On October 1st 1986, I dressed for the first time in my life, entirely in black. It was a cold foggy day and something felt ‘different’. I was in my second year at college and was 20 years old. I went to college and during the day I got the fantastic news that I had been chosen for a work experience placement in Italy. This was a dream come true for me – I was studying fashion and what better place to go. I felt that my career was finally going places – and I thought that was the reason that I was feeling ‘different’ that morning. This was the best day of my life.
I went back home that night with my flatmate and we started celebrating my good news with wine and loud music. As we were in the attic room in our flat, I didn’t hear my parents knocking on the door. Eventually during a lull in the music, I heard the phone ringing from way downstairs. Giggling, I ran down and answered it. It was my mother asking me “how do we get into your flat?”. I remember saying “why do you need to know that?” and “who is ‘we?”, but I didn’t get a coherent answer. I just remember going downstairs and out the door into the cold foggy night to see both my parents coming out of the mist from the direction of the payphone and wondered ‘what on earth is going on?’. (My parents had been divorced for quite a few years and my father re-married by this point). I seriously thought they had come to tell me that the cat had died; he was a very special cat.
But no. They had come to tell me that the best day of my life was to become the worst day of my life. My darling twin sister Jane was dead. She had finally succeeded in taking her own life.
I couldn’t believe what they were telling me. I couldn’t take it in. I never, ever thought this would actually happen. I really hoped they were joking and that it hadn’t happened and it was the cat after all. Then I realised they were serious and this was real and she was dead.
I remember being driven the 40 miles back to my mother’s house, staring out the back window the whole time, desperately wanting the car to stop going forwards and to go backwards in time. Every minute was torture. I thought I was having a heart attack as I had an excruciating pain through my heart – all I could think was that it was breaking.
I ended my first day as a lone twin watching a Prince concert on TV – in some attempt to block out what I couldn’t comprehend – that my sister was dead, my life had changed forever and there was nothing that I could do about it. My 20 year old head couldn’t deal with this,; now I knew why I had worn black that day.
She had tried many times before to end her life, some I knew about and probably many that I didn’t. Before I had left home to go to college she had had an ‘incident’; some kind of attempt when we were around eighteen. I still don’t think I was ever told the details of that and don’t remember asking her, although I feel sure I must have.
On the day I was going away to college, we said goodbye to each other before she had to get her bus to the HE college we had both been at. We kissed and hugged and promised to write everyday. I will never forget her walking away down the path – I called after her for one more hug, but she didn’t look back and I didn’t have my shoes on so I didn’t run after her. To this day that is the biggest regret of my life. Why didn’t I go after her? Why didn’t she look back?
Not even two weeks into my new college life, I called home to speak with her only to be told that she was in hospital after trying to kill herself. I instantly blamed myself for not going after her that day. For not letting her know that I can only do this with her here, that I was doing this for the benefit of both of us. Over the next two years she made many more attempts, was diagnosed as clinically depressed, schizophrenic, and was sectioned numerous times in awful institutions, with medication to match. Because I continued my course, I was unaware of many of the things she did that upset and annoyed and frustrated other people.
She was extremely disturbed and no-one could get through – not even me, when I did see her. She thought she had to die in order for me to live. She wrote that to me many times, it was so hard to read. I desperately wanted to leave college to be with her and try to help. But everyone told me to carry on and for some stupid reason I did. I suppose it would have meant living at home again and neither of us wanted to do that.
We did write to each other – often more than twice a week – I still have all our letters – hers to me and mine to her. They are amazingly bright and bubbly (some of them) and funny – she had a naughty sense of humour – even when in a secure unit. I always realised that she was covering up what was really going on for her and I could do nothing else but go along with that. When I read our letters now, it brings her alive again and I feel like she is still here and I feel whole again.
It has now been nearly 23 years since she died. For the first 17 of those I put all my grief in a big box called ‘denial’ in the back of my head – Do Not Open. I vividly remember thinking – I can’t possibly deal with this now, I just don’t know how to, this will have to wait. And it did. Then, about 6 years ago I had a ‘breakdown’ and was diagnosed as clinically depressed myself. I had hit a brick wall mentally and had the vision that the big box in my head had burst its sides – now I had to deal with this. There was such a mess to clear up, and I was always the tidy one after all.
