Susan Heim, a writer for Chicken Soup For The Soul, asked me to write an article for a twin publication on bereavement geared to the parents of twins. At first it seemed unsuitable for twins to hear about the possibility of an untimely death of their twin. This column appeared in Triplets, Moms and More where families of twins can read about our organization:
The unthinkable can happen. One of your twins or triplets could vanish from your life. During a period of deep grief, how would you console each other and provide support for your surviving twin or triplet?
By addressing this uncomfortable subject, a dual purpose will be served. There is a remarkable connection between twins and other multiples. The link that binds twins together from before birth is crucial to understanding what happens when the bond is broken. It sheds light on what constitutes a twinship.
Mourning the loss of one’s twin can threaten the identity of the surviving twin, especially if separate identities have not yet been formed. Multiples can be helped to foster their own identity, along with their dual identity together as twins. As parents of multiples, great strides have been made in recent decades to encourage individuality along with the development of a close twin relationship.
Bereaved families can find value in support groups that exist for the loss of a twin or other multiples. It is important to know you are not alone. Isolation can become counterproductive to healing. Unfortunately, for years, that is how I felt in my grief. I questioned if I would become whole again without my twin. Knowing that I was still a twin was an insight I learned from doing the work of grieving and being involved with http://www.twinlesstwins.org.
A shared approach to life is something I was born into as a twin. This is hardwired into most twin relationships. Compared to a marriage partnership that starts before birth, twins learn to rely on each other in utero and this continues during their lifetime.
A turning point in my journey involved twin support and the validation I received from other twins who had experienced this loss. I grew as a person and learned to explore the depths of my emotions without judging myself. This encourages healing.
The goal with any loss is to find peace and some form of healing to progress forward in life with renewed meaning and the ability to feel joy again. This can only be achieved if you let yourself feel the pain from the loss. Society does not make it easy to grieve. Showing sorrow is viewed as a weakness. On the contrary – it takes strength and courage to grieve.
One of the biggest issues we face after a major loss is who will be present to support us in our voyage through grief. As parents of multiples you may never have to journey there in your mind, heart, or soul. Some will face this reality and understanding support people will facilitate their journey.
Contemplating life without our twin or child is unbearable. How would you console your surviving twin or triplet? I hope this article sheds value and meaning on your existing twin relationship or informs a bereaved family that support is available.
When I think back on who was remotely present for me as I started to grieve, it was not necessarily a reflection of their open-mindedness. How much a particular friend or family member can adapt is unpredictable.
The people we think possess this capacity, may not. Many elements enter into the picture. Fear of death, fear of change or fear of contamination can enter into the dynamic of who might be present for the journey through grief. Nothing can be taken for granted and people can vacate your world in an instant simply because their comfort zone has been violated. This is to be expected.
As a vulnerable grieving person, we may not be in a forward thinking mode. Anger is a natural part of the grief experience. I felt anger toward people who could not understand. I gave up explaining what I was feeling and it is dangerous to stop talking.
Feeling isolated and alone, my husband encouraged me to reach out to other twinless twins. A pitfall for me early on was that helpful family members encouraged me to “be there” for my parents because they had lost a child. No one acknowledged the feelings of loss welling up inside of me from suddenly having my other half ripped out of my life.
A twin may become frozen in their grief, waiting for someone to urge them to feel, as I was at the age of 21. At this tender age, my identical twin Paula was an innocent victim of a small plane crash. Shock took over, and then denial of the tragedy. My ability to repress what I was feeling carried me forward in my life. This instinctive protective mechanism saved me from something I was not prepared to face.
When I faced the grief head-on, Dr. Raymond Brandt was there for me, as the founder of Twinless Twins Support Group International. He was a remarkable man whose humility and compassion taught me lessons in life and loss.
From there I researched bereavement and the nature of the twin relationship. Sharing and building relationships with twins contributed to my healing. I have watched countless families come to conferences and meetings with surviving children as young as three years old. Parents share and the twins drink in each other’s stories of hope, learning from each other. In reality it is no different than the sharing you do within this group.
At a time of total upheaval, you may be called upon to keep your mind open to new people and ideas. Individuals possess the desire to help another. These people have traveled the path of loss and feel the strength of their convictions. They come from many walks of life to stand by another in the spirit of support, which validates their own experience. This is an important concept. Healing comes from helping others.
Communication can be frustrating for grieving parents. Staying open to the myriad of feelings that arise with grief is challenging. Accepting or offering support by linking lives with other twin families who have experienced this loss all contribute to healing.
Never deny or diminish the existence of the child who passed, at any age. You will be promoting healthy grieving by communicating and recalling memories to share and by actively listening. The simple gesture of respecting difficult twin birthdays can move mountains of hope. Remember that a surviving lone twin is struggling to define who they are without their twin.
Expanding your support outreach can be a reciprocally positive move. If you choose to rely solely on family, friends, and neighbors, you could be disappointed. I discovered other twins who have survived the loss of their twin to be an unending source of healing and learning. It is a two-way street and parents benefit as well. People can challenge their own fears or awkwardness by opening their hearts to the bereaved and simply speaking honestly. You can make a difference in someone’s life in this way.
Linda Pountney 2011
Tags: death of a twin, twin loss, twins