Surviving Co-Multiples, Twinless Twin, Lone Twin

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

Reading Resources

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.

Growing Up Twinless

Hi, I wanted to take the opportunity to share my story of what it’s like to grow up twinless. The few accounts I’ve read of before echo thoughts and feelings I have had and have helped me to replace some of the confusion with understanding. I hope that my sharing is able to help someone in some small way such as I’ve been helped.

My story begins around my sixteenth birthday when, for some unknown reason, I seemed to have hit a crisis point. I think it was the thoughts of suicide that really brought me to a point that things were as bad as they seemed. All I knew was what I told my mother on those many evenings when I would seek her out in the hopes that she might help me out of my pain. She would usually be ironing or doing some other household chore when I would enter the room and make my presence known. That’s about all I seemed able to achieve because when I tried to say something, the words wouldn’t come out. There were a couple of times though when in between the tears, I’d say “Mom, I don’t think I was made for this world.” I hadn’t found out yet that I had been one of twins and that my brother had died while still inutero. I could feel that I was creating an awkward situation for my mother. She told me later that she felt deeply for me, but just didn’t know of anything to say or do to make me better. Often, I would become angry with her.

For years, when I seemed to reach bottom, I would seek her out or someone else I thought that might be able to help me. I saw ministers, counselors and even tried to talk to a few friends, but I often walked away feeling more frustrated than anything. I did have this Sunday School teacher named Carol, who incidentally was a twin, whom I really bonded with. My own mother oftentimes became jealous and said many painful things that would keep me home in my room, alone, rather than with Carol. Though, as with the others, I couldn’t talk to Carol, I did feel something akin to a soothing effect around here.

The series of events that led up to me learning about my twinship began when a friend of mine suggested that I go to see this lady who was a psychic. Having come from a very religious home, I at first felt like this wasn’t an option for me, but I was desperate for someone to help me and so any hesitation I had soon melted away. I took my friend’s offer up and copied the lady’s phone number down. From a pay phone, I called her up to schedule a sitting and she gave me the day, time and place. I hung up, not placing very much hope in what I might encounter, but then a little hope was better than none.

I showed up at designated place and time and have to say that my first impression of things wasn’t a very good one. I could’ve just left, but I thought ‘I have nothing to lose’ so I stayed. And just in case she
might actually be psychic, I told her on our way back to her kitchen that I didn’t want to know anything about my future.

After I sat down opposite her at the kitchen table, she took out a set of regular playing cards with alot of marks on them. I didn’t know what the marks meant, but wondered for a minute where I could get a set 🙂 She had me separate them and then she shuffled them and laid them out into groups. She asked if I was going to become a minister, to which I replied “My parents would like me to.” She moved on to describe my parents and did a pretty good job, but still, I felt that she could have gathered all this from my demeanor and what had transpired from the moment I walked through the door.

Then… She told me that I had died near the beginning of my life. I was shocked! How could she know this? I knew that 8 hours after I was born my lungs collapsed and I had a near death experience that lasted 4 1/2 minutes. I confirmed her claim and listened on. She then stated that my mother was in labor for almost two weeks after I was born. I never heard of this and so I couldn’t confirm or deny it so she asked that I check with my mother and get back to her. Next, she asked if I had a twin. Again, I told her that my mother never said anything about a twin and again, she asked me to check with my mother and get back to her. She said that she was going to continue despite my uncertainty. What follows was her telling me that I did have a twin and that originally, I had been the one that had died and he the one that lived to be born and then undergo that near death experience I mentioned earlier. She told me that we were both there when the doctor was resuscitating him and that he had let me come into the body. Everything she said seemed to turn my world topsy turvy, but yet it was a world [which] resonated with me.

That night, I had dream. I was lying in my bed and feeling so alone as I usually did when I felt this brush against my arm. I didn’t need to look over because I could feel him. The only way to describe the experience was of everything that moved in me, all my feelings of lonliness and confusion, came to rest. This image came to my mind of this necklace with two pieces that had been broken into shards had come back together.

