Submitted by his younger sister, Jillian Renschler

He was my hero

J.C. and his sister, Jillian
J.C. and his younger sister, Jillian

J.C. was my hero when I was a little girl. I was timid and shy. He was more of an extrovert and made friends easily. I spent my time reading books in my room. He spent his playing baseball and fishing.

When we were little and I was playing by myself at school, he would come get me and say, “Come play with my friends,” even though he was three and a half years older than me. He would do anything for me.

He never felt good enough

There was always a sadness about J.C. Even as a little kid, I could tell that he never felt good enough and was always seeking approval from the outside world. He had a learning disability, so school was hard for him. He was very smart and mechanically inclined, but I think he was always like, “Why am I not like everyone else in the family?” He was never quite comfortable in his own skin. You could tell that he was always trying to make everybody laugh so that they liked him.

All of his friends

We moved to an old Girl Scout camp when I was in sixth grade and J.C. was a freshman in high school. He and his friends would come over, hang out on the lake and smoke marijuana. At some point, it turned to heroin. That group of five or six friends all got into it together. I don’t think any of them realized what it was at the time — how devastating it would be on their lives. Now all but one of them has passed away.

All I could say is, ‘I love you’

J.C. struggled with addiction for over a decade. At first, I tried to help him any way I could, and we still had our relationship. Then he began stealing and I became scared of him. Then I was mad — mad he would continue to do something that was tearing apart our family.

One time he stole something from one of my grandparents. I was furious. I went to the pawn shop to get it back, and then went to see J.C. I wanted to be so angry, but all I could say is, “I love you. Why are you doing this?” He said, “I don’t know. I can’t help it.”

When I went away to college, it was easier to pretend I didn’t have a brother. To be quite frank, most of the time I hated him. But then I would see him again and I’d be overwhelmed with how much I loved him.

What I wish I knew then

There are billboards in Indiana now that say, “Know the facts. Understanding opioid use disorder.” But back when J.C. was going through it, there wasn’t a lot of information available about the disease. Nobody wanted to say he had an addiction. I feel like if people were more open about it and realized how many people it was affecting, there would be more resources for them. 

J.C. tried so hard

He was clean for a year after his son was born. He tried really hard to be there for him — and then I’m not sure what happened.

The last moment I shared with J.C., he was in jail. He had stolen from my mom on multiple occasions, and she finally said, “This isn’t going to stop” and reported him. It was the first time I had seen him sober in so long. He had gotten his GED. I was so proud of him.

Six months later, J.C. died of a heroin overdose.

If I could say one thing to J.C., it would be

I’d tell him, “You do not have to be ashamed of who you are. You are struggling with a disease. There is hope.”