The grieving of a twin

identical twinsThe grieving of a twin is difficult, and perhaps more so for an identical twin. 29 years ago, someone I was very close to, in a fairly rocky relationship with and had loved for just over six years committed suicide. It changed my life forever, and eventually forced me to look deeply within, and to make changes to how I lived my life.

Ultimately, it was for the better, and after about 10 years I saw David’s death as a gift, perhaps the greatest he had ever given me. I also started to see it as voluntary euthanasia, as if this had been legal, it would have been his option. The two mental illnesses he was living with, and hid from most others, was like a cancer in his heart and soul, something he could  not find a cure for, and so in this way, could have been seen as a terminal illness. Of course, this might just have been my own rationale for dealing with the grief.

Reconnecting with his twin brother three years ago after not having had contact for over 20 years was like walking into what might have been my own past, a there was a real sense of de ja vu. Seeing a man approximately 27 years older than when David died, but who looked and acted just like him was unnerving and re-opened the door to sadness and loss in a way I had not expected. To see the same beard twiddle, listen to the same quirky sense of humour, and see a person who for the most part is identical to David but older, was to walk into what my life might have been.

This grief now seems very complicated.

David’s foster parents refused to have a relationship with his twin brother John after the funeral, something I never understood at all until meeting up with him again. To see the person who has died, in ‘the flesh of another body’, highlights the reality of the loss in the starkest of ways. Whenever I receive a hand written letter from John, it is like receiving a letter from a dead man; the writing is identical too. The same goes for phone calls, as it took me over three years to tell the difference between their voices when they were both alive. It is virtually impossible to tell the difference now, and always startles me to hear ‘David’s voice.

I started writing about this last year as a friend and colleague of mine who I still volunteer with for The Bereaved Through Suicide Support Group Inc. is updating her book After Suicide: Help for the Bereaved, a book that I was also a major contributor to in the 90’s and has a strong ‘consumer content’, not just pure research. The twin grief is not in the first edition, and when I realised it was missing, I decided to not only write about it from my perspective, but I have also tried to find a surviving twin to contribute.

Those I have talked to so far do not wish to re-open the door to their grief for this book, and in fact have told me they are still hurting, almost as if the loss was yesterday. Some have said they felt as if “half of them died with their identical twin”, and they still feel this way. This seems desperately sad, and I understand them not wanting to open up their grief wounds. Sometimes shutting an emotional door is an ‘easier’ way to manage life, especially grief, although I do believe this probably has a detrimental affect to another part of their life or health. We cannot get them back, and so, in effect, have to ‘get over it’. Even if we don’t ‘get over it’, life goes on regardless, and, in spite of the pain.

The other thing about any grief or loss is many of us feel the need to share our pain with others who have experienced the same type of grief, the reason why grief support groups work so well. Perhaps twin grief needs its own sub support group, as it seems there are a few rather unique features to this type of grief, of which I have unearthed in my own grief, many years after this type of loss.

This insight has certainly helped me understand why David’s foster parents ‘deserted’ their other twin son. It must be truly horrific to lose a brother or sister, and then look in the mirror and ‘see’ them, and I suspect the same must be said for a parent losing an identical twin child. To bury someone, and then continue to ‘see’ them must be very confronting.

It is a very difficult topic to think about, and to write about, but as always doing so has helped me deal with my own feelings which were reopened three years ago. These feelings were then kept open through being more closely involved volunteering for the bereaved through suicide community in Adelaide for almost two years, helping the group through some tough times mostly due to a shortage of volunteers. It is always good to explore and clarify one’s own reactions and emotions, and to read and research about it.

Thankfully, there is so much more to be found on the topic of suicide grief now than there was 29 years ago. Have a look at the following sites and articles about this topic in particular; they also supplement and support what I had felt and thought.

Psychology Today Research says:

“Two key findings have emerged from the extant research on twin loss.  The first is that identical twins experience the loss somewhat more intensely than fraternal twins, although there is considerable overlap–the loss experience may be just as devastating for some fraternals. There is also evidence of less grief reduction over time for identical than fraternal twins, on average . The second finding is that the loss of a twin is associated with greater grief than the loss of any other relative, with the exception of a spouse. This make sense in evolutionary terms—in the absence of a partner, one cannot transmit genes to future generations. At the proximal level, spouses are the people chosen to be lifelong companions.  Interestingly, grief associated with spouse loss did not differ from grief associated with twin loss. Comparing the effects of twin loss versus spouse loss between surviving MZ and DZ twins would be revealing; however, my own sample of nearly 700 bereaved twins does not include sufficient numbers to support such an analysis. In addition, very few twins (fortunately!) have lost children, also precluding twin group analyses of such data.”

Follow the link to read more…

This is also a very interesting personal story of twin grief published by Online Mail in April 2013: ‘There’s no grief so shattering as losing your twin’ Here, with raw emotion, one woman reveals how her identical sister’s death almost drove her to suicide’

10 thoughts on “The grieving of a twin

  1. Imagine the hurt that David’s twin must have gone through, and is still going through. He not only lost a brother, but also a mother and father.


  2. Very interesting Kate, thank you. The twin/grief study sounds fascinating, and your connection is powerful. Your relationship with David and then Peter is complex and must be difficult to come to terms with. I have never had anything like that, but have lived with grief – mine and others during my work as a palliative care worker for people living with dementia & their families. I am constantly impressed with your work, and in particular with those left behind following suicide.


    • It was definitely a challenging time in my life, but it really has been one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given…thank you for your lovely friendship. Expect a parcel later this week xox


  3. WOW. way too close to my heart, I could NOT imagine a life without my twin sister, we still get mistaken for each other in our 40’s. My DH asks us to leave a who is it on the answering machine so he can respond appropriately to leaving the message. I think if I lost her it would be like losing a part of yourself xxx


    • It is losing a part of yourself. On March 8th 2017, my twin sister died from a sudden massive heart attack! I will NEVER get over the loss of my twin sister. My life is over, I just want to die so I can be with her! No one can help me. No therapist, medication, nothing! I am living a twin’s worst nightmare!


      • The most I can do is send virtual hugs… the twin brother of someone who died 32 years ago, has slowly recovered from the loss, but said he felt ‘half dead’ for a very long time xxxx


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