I rolled over and used my arm to raise my head as I looked at him. I asked “Who are you?” He replied “You know who I am.” I laughed. “yeah, I know who you are.” I said. I asked “How long have you been here?” He said “I’ve always been here.” I responded “Yes, I think I knew that.” Just then I yawned and he said “you’re tired. you should get some sleep.” I said “oh no, if I close my eyes, you’ll go away.” He said “No, I’ll always be here.” I did end up falling asleep by his side and then while still dreaming, time had passed so that it had become morning. My mother came into to wake me up, but in the course of the night I had fallen off of the bed leaving him to be the one she woke up. When I had heard her come in, I had stayed low so she couldn’t see me. After she left, we laughed that she had confused him for me and then the scene changed again and it was getting dark suddenly. I found myself out on our front porch looking down at my watch. The dream scene began to fade and I heard his voice saying “I’ll be back.”

While I was afraid during the first day to ask my mother about the things the psychic lady wanted me to, after the dream, I just had to know the truth and so, during a car ride to my grandmother’s house, I asked her.

I began with the question “Mom, were you in labor after I was born?” She jerked the staring wheel sending us off onto the birm as she turned to look at me in the back seat. “Who told you?” she asked me. I said “This lady.” She said “Yes, I was in labor, for almost 2 1/2 weeks.” “After you were born, the doctor had left the afterbirth in me,” I spoke over what she had said next as I then asked “Did I have a twin?”

She answered in the affirmative telling me that after being rushed to the emergency room because she couldn’t walk anymore, the doctors had removed the afterbirth and later reported to her that there had been a second baby, fully formed, but [whom] had stopped growing.” She told me that she never told anyone, not even my father about my twin. I came clean then about having visited this psychic lady who told me this and rather than getting chastized, was meant with a response that was more like awe and wonder about who this lady was.

Over the next 18 years (I’m now 34) I would have my mother repeat the story of my and my brother’s birth because it all still feels so unreal. Yet, I can feel its truth in my heart and over the years have come to make sense of much of my feelings and thoughts that seemed alien to me before. For instance, since I first encountered a black rose and its significance (age 11), I had alway requested one for my birthday. It was just one more thing that confirmed my grandmother’s statement that I was a strange child. I also had/have the habit of buying two pairs of shoes, two shirts, all two of the same. Even knowing what I know today still isn’t enough to squelch it. There’s also my odd habit of oftentimes referring to “we” rather than to me. I don’t really seem to be aware of this until it is brought to my attention by others. When I was around 12 years old, I remember reading this book called “Sybil” about a woman with multiple personalities and I would then go around telling people I had multiple personalities. Actually, I didn’t bear any of the symptoms of the disorder, but there was this one thing that Sybil reported and that was that she felt double. It was the only way I knew then to express how I felt. Of course, this too would startle my parents and relatives who just thought I was overly imaginative and had odd interests. Fast forward to when I turned 32. Since finding out at 16 years old that I had a twin brother, I found some measure of peace and understanding say for instance, of why I was always seeking out some other guy to bond with (an attempt to find a surrogate) or spending my last dime to buy a second pair of something that I didn’t need a second pair of.

It was at 32 though, that a lot of unrest came back to me. I could see that over the previous 10 years I had been struggling with issues of identity and career. And then there was this feeling, a pulling that was always present and would intensify whenever I wasn’t doing anything. So I would keep busy, but I could still feel it there dimly in the background. I knew what it was and it brought up all these thoughts and feelings. On one hand, I would ask myself if my twin were here, would he approve of me and what I did? What would it be like if he were here now or if he had been here instead of me? On the other hand, I wanted to deny him. How could someone I never knew have so much of an impact on me? I get angry and I don’t understand this. Yet I still have my mother recount the words she spoke so many times before “the doctor said there
had been a twin but..”