Five years of therapy later, and I can cope a lot better. I miss her desperately everyday, that will never change and I don’t want it to. I’m the only one who wants/needs to remember her, she isn’t mentioned much, if at all, in my family.
We had an older brother too, but he died 14 years ago of pneumonia, so now I am an only child, with no-one to share our memories with. This saddens me hugely.
The other major thing that has helped is being a member of the LTN. Although my therapy was very important (I had other issues I needed to talk through), what I really needed was to be properly understood as someone who has lost their twin – something I wasn’t getting from anywhere. At my first meeting I was nervous beyond belief, while at the same time feeling so accepted for being me, and being allowed to have a voice for once and for people to listen to me. I was also surprised to meet one or two people who had been through a very similar experience with their twins as I had. This was as comforting as it was upsetting. I couldn’t bear the thought that anyone felt as bad as I did. I wished I could take their pain away.
I finally felt that I belonged to something again; something that validated what was going on in my head and my heart – I felt ‘normal’ at these meetings. I value the LTN enormously and continue to go to the meetings and give and receive support from all who come.
How hard it is to tell. Just sitting here trying to start makes me cry. It is 15 years or so since Arnie died and it is still so raw. Yes I have learnt to live with it, and probably no one knows how much it hurts, and those I have met in recent years may not even know. So superficially I seem fine to others.
I was at work and it was still early when my husband arrived to tell me that Arnie had suddenly died in the night. I had only spoken to him the previous evening and he had had a busy weekend re doing a driveway with neighbours. He had died during the night of a massive cramp in his heart. His wife, a qualified nurse who had worked with heart transplants, was unable to resuscitate him, even with the help of a neighbour. The sheer disbelief and shock is still with me.
And I sit here still thinking what else to say and cry.
They sometimes say that loss can bring families and people closer. In my experience that is not so. If anything it has driven me apart from others. Why I do not know. It may be my fault, I don’t find it easy to talk about my feelings, and it has never got any easier. I lost another younger brother some years before, and Arnie and I worked our way through that one as we had to cope with the arrangements and telling everyone, including parents, at the time, as both parents were in different hospitals. Arnie was my friend, soul mate, and part of me. We were not always together, and did not always agree, but when we needed each other we were there for each other. As a twin there is some sort of total acceptance that they are a part of you. And that part is now missing.
I still wear the gold chain he bought me for our 21st. The other weekend I thought I had lost it as it was not on my neck. The loss was devastating, fortunately I found it. But how upset I was. I still find it difficult to look at old photos. Other than a photo I have by my mirror, I do not look at the old photos – I can’t.
Sometimes I wonder what he would look like now. I still visualize his walk, his smile and know his mannerisms so well. I dream sometimes of him walking towards me, and it is so real.
It is 21 years since the death of my twin Ian and by way of remembrance I thought I should share my thoughts and feelings with other lone twins.
It has felt like taking a different fork in the road of life ever since I learned of his death. At the time it felt my life had to start again. His death came as a complete shock as he was a healthy 26 year old with a great zest for life. We will never be certain but evidence leads to the fact he decided to end his own life just when he was in his prime.
As twins in similar circumstances may have experienced, it is a lifelong experience coming to terms with such a tragedy. However, at this time when the anniversary recurs, I feel able to express to others that, although the process at times of grieving and finally acceptance is tortuous and sometimes leads to “dark places”, there is always light at the end the end of the tunnel.
I am able to remember and reflect positively on the 26 years of Ian’s life rather than be sad for the 20 years he has not been around. I think this is the key for a lone twin in such circumstances, that is, to be positive for what you have experienced rather than to focus on what “could have been”.
There are so many happy and humorous times I can treasure and I regularly do. His name and influence remain a daily part of my life and I laughed to myself the other day when I met one of his old girlfriends unexpectedly-I feel this was his way of saying “hey I am still around in spirit if not in body!” I genuinely feel he is still around in spirit and this is of great comfort to me.
I hope these thoughts resonate with others in the network and I feel better for sharing! Thank you for reading and best wishes to you all.
