What It’s Like to Lose a Twin

By Linda Pountney —

I was taken captive by life and death at the age of twenty-one.

My identical twin sister Paula and I faced life together for twenty-one years. We never imagined life without the other. As twins, we had an unspoken pact to care for one another. When she died suddenly in a small plane crash, I questioned who I was in the world without her. Could I even function in life without my twin?

Our losses are as unique and personal as our love. All bereavement experiences are different. For me, grieving for my sister came many years after she died. This does not negate the importance of who she was in my life.

Sibling loss can be overlooked at times. Left behind are a silent group of survivors – sisters and brothers who don’t feel entitled to their grief or are not capable of expressing it. Postponing grief can be the result. Children and teens are especially vulnerable, and post-traumatic stress syndrome can present a roadblock in their healing.

I am a veteran of loss. All of my siblings died when I was in my twenties. We all mourn in our own way and in our own time; each journey is unique. And mine is a perfect example of that.

A drunk driver killed my brother Peter. He was my protector, my all-knowing older brother. I looked up to him and we formed a close connection after my sister died. My newborn son had just met my cool older brother and instantly his uncle was removed from his life forever.

My brother’s death came eight years after I experienced the death of my identical twin Paula. The problem is I didn’t really experience the death of my twin at the time it happened. I cannot stress this enough; I did not cry and I did not mourn for my sister at the innocent, yet invincible age of twenty-one.

My two siblings both died in sudden accidents, of a traumatic nature. A decade later, my mother and father died from cancer. My entire family of origin was taken prematurely. I grieved for my parents and for my brother directly after theirs deaths. This was not the case when my twin sister died.

Neither the support nor the tools to grieve were available to me at the time of my sister’s death. A support group was not an option in the early 1970s. I was frozen in my expression of grief. My feelings of pain and sorrow were something I was not capable of owning. I ran away from the pain, only to have this delayed grief resurface years later. As I grieved for my brother, I simultaneously grieved for my twin sister.

Mourning two people at the same time proved a challenge, especially when one died many years earlier. My world became my grief, consuming most of my energy for a time. Its hold was relentless; I had no choice but to feel the stifled pain and sorrow from the loss of my twin sister. I questioned my sanity as I grieved for a death that happened eight years earlier. Still deep in grief for my brother, this newly surfacing expression of grief for my sister took hold of me with unyielding strength. These feelings appeared from another time in my life; it was as though Paula’s plane crashed yesterday.

A decade later, my parents died of cancer, one right after the other. As my last link to my sister and brother, their death took on new meaning. With each new loss, the delayed onset of grief for my twin sister surfaced. Grief will lay dormant, affecting your emotional and physical well-being. Once exposed, it cries out to be heard. My unfinished grief was prompted by the death of my brother, mother and ultimately my father. With caution I shared my inner world with only a selected few.

It could have been a survival mechanism or self preservation instinct that prevented me from emotionally facing my sister’s death at the age of twenty-one. Delaying my grief could have been a positive thing. I was not prepared to deal with the magnitude of the loss of my twin. What I do know is that delaying the grieving process is more common than we think. And I had absolutely no conscious choice in the matter.

Looking back, I can define traumatic moments that caused me to further repress my feelings of grief. My sister died in a head-on collision into the ocean. The physical mutilation, along with the sudden and violent nature of the airplane crash contributed to my overload. Waiting for her body to wash up and chosen to be the one to sign for my twin’s coffin at the airport proved to be traumatic for me.

I was not given permission to grieve as a mere sibling. Other relationships were deemed more important. I was counseled by more than one person to “take care of your mother.” These well-meaning people were just showing concern for my parents as they faced the tragic loss of their child. But they unknowingly took away my right to grieve. My role model, my older brother, did not show his sorrow and was probably protecting me by never mentioning my twin again. I will never know the impact this loss had on him.

Communication is essential for a healthy bereavement experience. Isolation comes with grieving a devastating loss. Telling your story, sharing with others in support group settings, and talking about your loved one is part of the healing process. I learned this the hard way.

Retrospectively there were signs, manifestations of a pain not yet felt in my life. When I was finally ready to mourn, everyone of my family members had died. I was alone; my isolation was painfully magnified. Mine was a hidden grief. I feared others would not understand. A safe environment is crucial to opening your heart to unfinished grief.

These were turning points in my avoidance of grief. I walked the road solo until I found a support group for twinless twins www.twinlesstwins.org. Other twins who had experienced the death of their twin gave validation to what I was feeling. During meetings, I saw my emotions mirrored in other twins. With this support came understanding. I moved forward in my expression of grief.

Sibling loss is misunderstood. Freedom to grieve may not exist for many siblings. And obviously, freedom to grieve can come many years after a death occurs. A brother or sister’s pain can be easily buried; it is not expected or deemed necessary. This can slow healing or delay it completely.

