they get older. gonna be navigating that by myself and even the little things. My dad is hard to shop for what? To get, what To get dad for Christmas. Like, don’t, I don’t, have my sister anymore to be like, what, what, hell are we gonna get dad? it’s, just little things like that just never really thought about what it would be like to do those things alone.

Dr. Dean: 

Mm-hmm. So with the terminal illness, we tend to think of that being long and expected, and in some ways you had, and then you got relief from that and it was rather sudden, which goes back to your point of oftentimes physicians are not talking about death in a way that’s helpful to patients. which I see in my professional work as well. But as that happened because it was so sudden, I wonder how supported you felt in that immediate aftermath.

Jenn: 

I’m lucky, in some ways when you lose somebody, I don’t know that there’s, it ever feels like there’s enough support just because it’s such a, such an abyss and your needs are so ever changing and you don’t even know what you need. in the grand scheme of things, I’m very aware that I was lucky cuz I knew. knew in the summer that something was wrong with my sister and my friends were very aware that I was worried, and knew that I was talking with her doctors and knew that I was traveling down to North Carolina once a month and all of those things. and I’m also a person who’s very open, which not everyone is. And so for me, everybody knew what was going on cuz I, I, felt like I needed to talk about it. also, because of my profession, a lot of my friends are therapists, social workers, mental health professionals. So my circle of people is a circle of people who are comfortable kind of rushing in, in a crisis, comfortable with just sitting with me in dark places. Having said that, I think there was a unique aspect to losing someone during the pandemic because I really feel like my friends and my support system were amazing, and I wonder what it would have looked like if everyone in my life weren’t at this place of complete pandemic exhaustion and burnout where they only had so much to give. almost all of them are parents. And they just, they had limited resources, and were very generous with what they did have. I did feel supported. lucky. people knew how close my sister and I were. had a friend that I went to high school with who knew us a long time, and the first thing she said was, I don’t know how to explain to people how horrible this is, because just to say that she’s your sister doesn’t, feel adequate. You guys are like one soul, one heart, two bodies, That’s the only way I can describe it. And so I know that not everyone who loses a sibling gets that kind of support and attention, and so I feel grateful that I did do that now professionally. I had a harder time finding the right support. was very grateful to have friends, people in my life who, who, it and a husband who got it, and who was just amazingly, supportive and let me have whatever I need. but also know not everyone is that lucky.

Dr. Dean: 

Mm-hmm.. What was challenging professionally? Was it your work or you finding someone

Jenn: 

Finding support. So I started, within seven months I was, I was with three different therapists because I just did not feel like the first two people that I saw understood how to just like, me be sad , right? Like, remember I sat in a session with one. The first therapist that I saw, and I said, this was when I thought my sister was dying, but she hadn’t died yet. And I said, I feel like my insides are being clawed out. And she said, well, that seems a little harsh. And I’m like, yeah, it is a little harsh. That’s how it feel like she was trying to like, let’s, let’s reframe that in a different way. And I’m like, no, let’s just let me feel that my insides are being clawed out. That would be helpful. so part of it was trying to find a, a, therapist. Part of it was trying to find a support group. I had a really hard time, finding support for adult sibling loss. I had to be extremely tenacious and I think cause I am a social worker professionally, finding resources and doing that sort of thing is part of, of I do in my go-to in, in, crisis. took me a long time to find an adult sibling support group. I went to several support groups, were not like online kind of things that were not terribly helpful. I, I couldn’t find book very many books on sibling laws. The ones that I found, some of them were good and, some of them I just like to the side. I think it’s hard too that to find support in early grief. Like I think a lot of grief support is oriented to making meaning and whatever, but in those first, that in that beginning where you’re just trying to survive, like figure out how to be alive. find a lot of support for that. I did. Megan Devine, who I adore. And and her her work was really helpful for me. yeah, it just hard. I knew I wanted people who understood, and even in my circles, I had people who had lost parents. I had people, I didn’t know anybody who had lost a sibling. so it just felt very lone.

Dr. Dean: 

Yeah, for sure. and you knew what you needed, so it sounds like you. Stay in a, in a place that wasn’t supportive too long.

