Loss in childhood

Irene’s story

We are all children of our time – I was born in 1942, in the middle of the Second World War. I imagine that I should say ‘I’, when I was born a twin. Perhaps this is because I don’t know which of us was born first. Perhaps it’s because he died aged five years on 8th August 1947, so for virtually all my life I’ve been without him. And yet I haven’t really. Once a twin, always a twin.

Until I was interviewed by Joan Woodward, I had not knowingly met another lone twin. It seems extraordinary now, but my family never spoke about his life and he faded into the background of my life. We were very poor, my parents semi-literate, and I was the strong, clever child. I remember reading Peter Pan before I started school and yet it was a home without books, paper, pencils. I sit now in my own home surrounded by an abundance of these. My brother and I started school in Battersea (it’s still there – I went to the centenary a few years ago and remembered crying in assembly, when we sang ‘Morning has Broken’). Did the teachers know why, I wonder? Later, I was bullied by some boys. Would my brother have defended me? Who knows. He was physically the weaker twin. We both had scarlet fever. He had ear problems. My sisters (seven and ten years older) say he was a nuisance to take out – wimpy – I was the goody goody. But he was the only son. My father was in the army in France when we were born. He must have been in Germany too. I still have a watch given to him for cigarettes. It hung on a nail in the kitchen. I dropped it once and was sent to bed without tea. My oldest sister worked in a sweet factory and brought me some coconut icing. Both sisters married in their teens. By the time I won a scholarship to grammar school, I was the only child at home.

I have no recollections of my brother’s illness. I only know what I have been told. Other people’s memories. Sister Jean: “We went to the seaside for the day. He ran into the water and a wave came over his head. He was really quiet in the coach coming back. We said we should take him there more often”. Sylvia: “ He kept falling asleep during the days. Mum took him to the doctor who didn’t think there was anything wrong’. Then he started having fits. He was taken to Tite Street Hospital in London and then transferred to Atkinson Morley Hospital in Wimbledon. No visits. No telephone at home. No time to say goodbye. I think my grandmother looked after me during the funeral – ‘He’s gone to heaven’. Later the word meningitis was used.

In 1997 I went to Atkinson Morley for the first time to interview a patient. I am a social worker. How peaceful it was; not at all what I had expected. I thought about asking whether their records went back to 1947, but I didn’t. I didn’t actually know the date in August though I do now. In January I walked into St. Catherine’s House, opened the register, filled in a form and a death certificate came in the post. ‘Tubercular meningitis’. TB. Scourge of the 1940’s. Auntie Connie always coughing. ‘She kissed him on the lips’, says my other aunt. Too late to ask my parents what they thought. Is that why I pay such attention to details! Who knows.

Irene Coppock


Timothy’s story

Nicky, Nicholas, Nick.

I spent fourteen years and nine months sharing my life with Nicky. And then on August bank holiday 1979 in Ireland a group of people decided to attack and kill my family. They thought it would improve things somehow. That group of people was the IRA. They planted a bomb on our small fishing boat, and set it off by remote control. Nicky died instantly. My grandfather, grandmother and Paul, our young Irish friend who was spending his school holidays looking after our boat, also died. By some miracle my mother, father and I survived, thanks to the holidaymakers who pulled us into their little boats, thanks to the brilliant Irish doctors and nurses, and their skills in the operating theatres.

We were lucky. We had all our limbs, no brain damage and a large close family and wonderful friends. And after a time, the scars were few. The visible ones, that is.
Talking was the greatest cure, and I was good at that. I wasn’t good at crying though. I did cry, of course, sometimes alone and sometimes with my family. But we were all so completely crushed by the bomb, we needed not just to survive, but to signal to others that we were surviving. And when we were all so devastated, it was hard to say, ‘I’m hurting, I need more time, more energy, more support, more listening”. The one thing I wanted most was to give support and strength to my beloved family at the worst time in our lives – and the first way I felt I could do that was to show them that I was all right. I was coping, not to worry about me. I knew that they were very worried I might not be able to carry on as a lone twin, so I automatically gave them the ‘all-clear’ signal as soon as I was out of hospital.

I fooled them, but worse, I fooled myself. My emotional and mental scars were terrible, and they took years to come out because I clamped down on them and kept them from view. The years rolled by and eventually I admitted to myself that all wasn’t right. Hearing in my head the sound of the bomb day after day was not normal or healthy – so I went to a counsellor and started doing what I should have done fifteen years earlier – setting aside the time and the energy to talk and think and admit to myself and others what was going on inside me. The only problem was that I was now thirty, and those scars were so deep and toughened that re-working the splinters slowly and painfully out of the old wounds was much harder than if I had done it before.

What I needed then, when I was fourteen, was for someone to keep me talking and thinking about what was going on in my head and my heart. I remember my parents from time to time suggesting I visit a child psychologist, and I pooh-poohed the idea. ‘I was fine’, or at least I wanted to be, for them.

