twin death

“I Used to Be a Twin”: When One Twin Dies

When I saw the title of this article in the Chicago Sun Times, I stopped breathing for a second. “I Used to Be an Identical Twin.” In it, the author, Mary Mitchell, pens a beautiful tribute to her identical sister Marie who recently died of cancer. Marie left behind grieving children, grandchildren, and her beloved twin. Mary writes about spending as much time as possible with Marie while Marie’s health was rapidly declining from cancer. This was arguably the most difficult time in Mary’s life.

“Mary,” [Marie] said one night, crawling under the bed covers. “One day, you are going to have to say: I used to have a twin.”

Am I Still a Twin?

Twins who lose one another have the burden that others undergo with a significant loss: the redefining of oneself. Like a woman who has lost her husband of fifty years, a twin must also figure out how to define herself in the absence of her twin. Am I still a twin?

It could be argued that twins have it harder than the bereaved spouse. Whereas the spouse can recall a time when she was not “John’s wife,” the twin has only ever known what it is like to be a twin with a living twin sibling. Hence, the unsettling title of Mary Mitchell’s piece in the Chicago Sun Times.

The Grief is Greater Than Almost Any Other

There is an area of research measuring the loss and grief suffered by twins when their twin siblings die. Monozygotic twins tend to suffer more greatly than dizygotic twins. But both sets generally feel a greater sense of grief than their non-twin counterparts do when they lose a sibling or close family member. Twins also suffer more acutely when their co-twins die than when any other relative or friend dies (except their partner or spouse).

But There is Hope

In my book on raising emotionally healthy twins, I interviewed many an adult twin whose twin sibling died. Each individual story could break even the coldest of hearts. But in each story, there is at least a little hope that life can go on. Indeed, once the surviving twin fully confronts the reality of their sibling’s death and undergoes a full grieving cycle, they can move on to happy, fulfilling lives. One such hopeful story was that of identical twins Cody and Teddi.

Cody and Teddi were best friends throughout childhood and young adulthood. For their entire lives, they spoke to each other at least once or twice a day.

“We always spoke to each other right before bed, too, if for no other reason than to say good night to each other. Sometimes that call would be at three in the morning, but it was always just understood that she would be the last person I spoke to before going to sleep.”

When they were in their twenties, Teddi was tragically killed in a car accident. Upon learning of her sister’s death, Cody’s first thought was, How am I supposed to live without her? Cody couldn’t conceptualize how she could “go every day without hearing her voice.”

It took years for her to find comfort and peace. But she did find it.

Cody loves to describe her sister to her children. She tells them countless stories of their childhood. She also enjoys spending time with other people who knew Teddi well. Cody attributes her healing to realizing that she could replace talking to Teddi every day with talking about her and keeping her memory alive.


One thought on ““I Used to Be a Twin”: When One Twin Dies

  1. The issues and personal stories of twins is most helpful. I bought this book and there are invaluable insights to be gained.

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