Jenn: 

Right, right. Which, I mean, that was me knowing professionally what my expectations were and, what, what, felt like good support to me and what didn’t. So, yeah, it was, it was, hard. I’m in the Philadelphia area, that’s, that’s another thing too, is like I’m in a major city, so that helps me have access to resources and, did find a sibling law support group and we’ve, we actually are still in touch. We see each other once a month or so. I feel like I’m, I’m, just lucky that I found the right people that we stuck together. Like it doesn’t always look that way. it’s, it’s, hard. I just felt like there was a void when I went looking for adult sibling loss support.

Dr. Dean: 

because there is, there is a void there, I’m on the, I’m in Pennsylvania too, but on the other side of the state.

Jenn: 

Oh, okay.

Dr. Dean: 

near Pittsburgh. Yeah. it’s also hard to be a therapist in

Jenn: 

Right.

Dr. Dean: 

do you feel that you have the support you need now?

Jenn: 

Yes and no. have a, a supportive therapist. I still have my support group people. It’s interesting because I feel like. what I’m noticing, and this is not anything that anyone in my life is doing, this is something that I’m doing. This is an internal story that I have. it’s been over a year. it’s hard for me to feel like my grief can still take up space. I feel like it took up so much space, like everyone in my life. husband, my friends, they’ve been here for a lot of it. And in my head I’ve noticed lately they’re ticker that I have, that I’ve done to myself, like, how long am I allowed to keep letting this take up space in my relationships? I find I’m keeping it closer to the vest, when it does show up for me It’s like there shouldn’t be a clock on it. And I know there’s not a clock on it, but in my head everyone’s probably tired of hearing about this certainly

Dr. Dean: 

So do you find yourself holding.

Jenn: 

Yeah.

Dr. Dean: 

Oh, absolutely.

Jenn: 

Yeah. And, I, I remember thinking after my sister died, I did feel supported my inner circles, but I wish that we had, I wish we still were black for a year after our people died. I feel there was no way to signal to the world, I am am not okay. I’m not myself right now. those rituals, I mean, my sister, when she died, It was December of 2021 and there was covid surge again at that time. So like we couldn’t have a full, memorial service. lot of those like rituals and things that we have in place, which are already sparse and few and far between in our culture. part I didn’t feel. just felt like some people. the people closest to me. Got it. But all my outer circles, I got all the platitudes and all the, you know, in for two weeks and then people were done as though after two weeks at all, it’s all better.

Dr. Dean: 

you mentioned Joy today, but I also recently re-listened to your, your talk on joy and grief. Would you mind sharing more about what that’s been like for you personally in this process?

Jenn: 

Yeah,

Dr. Dean: 

want to, that’s fine.

Jenn: 

no, I do. I’m happy to answer anything. I am a by nature or by nurture, who knows? I’m a pretty joyful person. I’m always a person who has been just Obsessed with being alive. I, I think the world is so beautiful, even though it’s ugly too. And I love big and I just have big feelings and I just a person who’s very engaged with the world around me, and really wanna soak it all in. and has always sort of believed in one way or another that things are gonna work out you. and my relationship with Joy is just different now. I still, it felt for me for a long time after my sister died, like that part of me was not accessible. I kind of feel like it was sort buried or in hibernation. And I, I think there was a part of me that knew it was still there, but it didn’t feel accessible to me at all. feels in and out more accessible to me now, there is something in my, worldview is just different. I don’t think it’s ever gonna be as bright and shiny as it was before. I’m so much more attuned to the pain in the world and the loss in the world and the unfairness of the world. And I think part of my coping strategy for that is to lean into joy where I can, it still plays a part for me. this idea that, are gonna be okay or, even my sense of safety is, is, not the same. you can’t throw a statistic at me anymore. My sister died from a cancer that has a one and 2 million, like a occurrence rate. So there’s no logic anymore to. How likely I feel that thing bad things are or aren’t going to happen. I, my joy is just, it’s just quieter now. It’s, It’s, a little muted around the edges. It’s just not quite as bright and shiny as it was, and I’m not sure that it’s ever going to be quite the same. Like I still believe that there’s a place for it, and I still believe. it sustains me in a lot of ways and that even when we lose someone, we are, we’re allowed to have those moments. I didn’t feel that way at first. It took me a long time to feel

Dr. Dean: 

right.