Last year, after a particularly difficult weekend, my mother had returned from a trip so excited to see me because of something she had wanted to share. She had been unaware of my depression the night before, of wondering what life would have been like if he had survived. She told me that in a dream she had the night before, that she and my father were returning from the casino when she was entering into the restaurant at the hotel when she was told that a table was being held for her. As she walked over to where it was at, she saw this guy from behind and when she got nearer he turned. She gasped she said because here was this guy who looked exactly like me, yet sheknew that I was not there because I had to work. She asked him “who are you?” and he smiled (she said she has my smile). He said his name was Nathaniel. She told him to wait right there while she went to get me, but as she walked away she woke up. Upon hearing this, I got this strong sense, as if he is somewhere living his life and though we are apart, we are each living out our lives to their completion until the day we won’t be separated again ever.

Today, I live day by day. With the help of Twinless Twins and opportunities to share my story I find some quieting of the pulling within me. It’s a compulsion I have to share with others, my twinship, not letting people miss this very important part of who I am despite the fact they might not be able to see otherwise. Sometimes, I feel as if I am leading two separate lives. Currently, I work as a dorm parent at a boarding school, but during the summers, spend an inordinate amount of time in Quebec volunteering.

There is the “French” me and then there is the “English” me. Though it can be exhausting at times, it feels natural and right. Yet there is still something that doesn’t seem quite right. When I come to think of a wife and children, which I feel my life incomplete without with, I can’t imagine any other person in my life meaning as much to me as my twin.

Because of this, I seem to be frozen in the feelings I come to have for others.

What the future [will] hold for me, I’m not sure. But despite my many struggles, including my struggle to believe in an afterworld and an existence beyond physical death. I hold onto the last words I heard in that dream before I awoke. “I’ll be back.”

Co-Multiple story of loss and unanswered concerns

As a co-multiple who has lost his twin, I’m looking at your site and have decided to attempt to connect, although I’m getting very frustrated in my efforts to learn about my own loss and how it has affected me. My identical twin was killed in a car wreck 40 years ago when we were 18.

Rather than grieving, I just went forward with the momentum of my life. I was smart, athletic, engaged. Life went on. My two remaining brothers and my parents did not share our grief and our family began to drift apart.

In my 20s, I dropped out of college, protested the draft and the war in Vietnam, found a passionate interest in woodworking (it runs in the family). I was willing to live on nothing for several years while I learned on my own. Was this struggle to do it on my own a sign of trouble? I also began to become very frustrated at my difficulty forming a good intimate, long lasting love relationship. I was experiencing more and more loneliness as my crowd slowly drifted into their careers and families.

I finally fell in love, got married at 40, bought a home, had a child, and spent the last 18 years fighting to do my craft, build the home and garden, be a very involved dad, and support my wife at home. It’s been an exhausting struggle, but I felt happy and fulfilled. Until my wife announced that she was leaving, last January, siting “my abusive anger”.

This has rocked my whole world. I was not very aware of my anger. I figured we had normal marital conflicts and thought we’d eventually work it out. Except that my wife was getting more and more distant and unwilling to have serious talk about our issues. So now I’m alone, working very hard to understand what has happened, and always coming back to all the grief and loneliness I feel in missing my twin.

My woodworking seems to be at a dead end, my family is still in conflict and can’t be relied upon, and I feel distant from my community no matter how hard I try to engage. I’ve slowly lost all the good Buddies I had to share my interests with, although I have many good friends, they just don’t seem to be there for the closeness I crave.

I’ve been trying to look into the twinless groups, but have been unable to find anyone who can share knowledge or experience about how being twinless may be causing me to loose all those I feel close to and to always end up feeling so desperately alone. I am looking for answers more than just sympathetic support.

Yours, Richard

It Should Have Been Her – A Surviving Co-Multiple’s Story

The cold words were a sharp slap across my face. This wasn’t what I needed or wanted to hear. I craved the warm, welcoming softness of a mother’s embrace – not these cruel words of betrayal.