I met other lone twins, but one day I met David, with whom I got on so well that we became and remain each other’s closest friend. We talk and understand each other, and we understand each other without always having to talk. We soon discovered that the loss of our twins was only going to be a small part of what we shared, but it was an acorn from which grew an oak. We were both younger than our twins, we were both identical, we were both so close to our twins that imagining life without them had been impossible. But after they were killed (his in a medical accident) we not only survived, we grew and flourished. We suffered enormous pain, but we gained enormous strength and capacity for life.

And now I’m ready for a new stage in my life – I’ve learnt enough and grown strong enough to grasp life once again and all that it offers with the excitement and energy that Nick and I did as children – and to look forward to a wife and children of my own one day, maybe even twins.

Timothy Knatchbull

9 thoughts on “Loss in childhood

  1. I lost my twin Ellen when I was only two weeks old. Cleary I had no idea of what had occurred but this is more related to what has happened since. I grew up always sensing a feeling of loss, not quite fitting in… feeling the need to conform.. always looking to please. My parents were always quite open about what happened, and always (quite rightly in my mind) paid homage to the important dates of her life.. and death. My mother was scarred by the lac of support back then (I’m 40 now) and has been very involved, vocal and supportive of better understanding and honesty about cot death and the trauma it can cause. Along the way I agreed.. a fantastic cause.. but became aware of the fact that despite feeling sad… it’s not my fault.. why should I have any right to feel sad, aggrieved – I knew nothing about it? And yet… beyond any doubt I feel loss… sad… aware.. analysis.. fear and defensiveness which I now reflect on and think relates to Ellen. I was in a state of continuous denial that this… my parents tragedy.. had affected me. I always looked at it as a beautiful curse.. I felt honoured in a way. My family openly talk about her… her death.. her legacy.. raise money for charity.. amazing and worthy. But when you are constantly reminded of what is essentially a part of you that died… that you spent longer with, that you compare / carry all your life (it should have been me… all my failures are hers…living for her and me) … it’s tough. I have recently been through a marriage breakdown.. it could have been great.. beautiful boys.. house.. angelic wife.. but I was always looking something else.. when on the surface I had it all. I fell for someone else, and compromised everything I’d ever wanted and hoped for. The children / boys I always doubted I’d have. My guilt for them is unbearable. I’m far from proud of what I have done, and as our couples counsellor said to me… “the person you are having an affair is your dead sister – you will always be searching for something” – I was relived… and scared at the same time. Hopefully someone identifies with this xx

  2. I lost my twin brother, Simon, 13 years ago when we were 14 years old. He died of leukaemia and I spent about 2 years watching him slowly dying right in front of my eyes. It’s a pain that never goes away – never even gets better and I’m pretty sure I will still be crying about him when I’m 80 one day. He was my other half, my first protector and my best friend. If I ever had bad dreams at night I would climb into his bed and instantly feel safe again. If someone was bullying me or being mean to me he always stood up for me. We were each other’s opposites – he was a boy, an extrovert, sporty, funny; I am a girl, introverted and artistic. He loved life and did everything with so much enthusiasm. I sometimes wonder why he had to go and not me, as I am a ‘darker’ person who tends to be more depressed, whereas I know he would have loved to live longer and make the most being alive. It was easy for him to be happy, no matter what. Not even the illness could change that. I feel like I have always tried to find someone who can fill the void but no one ever can. I have 2 older brothers who I love but the bond will and can never be the same as with my twin. I miss him so much everyday and would do anything to see those beautiful blue eyes again.

  3. My twin brother died in a pedestrian accident aged 4 in Australia. My older sister aged 6 and I were staying with family friends that day. Maybe that was a blessing? My mum and dad were visiting someone and decided to take my twin as he was a bit naughty. My dad got out of the car and proceeded to cross the road. My brother opened the back door ( it was
    the 70’s I doubt seat belts were used.) and
    ran blindly after him. He was hit by a car and killed instantly. I remember coming home that evening and could see that mum and dad had been crying. We were told that Paul was in heaven now. Mum and dad had two more children, both girls. Over the years mum would have a cry on my birthday and tell me it was my brothers birthday too. Dad never mentioned his name again. Always felt that he thought the wrong twin died. His only son. He seemed to shut down emotionally with me. My other sisters were always the favourites. Mum told me this was because they reminded him of Paul. I grew to dislike my father immensely. Today I am 46 and live in the uk, have two girls of my own and two twin step children. A boy and girl like me and Paul. They were 7 when I met them and l loved watching them interact, fight and play. Life is cruel and I have a lot more empathy for my parents with regards to losing a child. During the 70’s there was no therapy or counselling. You just had to get on with it. But resentments did build up. My mother told me at 15 that “you don’t even remember him!” Well I do remember him. I remember the day he died. He had such a big tantrum and it frightened me. I had never seen him so upset. He didn’t want to go out with my parents. Mum said He couldn’t wait to put the Christmas tree up in October 2 months before his death. Must have known he would live to see another Christmas. It’s been lovely to read other accounts of lone twins. Much love and strength to you all.♥️No one else could possibly understand that big hole in your heart.