Jenn: 

allowed to feel happy and I didn’t have to feel badly about that. And I still struggle with that sometimes. yeah, it doesn’t, I don’t know. There’s a shininess to the world that’s just not quite there anymore, and. I’m not a stranger to loss. I lost my stepmom when she was 59. I lost my stepbrother when he was 19 from an overdose. I’ve lost grandparents. I’ve lost people. But then there, there’s the losses that touch you and change your life. And then they’re like the losses that floor you and, sister was the one that floored me and I don’t, and all those losses before colored my world. But this one just. Introduced some gray that I don’t think is ever gonna quite go away.

Dr. Dean: 

Well, that’s interesting too because like how, how could you not be floored by this when she was such a grounding force in your life and such a stable person? So it. I’m struck by actually the language that you’re using because the flooring and the, the idea of being so grounded. I guess what I was wondering is, of course Joy has a place even in our grief, which is hard to put together, I think culturally for. But we can’t appreciate one without the other. And I’m wondering, did you feel like there was any, I’m trying not to use this phrase, but I can’t come up with a better one, like the toxic positivity, did you feel some aversion or change in that after losing Melissa?

Jenn: 

Yeah, don’t know that I’ve ever been sort of a hardcore, like everything happens for a reason. Everything is happening for your highest good kind of person. I think I’ve always called a little bit of bull crap on. definitely now I’m like, and just like this idea that like it’s all gonna be okay. it’s so interesting cuz I think, yeah, I mean positivity is. everywhere. and definitely, I definitely have a much more visceral reaction to that now than I did before my sister died. think too, there’s something for me, and I ha I, this is still in formation, so I’m not sure I’m gonna articulate it well or that I even quite know what it looks like I think there’s a lot of pressure in our culture and just in the way we look at things to find the positive. and that’s how we get through. And I think what’s changed for me is maybe how we get through is we tell the truth about how hard it is and we’re able to connect in that way. And that’s what gets us through. we don’t have to try to put a spin on it. We don’t, we can actually tell the truth about how ugly and hard it is, and in that we’re gonna find what we need. To get through. so that feels a lot more true to me now than it ever did before because it’s a relief when people tell the truth, and you’re like, oh, I’m not alone.

Dr. Dean: 

which is the thing that you said at the beginning of this conversation about Melissa as being, one of the things that you very much valued about her was her ability to tell the truth when nobody else would.

Jenn: 

mean, she was so courageous. she sent me a letter in June of June or July of 2020 after her cancer came back. And I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was her that was the in, in, case I die letter. Here’s what you mean to me. Right. Right. started a death and dying book club early in 2021. I was like, if we’re, we don’t know what’s gonna happen, but let’s talk about, if need someone to go in that dark place with you, I will go in that dark place with you. And so we would read books and we would talk about it. don’t think we’d give people enough space to talk about those fears. To just sit with them in the dark places. we didn’t know if she was gonna be okay or not, but how many times when someone has cancer, is it, you’re gonna beat it, you’re gonna whatever. And we don’t know that. And b, it leaves people alone with like, well, what I don’t? Does anybody even wanna talk about that? so yeah, I was really, I mean, I think some of the bravest things that she did were, would be, she turned toward that and she wanted to talk about it and then, She was also very clear about not wanting to take a lot of extreme measures and, was willing to ex not accept in the sense that I’m at peace with it, I’m going to die. But accept it in the sense that like, there might might be something here that I can’t change. And, look like to just know that I, die? I don’t have to be at peace with that. I don’t have to like that. And I think it’s the same thing with grief. We don’t have to be at peace with it. We don’t have to like it. But, acceptance doesn’t mean that we are at peace with it or we like it. We just understand that we can’t change it.

Dr. Dean: 

Acceptance and approval are definitely not the same thing.

Jenn: 

exactly. Yeah.

Dr. Dean: 

Yeah. Do you think those conversations help prepare you knowing that she had already thought about those things?