Hiding in the garden within the shadows of the trees, I reminded myself that I had always walked in my twin brother’s shadow, trying to siphon off some scraps of the love that Mother showered him with. Why had I expected it to be different now?

Mother had never seen us as pair. My brother had always been her shining glory – I was just an unwanted extra that tagged along in the shadows. To the World, we had been two. But knowing that we were really one had given me the strength to stand firm.

But now he was gone. My mother had lost her favoured son, the one through whose eyes God smiled for her, and I had lost a part of my very self.

I tried hard to be quiet as I crept back into the house and upstairs. I didn’t want anyone to see “The One” as she had put it – the cursed one who had lived.

The events of the last few days swirled before my eyes. My brother was ill. I’d crept into his room and squeezed his hand.

“Let me share. We can fight it together,” I had chanted over and over trying to absorb his pain, trying to get him to wake up. He had tried to squeeze back, I know he had. Deep in my heart in the golden chamber that belonged to both of us – I knew!

But as I sat beside him, in walked our mother and she shoved me out of the bedroom. Her jealousy of me I had never understood. There was a constant wall between us and I had grown weary of trying to climb it. Mother resented the fact that my brother and I were a part of each other, co-multiple. She had always wanted him all to herself.,

He had hated her cloying love. His eyes mirrored his pain, when she pushed me aside. But we were children, powerless the way children are at that age.

Snorting and hiccuping, I crept into my twin’s room, which Mother had always shared with him. She had never allowed us to share a room in all of our ten years together. She had always tried to come between us. And now someone else had won. He had gone and I had no one with whom to share my hour of grief.

There on his bed lay his favourite green sweater. I picked it up and held it close. But is was just a piece of clothing – no warmth, not unconditional reassurance in its fibers. It was then that I knew that I was alone, so very alone and that my mother hated me.

The years have gone by and now I am fully grown and my mother his still never acknowledged my grief, as if to punish me for somehow being responsible for his death.

Mother had sent me away during the funeral. I never got to say goodbye. Never again got to squeeze his hand and let him know that I was there and that I loved him.

At sixteen, I ran away from home and have been alone ever since. I have no wish to put down roots and sometimes, when the loneliness is particularly overwhelming, I take out my most precious possession – a faded green sweater. A reminder that I, too, once belonged.

Vinda (pen name), survivor of a childhood disease which claimed her twin brother, British Columbia, Canada

You and I – Poem about loss

God sent you with me
To enter this world.
As I sputtered and gasped for breath I know you were marking
time behind me.
Together we had plotted our escape – from the all encompassing bubble.

Did I push and you shove?
Or did I shove and you push?
Maybe it was a greater force that propelled us head first into life.

Would we have always been close?
Would you always have watched my back?
For the stark bitter truth of reality separated us
Before life had a chance to mould the two of us.
Instead of both of us, I learned and bore the brunt of life’s lessons alone.

With a permanent chill along my spine
Moving on I found warmth and love.
But still the feeling of being unprotected haunts me.
No one watches my back any more.
But life teaches us to fight and survive
All the while knowing
God in his heaven
Knows where, what and why.

Poem by Vinda, who lost her twin brother at aged 5 years, when he succumbed to a childhood disease which they both had contracted.

Twin loss story

Was just messing around on my computer and found your site. I am a 51 yr. old male who lost my identical twin brother due to a car wreck 30 yrs. ago. The years that followed the loss were hell.

I turned to alcohol and drugs. I did not grieve, but tried to prove that I could be both of us. I caved in! 17 yrs after Joe’s death I knew I couldn’t go on. I joined A.A.and have been sober for 12 years using the 12 steps and meeting other twins in the program who had gone through the exact same experiences.

I have allowed myself to go through the grieving process, and turn the whole experience into helping others. I now have a wonderful full life. It took some time, growth, and a lot of understanding friends. Hope my story of loss can be of help to someone.

Thanks, Gene Gallagher