How could one live and the other die? This is a question that has begged an answer from me for many a year. Both genetically identical and with the same environment to nurture them, how is it that one twin is spared to see three score years and ten and the other dies at 42 years of age? I am here to tell my story which is really ‘our’ story. Jean isn’t here to tell it from her perspective. I suspect this could have been a different story altogether. I want to be fair to ‘both’ of ‘us’ and I trust that the reader will appreciate my dilemma. Triumphalism is not my intention but rather that of gratitude and humility.
I nearly wasn’t going to be born. I was not known about until a couple of weeks prior to birth. Mother expected one baby and found herself with two! In the days before scans and scarcely any X rays this was not unusual. How do I know that I was the undiagnosed twin? A good question and one frequently asked. From childhood and into adult years a nightmare besieged me. I was being suffocated in a small space by a large presence that sought to overwhelm and occlude me. Once I had recognised the significance of this dream it has faded. I need no further proof.
Identical twins evoke excitement, uniqueness, curiosity. Curiosity is certainly the word here. Jean and I were indiscernible from one another but for a few hidden birth marks. Dressed exactly alike with fair, curly hair heads turned constantly to take another look. Maybe they checked that they were not seeing double. ‘We’ appeared in public dressed alike until ‘our’ late teens. ‘Our’ mother would not allow anything other than this. I squirmed with discomfort at the precise perfection of it all. Every photograph without exception is of ‘us’ together. I longed to be ordinary, separate and a singleton but knew that I would always be different in the world. Death of the other does not annul this. Inasmuch as royalty cannot know how it is not to be ’royal’, neither do I know how it is not to be a twin.
You may have noticed my language – ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our’. It’s hard to get away from a dual identity referring to oneself as ‘us’ or ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ when years have been spent conjoined as it were to another who is a clone of oneself. I use the word ‘conjoined’ because in my experience we were as such to each other both psychologically and emotionally and to a greater extent for identity that is our sense of self or knowing who we were. I was to learn that Jean relied on me for her identity more deeply than I needed to. This is the conundrum. How is it that our paths separated and Jean met a premature death?
Already I can hear you saying, ‘wasn’t it fun being a twin, having a playmate? Yes, we got up to tricks together, playing happily in the coal cupboard; removing labels from tins during wartime food rationing; removing icing from the back of our cousin’s birthday cake hoping no one would notice. I was the ringleader and abetted Jean into pranks that I revelled in. Flung out into the big world from home to school, we clung to each other, terrified. We had met very few other children until this time. Seeing desks for two children to sit alongside each other (as they used to) I immediately thought that they were desks for twins. That was my world – double of everything including double of me.
How do twins make friends when socially they have only related to another identical to themselves? Frequently Jean and I shared one friend for in effect we were one person. There was competition to be ‘the twin’s’ friend. Guessing games to see ‘who was who’ were all too often distasteful and embarrassing. My name was invariably ‘twinny’ for then I could be either Jean or Rosemary.
I longed to break away from the twin mould as a means to survive. I chaffed at the confines of ‘twinness’ and very possessive, over protective parents. Jean and I were the only children of older parents. Jean became a teacher and I a nurse. As soon as I could I announced that I was going to South America for four years as a missionary nurse. It was a bid for freedom although I didn’t see it like that at the time. This pre-empted a pattern in which I took risks and then, sometime later when I’d proved it possible, Jean would follow. Who was the dominant twin? No easy answer. Dominance changed according to circumstances. At school Jean seemed more intelligent and became a prefect etc. This was not my lot. Maybe I was too wayward! Jean clung to her twin identity with me long after I had tried to throw it off in order to live a separate, autonomous life. I recognised that Jean had the ability to engulf me by her possessiveness. I traced my frequent bouts of crippling depression to her dominance and power over me. Jean meanwhile saw me as the ‘fly in her ointment’. An intense closeness can be destructive for both parties.
Both of us found intimate relationships hard to sustain. I moved to King’s Lynn, Norfolk and bought my own home. This gave me independence and some emotional security to stand alone. There were areas in my life that Jean could not condone. She wanted me to be like her. One sunny day early in 1979 I sat in my home reflecting on the relationship between us. I made a definite and conscious decision to lead my own life without any deference to Jean. There was no alternative. I could no longer comply with the conditions expected of me by Jean as her twin sister. We were in our late thirties. This was a turning point of huge importance in my life that I was to realise in a few years’ time.
