The Death of a Twin Brings on a Special Grief

BY: Diane Snyder Cowan

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

While I am aware of the significant bond between siblings, a presentation by Jacqueline Hatch on twinless twins at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Clinical Conference, offered many new insights on the unique bond between twins. What struck me was the concept that when a twin dies, it is the first time the remaining twin is ever alone.

According to a report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of twins increased 76 percent between 1980-2009. One in 30 babies born in the United States is a twin. There are a number of reasons for this including age, fertility drugs and other factors. Consequently, there will be many more twinless twins needing our support and understanding.

Consider this…..

The twin bond begins at conception. At 16 weeks, the fetus has an awareness of self in space. The single fetus explores his or her own body and surroundings. Twins explore each other. At four-and-a-half months, the senses begin to develop and there is room to interact. The single fetus develops independence, twins develop interdependence. At six months, space tightens in utero. There can be game playing or acts of aggression.

Twins, come in for dinner. Oh, don’t the twins look cute today! Are the twins coming to the celebration?

After birth, the relationship between twins continues to grow. There are shared milestones and shared identities. A twin has a built in protector. The bond can be conscious or unconscious and separate paths do not change the bond. A twinless twin experiences grief that has many things in common with the death of spouse. However, spouses are people chosen to be lifelong companions. Twins are automatically lifelong companions.

This was my big take away from the session: when a twin dies, it if the first time the surviving twin has ever been alone. All other people live as an individual before developing a relationship with another person. The presence of each twin is built into the other being. Twins literally do not know how to exist as one. When a twin dies, the twinless twin longs to reconnect. The twinless twin may have phantom pain or feel half dead. He or she may feel a need to represent both him or herself and the deceased twin or may even take on behaviors of the deceased twin.

Dr. Raymond Brandt, founder of the Twinless Twins Support groups in 1986 states “once a twin, always a twin.” Dr. Brandt was a therapist from Fort Wayne, IN whose identical twin died decades earlier.

Unless you are a twin, you will not truly understand the depth of this bond. Nevertheless, all of us can be supportive with a heightened sensitivity to this very special connection

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