  4. The death of my twin at the age of two and a half years old has left me severely broken.
    She was always the curious one, and I would follow suit. She was so adventurous, and stood her ground. Ever since she has passed, I feel like there is an empty void surrounding me. No relationship feels fulfilling in terms of filling that void. It’s like I’ve lost a part of me. Nearly finishing my degree, I knew it was time to reach out and ask people how they have felt since their loss. I know it’s something that has affected me in so many ways. I have suffered from extreme nightmares since she passed, and I am still afraid of the dark. I feel like I am still waiting for her to take lead.

  5. I so understand where you are coming from and suffer for you. My identical twin, Kathy, died when we were five (5) years old. I always knew Kathy was the ‘favored’ twin’ but that was ok because she was my ‘favorite’ and my everything.
    Since Kathy’s death, I have felt like an incomplete person all my life resulting in debilitating depression my entire life. I have never been able to feel ‘whole’ and have been unable to feel close to people (hold people at a distance). I have looked forward to death so I can be with my twin once again.
    Please seek counseling. It will be painful but may give you some ‘release’ from the pain I know you are feeling.

  6. I watched my twin brother die in hospital..he was surrounded by offer children dying and in distress.
    I then came home and told my mother my sister and I know he is dying and don’t want to go back and see him like that. I was 5 my sister 7.

    My father left my mother the same year and my mother who was physically and emotionally abusive made a point of telling me every Birthday that my Birthday was also my brothers .. Sometimes telling me that there will be no presents. My mother said I was the first one out and I smothered my poor brother, she also recalls that he said he was ashamed of me. I spent my childhood thinking it would be my turn to die soon- it never was. Depression is a big battle for me- I appear jolly and gregarious but feel pain.
    I have no contact with my family – it’s healthier. I am
    Alone in the world and so lonely – I make bad choices to get this company and suffer in many other ways such as using food as an addiction.
    I am about to start counselling

  7. My twin, Kathy (my better half) and I were inseparable – we slept not as one but as two . . . in each other’s arms.
    I lost my identical twin when we were five (5) years old (medical incident). I know my parents and family thought they were protecting me by sheltering me from knowing anything and everything about Kathy’s death . . . how do you tell a confused and lost five year old where her ‘better half’ had gone to? . . . I remember . . . it seems as if my whole young life was spent in searching for my ‘lost’ twin. I remember coming home all excited and telling my Mom I saw Kathy and . . . being ignored. I know my parents were dealing with excruciating pain but I was only five years old and what I remember of my whole young life was searching for . . . yet, never finding Kathy.

    Kathy’s name was never spoken of again. We were five years old when she died and noone ever spoke to me of her and where she was or had gone; so . . ., I feel as if I have been searching for her all my life! She and I were not two — we were one! And I believe I never got over the pain and the insecurity of losing her; which pain was only made worse because people, thinking they were shielding me from pain, never spoke her name again! I remember for years asking everyone where was she and no one ever answering! And worse, no one every spoke her name again and I was just so lost . . .

    I believe that most, if not all, my insecurities in my life are or were attributable to losing my twin . . . the pain, even after sixty three years . . . never gets better; it only gets worse and worse . . . to the point that now, it is almost unbearable and I seem only to look forward to dying so that I can see and be in the loving arms of my twin once again!

    I am trying to find out more about this group. Does this ‘lone twin’ group exist in the US also or just England?

    • Hello Karen,
      Thank you for being in touch on here and sharing your story.
      What you have said is terribly sad and all too familiar with twins who have lost their other half at such an early age. As you say, your parents were grieving desperately too and then, as now, it seems that few people know how to deal with the emotions of the one that is left here. To be honest, even people who have lost their twin later in life can experience the same reactions from family and friends – that the deceased twin is never spoken of again. I do think that it is because, apart from their own pain, they just have no idea of what we are going through as lone twins and feel that there is no way that they can communicate or empathise, so they just don’t.
      That, of course, doesn’t help us as lone twins, but I do want you to know that you really are not alone in how you feel. There are so many of us all over the world and with the benefit of the Internet we can at last be in touch with others who feel as we do and can try to get some understanding and support.
      Our group is based in the UK, although we do have members all over the world. If you are in the USA, there is a very large group called Twinless Twins Support Group International. Their website is http://www.twinlesstwins.org and they have groups all over the country and a Facebook group where members can discuss their feelings and get support. You are more than welcome to join our group too of course, but please do have a look at their website as there may be a group near you?
      Best wishes,

      • How kind you are and how sweet your insight and remarks regarding losing my twin. Thank you also for the referral to the US twins association which I will try to get in touch with asap. God’s blessings on you and on all ‘lone’ twins everywhere! I am sure Kathy, my twin, is smiling on you right now for sending me in the right direction! Thank you again and God’s blessings on you and yours (and your twin) always!

        Karen (US)

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