Sun. May 26th, 2024

Janice and Sonia were 15 when they lost their mum: ‘It taught us some lessons’

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May18,2024
Key Points
  • Twin musicians Janice and Sonia, who perform as Jayesslee, lost their mother at the age of 15.
  • In Australia, more than 1.2 million women lose their mothers before the age of 44.
  • New research formally explores the impact of mother loss on women.
Janice and Sonia Lee remember their first Mother’s Day without their mother as a “a very painful, heartbreaking experience”.
The twins were only 15 when their mother passed away after a seven-year fight with breast cancer.
“We didn’t dare cry in front of anybody, because they felt too sorry for us, and we knew that nobody could help us,” Janice told SBS Korean.

“So we would cry at home, and just cry and cry and call her name and hear no answer, and we would let ourselves feel it.”


A childhood photo of Janice and Sonia. Source: Supplied / Jayesslee

Breaking a six-year hiatus

Performing as , Janice and Sonia took YouTube by storm in the early-2010s with their uploads of acoustic cover songs garnering over 2.15 million subscribers.
These days, the twins are themselves mothers of two boys each.

In recent years, they have each been pursuing quiet careers as they navigate motherhood, marriage and divorce.

Ahead of Mother’s Day, they broke a six-year media hiatus to share their experience of mother loss.
“(This is) a way to show the kids how to be brave and stand up when you fall down, how to get back up and dream again and hope again and go for it even if it’s scary.

“So I think this is a time now where we get to show the kids how to do that, just like mum showed us,” Sonia said.


A Jayesslee concert held in 2014. Source: Supplied / Jayesslee

Impacts of mother loss

In Australia, more than 1.2 million women have lost their mothers before the age of 44, according to .
Danielle Snelling, who lost her mother at 23, co-founded MDA with Eloise Baker to help women like Janice and Sonia.

The not-for-profit charity organisation with 25,000 members recently collaborated with Deakin University to formally research the impacts of mother loss.

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Danielle Snelling (right) co-founded Motherless Daughters Australia with Eloise Baker. Source: Supplied / Motherless Daughters Australia

The study of nearly 3,000 Australian women found mother loss physically and mentally impacts on the quality of adult daughters’ lives.

It found dependency on mothers prior to their deaths was significantly associated with higher symptom rates of depression, anxiety, prolonged grief, post-traumatic stress and pain for bereaved daughters.
Snelling said her community’s anecdotal evidence and research showed that, as women, a daughter’s identity is often tightly entwined with a mother’s identity.

According to the research, 35 per cent of women were diagnosed with at least one psychiatric disorder after their mother’s death.

Depression or grief?

However, Snelling argued that in some cases, grief – “a very natural and normal response” – may have been diagnosed as depression.

“This has been specifically where there are no pre- or co-existing mental health issues. That … feeds into the notion that grief is something we get over and that there’s something wrong with us,” Snelling said.


Sonia Lee of Jayesslee shared her account of losing her mother. Source: SBS

Sonia shared that after her mother passed away, she started experiencing depression.

Additionally, she developed an eating disorder and her grades in school dropped. However, she did not fully understand what it meant to grieve at that time.
“It was that feeling of nothing matters anymore, the world seems dull, everything is the same.”

“We came home after she passed away at the hospital, home was exactly the same the couch, the furniture, everything was just as it was, but everything had changed, and that hole, that void, I think we didn’t know how to cope with that,” Sonia said.

Impacts of mother loss in migrant or intercultural families

The twins said another challenge was building a relationship with their father.

“It was her (my mother’s) greatest worry because our dad is a very Korean dad. He is very minimalistic with his words,” Sonia said.

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Sydney-based psycologist Elizabeth Lee has been practising for the past 10 years. Source: Supplied / Elizabeth Lee

Sydney-based psychologist Elizabeth Lee likened losing a mother to losing a “best ally” who can help with navigating the developmental challenges of life.

“If this is a migrant or intercultural family, things can be more complicated because migrants often experience a complex sense of displacement and identity loss,” she said.

In the case of migrant families, she said “motherless daughters could show psychological push-backs to their culture before they are able to formulate a new way of connecting with it”.


Janice and Sonia with their father and children. Source: Supplied / Jayesslee

Although the twins say they were able to build a “beautiful” father-and-daughter relationship, they missed their mother on milestones such as weddings and childbirth.

“It is a shame that we wish we could have just learned more from our mother especially with cultural complexities like dealing with in-laws. Wisdom and guidance … I think that was something that we missed out on,” Sonia said.

Coping with grief

However, the twins said they were lucky to have each other.

“Speaking about it was definitely one of the first steps of healing,” Sonia said.


Janice Lee of Jayesslee shared her personal experience of mother loss. Source: SBS

Lee also advised it is important to grieve.

“Talking to others is important. If you don’t have any family or friends to talk with, it can be in the form of professional help or through prayer and spiritual guidance,” she said.
As Mother’s Day approaches, Snelling encouraged people to show compassion for those who have lost their mother.
“Listening and acknowledging is the best thing you could do to someone who is grieving.” she said.
However, she highlighted the significance of selecting words thoughtfully.
“Some of those comments are that ‘she’s in a better place’ or ‘your mum would want you to be happy’. We know those things are really quite dismissive of the person’s grief and they shut down conversation,” she said.

Instead, Snelling suggested asking about a favourite memory or requesting to see a photo, and holding space for the person’s emotions.

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Janice and Sonia visit their mother’s grave with their children. Source: Supplied / Jayesslee

Janice and Sonia say their mother used to often repeat to them in Korean, “eommaga doeeobwa”, which means “when you become a mum, you will understand”.

Now, they say they understand their mother was “incredibly courageous”.
“We saw the transformation as she got sick and as the reality hit her that she’s not going to be here forever for us. As a mum, something switched in her, and it was the most powerful thing for us to witness because she was showing us how to be a mum later on,” Sonia said.
These lessons they now impart on their children.
“I keep saying she just left us so many gems to find along the way as we age,” Sonia said.
Readers seeking support with mental health can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. More information is available at .
 supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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2 thoughts on “Janice and Sonia were 15 when they lost their mum: ‘It taught us some lessons’”
  1. As a mother myself, reading about Janice and Sonia’s journey truly resonated with me. Losing a parent at such a young age can shape your entire perspective on life. It’s commendable how the twins have turned their pain into strength and are now inspiring others through their music and experiences.

  2. How did Janice and Sonia cope with the loss of their mother at such a young age? Did they have support during that difficult time?

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