Twinless Twins, Surviving Co-multiple(s), Lone Twin, all of these terms have been used to describe a co-multiple(s) who has survived his or her multiple birth sibling(s).
The death of a co-multiple might have occurred in utero, been a stillbirth, occurred in early infancy, through an accident, murder, suicide, illness or natural causes. The effect on the survivor(s) has only recently been researched and acknowledgement made that this type of loss may be more difficult for the survivor, regardless of the age the loss occurred, than was previously thought. Some survivors call their loss (as it occurred later in life) ‘worse than losing a spouse.’ If one thinks about it, co-multiples have been together since conception and share a unique bond and lifestyle journey that majority of us do not. Changing “we” into “I” is not an easy transition and the first shared birthday alone, for example, can be extremely difficult. For surviving co-multiples who look a lot alike, looking in the mirror can be emotional as they are reminded of their deceased co-multiple or get mixed up as to who is really looking back at them, a challenge the majority of us do not have to face. It is important to not only recognize that this loss is unique, but that it also requires unique skills on the part of the professional for supporting and assisting survivors.
From time to time, I am approached by surviving co-multiples who would like to connect with other survivors. If this is you, send me an e-mail. Please include your age, age at loss, type of loss (e.g. illness, accident, stillborn, etc.) , whether you are male/female and gender of that of your co-multiple(s). I will do my best to find a connection for you.
If you are a multiple birth survivor and would like to share your story, please send me an email and let me know about how your loss has affected you. By sharing your story, it may be possible to help other surviving co-multiples with their grief journey. Please accept my sincerest condolences on your loss.
A neglected area of support, counsel, resources and understanding for twins, triplets and more are the experiences of those who lose their co-multiple(s). Multiple-birth individuals begin their lives together, but the odds are stacked against them in leaving the world at the same time. Whether the loss occurs in utero, at birth, shortly thereafter or along life’s journey, for the survivors the loss can be devastating.
Studies have shown that multiple birth babies begin their unique relationship in utero. The special bond that they have with each other doesn’t terminate with the death of one (or more) of them. While death may end the life of one or more co-multiple, it does not end the multiples’ relationship with each other. Turning ‘we’ into ‘I’ is not a simple task for the survivor(s).
I have been contacted by many multiples who lost their sibling(s) in utero and they express feeling “empty and/or unable to make and keep friends or have meaningful relationships.” Some indicate they feel robbed, unworthy, stalled in their life, having to make their parents happy by living a life for two, trying to live a life for two because they do not want their co-multiple’s life to have been wasted, survivor’s guilt, and so much more.
Monozygotic [MZ] (identical) multiples often feel as ‘one’ and may feel each other’s pain, share each other’s thoughts and report feeling incomplete when they are apart. They are reminded of their sibling each time they look in the mirror and several surviving MZ men report having a difficult time shaving after the death of their co-multiple. The task of shaving, which is common to most men, becomes an overwhelming reminder on a daily basis of his loss for the brother. One survivor grew a beard so that his reflection would not be a reminder of his brother. One MZ woman, who lost her twin sister in a car crash, reported being traumatized when she looked in her sister’s casket and thought she saw herself, dead. These types of blurring of the boundaries between one and the other are particularly difficult.
This does not mean that dizygotic [DZ] (fraternal) multiples do not also feel an intense bond between them. One adult woman who lost her co-multiple (a brother) from a childhood disease as 6-year olds noted that all of her life she had felt “lonely and alone,” in spite of a successful marriage, career and 3 beautiful children. “There is no one to watch my back,” she advised. Not only was she dealing with the loss of a special brother, but she also reported feeling guilty about surviving the disease that terminated her brother’s life. To make her mourning even more difficult, his things were packed up, given away and his name never mentioned again after he died. She was old enough at the time of his death to remember him well and was upset and confused by her family’s decision to pretend that he had never lived. Their decision left no space for her grief or the profound affect his loss made on her life.
It isn’t uncommon for surviving multiples to be very driven, often trying to live their lives for two, one for themselves and one for their deceased co-multiple(s). They may also feel a need to succeed in order to try to make their parents feel ‘happy.’
Or the opposite – a surviving triplet recounted that one sister died shortly after their births. A phone call to the family from the hospital indicating a second triplet had also died halted the funeral service, so that the two babies could be buried together. The wee survivor fought valiantly in hospital and had had 4 open-heart surgeries before she was 5 years old. At the age of 22 years, she was “stuck” in her life. Although she had managed to finish high school, she had done little else and felt she was drifting. She reported feeling melancholy, sad, guilty for putting her parents through the worries of her precarious health when they had already lost two babies, and very guilty that she had lived while her co-multiples had not.
It is highly unlikely that a deceased co-multiple would want their surviving co-multiple(s) to change places with them. I believe they would want their co-multiple(s) to live his or her life to the fullest, to succeed, to prosper and be happy. I would also suspect that they would want to be thought of from time to time, and have a little place in their sibling’s heart set aside to remember them.
Some concrete ways to remember your sibling(s) can include volunteer work in their memory, or making a donation to a special charity (perhaps annually – say your Birthday, or choose a date that is either meaningful to you or your deceased co-multiple), or having a tree planted in their memory. You might even find that when you have a child of your own, you may use your sibling’s name, even as a second name. All of these ways celebrate your sibling and his or her life, no matter how short.
If you feel that you simply cannot get over losing your co-multiple(s), consider asking your doctor to refer you to a bereavement counselor who understands the unique bonds that multiples share and what it can mean when those bonds are broken. Looking for support and understanding about what you are feeling doesn’t mean forgetting your co-multiple, but it does mean addressing your sorrow and pain and learning to handle it constructively so that you can indeed live your life to the fullest.
Here are a few resources, I have found which may assist you.
Living Without Your Twin, by Betty Jean Case, 2001, Tibbutt Publishing
Twin and Triplet Psychology, Edited by Audrey C. Sandbank, 1999, Routledge
Who Moved the Sun? A Twin Remembers, by Ron McKenzie, D.E.M. Publishing, 2011
The Lone Twin: Understanding Twin Bereavement and Loss, by Joan Woodward, 1998, Free Association Books
Entwined Lives, Nancy L. Segal, Ph.D., 2000, Penguin Books
Forever Linked: A Mother’s Journey Through Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome, by Erin Bruch, Philatory Ink, 2011
Men & Grief, by Carol Staudacher, 1991, New Harbinger Publications
On Children and Death, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, 1983, Collier Books
A Child’s View of Grief, by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., 1991, Center for Life and Transition
Twinless Twins was founded by Dr. Raymond W. Brandt many years after the accidental electrocution of his monozygotic brother, Robert, at age 20 years. Dr. Brandt died in June of 2001 and was buried on the 52nd anniversary of his brother’s death.