I met Andrew through an agency in 1979 and we married a year later shortly before my 40th birthday. Jean remained single. She smiled for Andrew and me but behind the screen she hid feelings too painful to own. Here I have recorded some words that Jean may have written after I married so as to allow her to speak for herself.
‘I am confused. I don’t know who I am anymore. There is no one now with whom I can identify. She’s married and now I’m alone, not a twin anymore. I try to make friends but they become the one I’ve lost and I drive them away. Confusion….confusion…the muddle in my head drives me into the ground. I’m not who I thought I was. In the turmoil of my mind I try to copy her and ask my boyfriend to marry me. He turns me down. I thought he would save me and then I’d be like Rosemary again…I’ve been cruelly robbed…what a mess…I once thought many things about myself, even that I was different from anyone else except my twin sister but now there’s a void opening up and I’m falling into it fast….I’ll have to find a way out of this hellish confusion….’
Jean’s funeral took place three years almost to the day of my wedding. She died of cancer. I read Jean’s diary sometime afterwards. It made agonising reading. I cannot emphasise enough the profound effect and importance that identity has in the life of identical twins. After writing these words on Jean’s behalf I was shocked to realise that in part they were also my words some years later after her death when I experienced a traumatic identity crisis. By the sheer grace of God I made my decision that sunny day in my home in King’s Lynn to be autonomous. Guilt is not my companion although sorrow is often close.
My inner stamina and resilience is such that I needed Jean far less than she needed me for her identity. I had learnt to be my own person. Survival had been my objective from an early age. Being a twin with all that it imposes upon us does not evaporate with death of the other. It simply presents other issues to live with or to solve
I am a ‘lone twin’. I remain a twin with that inseparable consciousness of the ‘other’ deeply ingrained in my inner being. It took some years for me to recognise the confusion and disorientation that existed for me in close friend to friend relationships. I was in fact searching for Jean in certain friends so that they became a surrogate twin to me. I was utterly unaware of my behaviour. Identity can be extremely fragile and confusing. Mourning for a deceased relative where the relationship has been beset with difficulty is problematic and no more so than for twins. I have required frequent therapeutic intervention to secure my survival.
Over the years Jean’s death has released me to become a stronger person, to fulfil hidden potential and to be of service for others. That is her gift to me. Recovery and resolution from such a loss is possible although it is an uphill journey. My Christian faith has seen me through the anguish as it did for Jean. It is to my faith that I pay tribute as I celebrate my 70 years with humility and gratitude.
Rosemary Alonso 2011
My twin brother Steve came out of hospital for Christmas in 2008, and was to go back in the New Year to discuss chemotherapy. He looked so ill, and ate so little. The bottle of absinthe I’d put aside for his present following a trip to Prague stayed in my cupboard as he was off alcohol, replaced instead with a ticket to a Tom Paxton concert in Manchester the following February. Steve was cheered by this, I had one too, and Tom was something of a hero of our “folkie” youth.
That year I did the traditional family bash on Boxing Day, Steve would bring his guitar, banjo, accordian and sing at some point. I would accompany a few numbers on my flute, but he was the maestro. He brought his instruments that day, and I suggested he did just a couple of songs, nothing too taxing. Miraculously he performed for forty five minutes, and we were all spellbound, knowing, (as he did), that this was his last gig. Emotion made my breath tremble on the flute, I had to fight to keep control.
He died in mid January, and after deep thought I decided to go to see Tom Paxton, and took one of Steve’s adult sons with me. The music of your youth will always be nostalgic, but when the lights dimmed and Tom sang the old songs I wept buckets of tears in the dark. I was taken back to a lost world of drafty, dusty rooms above pubs, or at the back of British Legion clubs and similar in and around Manchester, where yet another folk club had been formed. Clutching our instruments, we would sit patiently through the professional acts, waiting for the slot open to the floor, and our chance to perform. We had no dreams of greatness, or fame and bright lights, we just wanted to be alright on the night, and to improve our style and technique.
That night for me was like a tribute to Steve, I knew that he would have approved of me going, and it made me acutely aware of the strength of the many bonds that were between us, and the loss that I faced.