The loss of a close family member is one of the saddest things that could ever happen to a person, and there are no family members you can be closer to than your twin. Literally. Twins quite literally start life and come into this world together (although are you really twins if you don’t constantly remind your sibling that you’re X-minutes older than them?) and that creates a special bond which non-twins can never truly understand. Sadly, it also creates a profound, unimaginable feeling of sadness in the event of your twin’s passing, which Whitney would know all about. This is what she’s learned from losing her sister Wendy:
Research by Evan Symon.
You Don’t Even Need To Have Known Your Twin To Miss Them
Whitney did not grow up switching places with Wendy in school to confuse their teachers or dressing up as the creepy girls from The Shining for Halloween. For the first few years of her life, she didn’t even know Wendy existed. But that doesn’t mean her death didn’t profoundly influence her.
“My twin sister died shortly after I was born,” she explains. “When I was young, I always felt like something was missing, and after my parents sat me down and told me about Wendy when I was 8, I haven’t been the same. I’ve always heard about twins having a really close bond, and I believe it.”
“I’ve had this sadness with me for over twenty years and it’s hard to explain why it stays with me.”
Science hasn’t really been able to explain why the loss of a twin hits you so hard, but they have a pretty good idea just HOW hard it can get. Studies have shown that losing a twin brings one of the most “intense” senses of loss possible and can only be psychologically matched to the grief levels you experience from losing a spouse. Part of it might be due to the surviving twins thinking of all the things their sibling missed, their unrealized dreams, the chances not taken.
“It’s worse during events you know your twin would have been at. Birthdays are the worst … but graduation hit me particularly hard too. I was in line to get my diploma and my principal called another Wendy, who was graduating with honors. Every thought I had went right back to my twin. Would she have graduated with honors? Would she have played volleyball like me? Would she have played tennis? Could we have been the next Williams sisters? She should have been there with me, having that close bond, but she wasn’t. Everyone thought I was crying because of graduation, but it wasn’t because of that.”
“She should have been there, and she wasn’t.”
A twin is as close to you as you can get without cloning, so their loss unsurprisingly can feel like a part of you has died, with every single milestone in your life being a painful reminder of it.
It’s Hard For Other People To Understand What You’re Going Through
Losing a spouse is especially hard for people with children, who often serve as a constant, living reminder of the person that’s not with you anymore. When the light happens to catch your son’s eyes and they look just like their mom’s, it takes a lot to not drop the kid off at the grandparents and crawl into a bottle for the rest of the day. That’s why it’s so hard for twin-less twins who can’t stop thinking about their sibling every time they look at their own goddamned face.
“My parents really did everything they did to relate to this after they saw how changed I was. They took me to a psychologist and to therapy and tried to say they knew what I was going through because they lost parents and other family, but it can’t equate. I’ve lost my dad and all of my grandparents since, and my twin has stayed with me the longest. I’ll see a picture or a video of my dad, and I’ll be sad, but it gets better because there aren’t reminders everywhere.”
“Every time I look in the mirror I’m reminded of my twin, and there’s a feeling I can’t shake off.”
And the worst part is that you can’t really explain it to people. Everyone processes grief differently, but the problem is that some people forget about that. Some people have trouble empathizing with others. And others are just plain assholes, as Whitney has learned.
“My third-grade teacher was the worst. Unlike every other teacher who at least tried to help or understood that I was on another level of loss, she kept telling me to ‘Snap out of it’ because ‘It was a long time ago,’ because I was writing about Wendy a lot in this series of writing assignments. She even said ‘John Kennedy getting shot was terrible, but we got over it.’ THAT remark got the principal and my parents involved, and that teacher never brought up my twin again.”
And here you thought that being told “I know what you’re going through” by people who, no, don’t in fact know what you’re going through was the worst thing ever. Don’t ever underestimate people’s ability to suck so very, very hard.
Birthdays Suddenly Become The Worst Things Ever
“Sometimes, when I would say something wrong or make a mistake, I’ll wonder what my twin would have done. Sometimes I think they would have done better in that situation. When I lost my job I thought ‘Wendy would have kept it,’ and thought of what she would have done with her life. When I’m depressed, I’ll even think about how it should have been me and not her.”
This is textbook survivor’s guilt, and it hits twin-less twins especially hard but especiallier on their birthdays. Normally, birthdays are one of the best days of the year (as long as you don’t think about the fact that they were made possible by your parents doing it): you go out for drinks with friends, you get something nice to eat, you get presents. Not so much when you’re a twin-less twin, though.
“Our birthday is the worst day of the year.”
“She’s always on my mind, but most other days of the year I can manage it, even if something triggers it. Birthdays focus attention on you, and you can’t help but think where they would be with you.
“My parents and my friends still got me gifts on my birthday, but they weren’t given with smiles. It was more of a day of reflection. When I was younger I wanted to be alone on our birthday, but when I got older it became a day to celebrate what could have been. I would go to a movie with my friends and leave a seat open for her (with one of them taking off her shoes to keep the seat down) and having an open seat during my birthday dinner. I’m making these sound happier than they really were, because I remember being depressed all day. It was the day Wendy died, and they always made me want her back even more.”
Elvis, who also lost a twin at birth, recognized his birthday as such a sad day that it became the day where he had to do anything depressing, such as file for divorce.
“I’ve cried on every birthday to date. To me, it’s the day she died. You can’t celebrate a death. No matter how hard everyone around me tried to see it differently, I never have.”
Twin-less Twins Have Much Higher Suicide Rates
Normally, having a twin is great for people at-risk. A 51-year study found that, despite twins having a higher rate of mental illness than non-twins, suicide rates were way lower. But when a twin dies, suicide rates go up. With a twin gone, life expectancy for the surviving twin ticks down by at least 2 years.
“I can’t give her name, but a woman I knew lost her twin. We were only acquaintances, and I always felt a little jealous because she had her twin. When her twin died suddenly, within a week she tried to commit suicide and only lived because she didn’t know how long it took to die from slitting her wrists. Someone stumbled in on her in time.”
This is one of the reasons why Twin-less Twin support groups have popped up.
“I personally don’t think about it more than the average person does, but I’ve seen what happens to the other twin when a twin dies suddenly. Something shatters in them.”
If you’re a twin, it’s perfectly normal to want to go and hug your sibling right now.