The star of TV favorites like Reba and Sweet Magnolias talks about the influence her parents had on how she’s raising her own daughters

By Mary Green
April 16, 2021 10:00 AM
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joanna garcia swisher
Credit: Broadimage/Shutterstock

At first glance, it might seem like JoAnna Garcia Swisher has the picture perfect life.

The actress is married to former Major League Baseball player Nick Swisher, 40, with whom she shares two adorable daughters: Sailor, 4, and Emerson, 7. She also boasts a great 25-year career that includes starring roles in a string of TV favorites like Reba, Freaks and Geeks, Privileged, the Netflix hit Sweet Magnolias, and the recent Hallmark romance As Luck Would Have It opposite Downton Abbey star Allen Leech.

But over the past year, she's also had to deal with deep, personal loss, including the deaths of both of her parents and her grandmother.

In the new issue of PEOPLE, Swisher, 41, says, "It's a gaping hole. But I really believe that it's not what happens to you, it's what happens for you. And even in their passing, I know that it's not for nothing."

While grieving, Swisher says it's been important to her to be open with Sailor and Emerson about her emotions and find the strength to also pay tribute to her parents. "My daughters have watched me go through so much in the last year, from the highs of the success of Sweet Magnolias to the lowest of lows, to losing my parents," she says. "I'm super honest with those emotions. I don't really try to sugarcoat anything. But I also wake up every day and I have an incredible amount of gratitude."

"My mom was such a strong, capable, amazing woman," she says. "And my father was the ultimate father and feminist and just huge source of support. And I think that just solidified my strength. I mean it doesn't mean that I don't have my moments and doubts and fears and anything, but I really valued that undying support. So I only hope that I'm kind of modeling that same strength for my girls in finding their voice."

One thing currently bringing her joy: memories of shooting As Luck Would Have It in Ireland with close pal Leech. 

"Allen married my best friend's little sister," says Garcia Swisher. "They're like family to me. His mom actually cooked me dinner a couple of times while I was there shooting because no restaurants were open. It was a nice, comforting touch going over to be there with his family and Allen and to feel really well taken care of."

JoAnna Garcia Swisher
JoAnna Garcia Swisher
| Credit: Rachel Luna/Getty

For more from JoAnna Garcia Swisher, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now, or subscribe here.

Her favorite moment came at the end of filming, when they were shooting the big celebration, called a ceilidh. 

"People hadn't been to pubs and been able to share a pint and have a proper time together in a very long time," she says. "I think our last take, I think Allen said, 'Can we just listen to the music, the live music?' And so they said, 'Okay, one time for everyone.' And at the end, people were just so happy. They were like, 'It's been so long since we've had a chance to do that.'"