Involved with a Hospice program, I learned to give myself permission to grief for my sister. To express these feelings buried in time was liberating. Moving toward the pain, not running away from it, was the key. Being present to experience the pain without judging myself was of great importance. Unmasked or exposed years later, by a significant event or another loss, unfinished grief needs to be processed.

It has been a healing journey like no other. Being able to work through my grief and reach out to help others is the reward. Reaching out to another grieving person can make a difference in their journey and our own. Healing comes in wondrous ways.

Linda Pountney is Vice President of Twinless Twins Support Group International http://twinlesstwins.org offering support for twins and other multiples who have lost their twin due to death or estrangement.

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Linda Pountney

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Linda Pountney is the past Vice President of Twinless Twins Support Group International http://twinlesstwins.org, offering support for twins and other multiples who have lost their twin due to death or estrangement. At the age of twenty-one, Linda’s identical twin sister Paula died in a small plane crash. The effects of this trauma contributed to a delayed onset of Linda’s grief for her twin. Support resources were not available at that time. Without the tools to move forward in her life without her twin, Linda’s grieving process was delayed for years. A mother of two sons, Linda lives in Connecticut with her husband and youngest son. She has been published in national and international craft magazines, most recently on the healing power of scrapbooking. Linda has been a workshop facilitator on sudden traumatic loss, and using scrapbooking as a healing tool to process the emotions associated with grief. Memorializing her twin using the creative process has become a healing ritual for her. She has been a guest on “Healing the Grieving Heart” syndicated Internet radio show. Linda was featured on the television show “Inside Edition,” interviewed for “Good Morning America,” and “Good Housekeeping Magazine” about the effects of losing your twin. She has contributed to several bereavement books. Linda was published in “We Need Not Walk Alone,” the national magazine of The Compassionate Friends; “The Twinless Times Magazine,” “Scrapbook Retailer,” “Craft Trends Magazine,” and numerous trade publications. She is the Twinless Twins Public Awareness Coordinator, editor of “Twin Links” e-newsletter, and the founder of a Yahoo Discussion Group for Twinless Twins. Currently twin loss discussions take place on the facebook group Twinless Twins Support Group: http://www.facebook.com/groups/8156469513/

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  • Coretta "cory" says:

    Wooooow… After reading this, M speechless. Lost my twinsister on the 6th of November this year(2012)

  • Scott Sinclair says:

    Hi my name is Scott, I lost my twin sister in 2009 from sudden circumstances undiagnosed diabetes, she had a heart attack n was in a copma and died. I don’t think I have grieved properly and am still stuck on a slippery slope in my life with no direction or hope. my mum and dad and friends are my support as i have no other siblings but i miss her everyday.

    • Hi Scott
      I am sorry to hear that you lost your twin sister. It has been a few years for you, and if you feel like you have not grieved, I would suggest getting in touch with the Twinless Twins Support Group. It helped me immensely. I also was left without any siblings. It is worth it to share with another twinless twin who can understand to help you move along on your journey.
      Best, Linda

  • Carol Sullivan says:

    I lost my twin sister April 27th. 15 days after our 70th BDAY it has almost been a year. We were very close at the age of 36 I moved to az and she stayed in ma both of us married, talked 2 times a day , we were both givers but by far she gave more of herself to help whoever needed it. I spent 4weeks every summer with Linda at her home near the ocean. My siblings act like nothing has happened and they just carry on. I cannot seem to come around to feel energized about anything, going to bed is so hard as so many memories of our youth come to my mind,good and funny times , we had arguments thou not many but we both knew our love would always prevail she loved me so and I so loved her we could laugh like no others I was with her and took her home for her finial days, actually I was lying in the hospice bed with my arms around her, Linda said. I am going to break your heart for I am dying now and I told her my heart would always be with her and she sighed a moment and was gone and I just cannot seem to get back on track of living. It’s like my soul and heart went with her, i miss her so. I am afraid I cannot get back to wanting a life

    • Hi Carol

      Your story about your twin Linda’s final hours, in your arms, made me cry, but the story of what you both shared is glorious. I am so sorry for your loss. I know what it was like for me to lose my twin and how hard it is to want to choose living in a positive way. It takes some time, but it also is important to be able to talk with other twins who know what you are feeling. You will get back to wanting life. It is still very early in your loss and I am sure your siblings want it to be okay for you. Death is hard to talk about and your twin closeness can be something others are jealous of or do not understand.

      You live in AZ from what I gather and I live in CT. The organization twinlesstwins.org holds meetings around the country. We have one here in Maine in May, but I also know AZ has meetings. If you go on the website and locate the state you live in, just email to contact the regional coordinator in your area and they will get back in touch with you. I know your heart will always be with your twin, but I also know she would want you to enjoy those who love you and those that you love, experience life fully and continue on, with Linda in your heart.

      Thank you for writing and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
      In twinship,
      Linda Pountney, twin to Paula