Jenn: 

It helped me some. It’s interesting because we were having those conversations and then some things changed in her brain, which we didn’t realize until later what was happening. the conversation sort of stopped in the middle. And I think at the time, you her conclusion was that, you know that she had reached any, I don’t know that anybody reaches conclusions about, I don’t know, maybe they do, but none of us really know. So we’re all just kind our best to have an understanding of how we feel about that, about death and about dying. I don’t really know what conclusion she came to about it, but it helped me that we had those conversations. it helped me that she knew that I would go there with her and it helped me, because it’s really easy, especially cuz we were living far apart to feel like I wasn’t really there with her. And it’s funny, you know, you, scrolling through old messages she had sent me or whatever, after she died, which I have only done to varying degrees. I don’t even always, there’s so much stuff I haven’t even looked at. and, but there was a message that she sent. It was like a little meme and it was something about like, when things are hard I’ll sit with you in the dark. And my sister wrote me back and, and, she said this is is totally. And like at the time I was like, oh, that’s sweet. And now I’m like, oh my God, that means everything to me. That she felt like I was that person for her, or one of those people for her. what a gift that I even got that from her and, cause not everyone gets that. so, yeah, it, it, the most important thing to me, With this horrible situation that I can’t change, is that I felt like I could do what I could to show up for her, and I still have a lot of guilt and regret about things I didn’t do. I think that’s just, that comes with grief. That’s normal, right? I’m never gonna feel like I did everything right. I have some signs that I, that did what I hope was good enough.

Dr. Dean: 

Mm-hmm., do you wanna talk about how this has influenced where you are now and the community space that you’re moving towards? in grief support and education?

Jenn: 

Yeah. it sort of happened organically because I would just, in my personal life, I would just get on social and talk about grief. I have a newsletter from my coaching business and I really couldn’t talk about anything else. So I just talked about that. and I of tied it to you know, when we’re in tough transitions and things like that, and this was also a pandemic. And so, the response that I got to it, for me, telling my staff is part of how I cope. and, but I didn’t expect how much it resonated with people. And so people would, say like, gosh. thank you for sharing this. this was so helpful for me. I feel the same way. That kind of thing. And I ended up, a talk on grief. So I was a member of a Unitarian Universalist church and my minister was on my newsletter list and he was like, this could be a sermon. Do you wanna get up and talk about it? And I was like, yes, sure, I’ll get up and talk about it. So ended up giving this talk about grief and I just realized how good it felt to be in that space, to know that it was helping people, what I’ve learned about grief so far. Both professionally and personally is people just need to be witnessed. They need to be able to tell their truth. They need to have people not try to fix it, which is so countercultural. And I could go on a whole tangent about, capitalism and white supremacy and patriarchy and grief and all but it helps, easy it is, but how simple it is. Like what people need and what I needed. And so what I really wanna create you working on, is. Having spaces where people can show up and tell the whole truth and not feel like they have to put a positive spin on it. And have a very clear rule in all the spaces that I create. We don’t give advice, we don’t try to fix, like we are not broken. We don’t need someone to come in and fix our grief. We’re just here to share our experience and a place where we can tell the truth and. That feels really important to me. don’t think there are enough spaces where we can unequivocally tell the truth. And I think it needs to be not just with our therapist. Right? that’s nice. That’s good. That’s very important to have that one-on-one support. But I wanna be part of something bigger than that too, is sort of like a cultural kind of revolution happening with grief, I think, where people people are bringing it out. a lot of of people have paved the way for that already.

Dr. Dean: 

Yeah, for sure. And that’s part of our mission as well, is to start to open this conversation so that, we normalize grief. Because in our culture, that’s not true in other cultures. For sure. And when I tell my story, you’ll hear the culture that my family’s from. That’s a little bit more normal, but not so much. it’s interesting you mentioned the broken piece because I’ve been asked about the name of this and I don’t think people are broken. It’s more about the family structure being broken, the pack, than it is about us as individual. So, before we wrap up, I wanted to ask you, what is your favorite, or a few favorite memories that you have of Melissa and you

Jenn: 

gosh. funny. It’s like, give you some great story, but it’s like, just the little things, right? Like, know. I just have a lot of memories of us as kids, like playing outside and, I don’t, I don’t know. I, I don’t have, great memories of her with my kids. I mean, remember, you know, showing up as a proud aunt and I have a picture of her. She’s laying on the couch and she’s got my daughter on her chest and my cat on her knees and just like, what a comforting presence it was to have her there at that time. we, were silly together. when I was in my early twenties, I was living in North Carolina, she came and visited me and this was mostly my antics. And bless her, she would just come along, but we made like a music video. We like her twenties. And I was like, let’s just be goofy. So we like made these music videos. We like make up, we would make up dance routines and just. I don’t know. There’s something really special I think, if you have that relationship with your sibling, where you just create these whole worlds together. And so it was really special too, as a kid, and I think even sometimes in certain ways as adults, like create these memories together. I loved singing with her, so she, play ukulele and sing and it was always a really special time when we could sing together and have that time together.

Dr. Dean: 

I think sometimes it’s those smaller memories that keep us close. So thank you for sharing all of that. Have you watched any of those videos lately?

Jenn: 

find one of them, which is like gutting. I don’t know where it is. I have, I’ve watched some things. It’s interesting. been kind of collecting things, but I don’t always look at them. And I think part of it is, it does still make, I still have it’s happy, sad to look at those things. less painful than it was a year ago, but it still is a pain point. But also, of wanna stumble upon these things later. I love it when I, when Facebook sends me a memory or something that I’ve forgotten about or, I haven’t gone through all the cards and letters that she sent me. I think there’s a part of me that wants to hold those so that in a few years I can almost have a little visit from her. I can’t go see them multiple times, but ready to kind of like get to the end of all of the things I might find. So I’m doing it very slowly. kind of wanna stretch it out.

Dr. Dean: 

Yeah, that makes sense for sure. To allow yourself those surprises as come.

Jenn: 

Yeah.

Dr. Dean: 

is there anything we didn’t talk about or that you wanted to share that we, we didn’t get to?

Jenn: 

I think the only thing is just like what helped me, and this was in great part due to Megan Divine’s work, was like learning how to. just accept that grief was gonna be part of my life forever. And there’s something about just allowing grief as an uninvited guest. Like, I don’t want it here. I wish it would leave. I didn’t invite it in, but here you are at my table trying to figure out a way to be in relationship with it has been really helpful for me. Yeah. And so that’s what I’m learning how to do is just live along alongside of it. And I think when I figured out that that’s what I had to do, that I didn’t have to figure out how to get over it or get through it or heal it or, but just be with it, been a shift for me. guess the only other thing I would share is that, I do have a, a, community. I do work with people in grief. have a few things out there. So I have, a weekly newsletter called The Comfort Corner, and it’s really designed to normalize grief to help people feel seen and understood in their grief. have weekly little tick in your inbox to remind you that. you’re normal. It’s the world that’s not normal. The way we come to grief is not normal, but, you’re normal. you’re doing, however you’re feeling normal that. And then I do, free monthly groups called the Grief Snack Club, where we come together and, on virtually and, just a conversation space to talk about and tell the truth about grief. And then I also work with people one-on-one just to help them. Cope with the challenges of grief and have a place where they can tell the whole truth. Cuz I think that’s so important to be able to tell our whole story. And there aren’t a lot of places where we can just unravel the whole story. not not all parts of grief are beautiful and, not all relationships and all the people that we lose, it’s complicated. And so giving people a place where they can share that and tell that so I’m at jen osby.com. If, If, anyone wants to look me up there, sign up for the comfort corner and join some of our spaces.

Dr. Dean: 

I appreciate you sharing that. I was gonna ask. how we could contact you. So

Jenn: 

Yeah,

Dr. Dean: 

I’ve been wanting to jump on there myself and have not, our schedules haven’t aligned, so

Jenn: 

yeah.

Dr. Dean: 

soon. thank you. I really enjoyed talking to you and, I look forward to partnering with you and, continuing this conversation.

Jenn: 

Absolutely. I love what you’re doing. When I first saw what you were doing, I was like, yes, someone please come in cuz there is such a void. And uh, it just nice to know that. there’s a community out there, people who do, who are looking for this and do need it, and it is, needed. So I’m so glad that you’re doing it.

Dr. Dean: 

thank you. You too.

Jenn: 

Yeah, thank you.

Dr. Dean: 

Thank you so much for listening. Our theme song was written by Joe Mylwood and Brian Dean, and was performed by Joe Mylwood. If you would like more information on the Broken Pack, go to our website, the broken pack.com. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter, Wild Grief, to learn about opportunities and receive exclusive information and grieving tips for subscribers. Information on that, our social media and on our guests can be found in the show notes wherever you get your podcasts. Please follow, subscribe, and share. Thanks again.

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