Saturday 20 July 2013 | The Guardian
The closeness of twins, two people as one, and particularly the idea of a psychic connection, has always fascinated people. But what happens to the twin who survives when the other dies? In the US they are known as “twinless twins”, in the UK as lone twins, thanks largely to the work of the Lone Twin Network.
The network grew out of a research project conducted in the 1980s by Joan Woodward, who is a lone twin, into the effects on people who had lost a twin. Once the project was complete, Joan encouraged the twins who had taken part to meet and discuss their experiences. Today, the Lone Twin Network has more than 600 members and encourages connections between lone twins via annual meetings, local contacts and a Facebook page. Last month, the network dedicated a memorial bench to all lone twins at the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire. It is intended to be a place for lone twins – many of whom lost a twin at birth and often have no grave to visit – to remember their loss.
The network provides an invaluable service to those involved, with members describing it as the one place they can discuss their twin without fear of judgment. All describe a deep connection and understanding between members that they are unable to find away from people who have shared the experience of being a twin. Here four members of the network share their stories.
You are never closer to anybody than you are in the womb. I wasn’t told that I was a twin until I was six or seven, but I always felt there was something missing. I did things to extremes, at different ends of the spectrum. Finding out I was a twin made me realise that I was missing a great chunk of me. At six or seven you don’t question things deeply much of the time, but it made sense of the different sides of my nature. Wanting to be me and my twin at the same time.
My twin, Dawn, died at birth. It was not discussed at home. I was born in 1948 – there was still rationing. You had to get on with life, that was the attitude then.
My mother was quite a stern woman, who tended to brush emotions under the carpet and leave them there to be trampled on. My first recollection of my twin being mentioned was when my mother made a remark, out of the blue. She said, “You ate all the food and there wasn’t any left for your twin.”
My mother died when I was in my 30s, and that seemed to lift the lid off what could be talked about in the family. I have lots of anger towards my mother because she was so bloody dismissive. With my father it’s the opposite – he was the emotional one. He was the one who showed me where my twin’s grave was.
Birthdays are a double-edged sword. It’s a celebration, but you can’t help but remember that there should be two celebrating. I always had a very close relationship with my older sister. She knew my feelings. My extremes. On my 50th birthday, she handed me this long box. She said, “This is for you, and Dawn.” And there were two beautiful peace lilies. It was Dawn’s first ever present. I’ve had lots of wonderful presents in my life, but that meant more to me than anything else. Later on that night, with my sister and my dad, the conversation turned to my twin. That was the first time I heard my father mention her name. He said she’d had blonde curly hair. I felt for the first time he’d had licence to talk about it as well.
When I first heard about the Lone Twin Network it was like unlocking a pressure cooker. Generally, you can’t talk openly about twins who die at birth. People just don’t recognise that loss. The meetings are about a shared experience. There is no judgment. There is no criticism. None of this, “It happened 50 years ago. It doesn’t matter.” It’s an opportunity for the members to be themselves. The opportunity, if you like, to bring their twin with them. I still feel that Dawn is with me in spirit. I hope she always will be.
It’s a very lonely life without your twin. I’ve got a good circle of friends, but I feel lonely all the time. I feel like my right arm is missing permanently, and I’m waiting for it to come back. My twin died 10 years ago when she was 38. She took her own life after a spell of depression.
Our childhood was very positive and we enjoyed being twins. We did everything together, our grandmother knitted us the same dresses. All our idiosyncrasies were the same. If we phoned our mum she wouldn’t know which one it was.
She got married first. But it was never a case of being jealous. It was almost like I was getting married too. I was the first one to have a child, and when she came to visit me it was like we were both the mum. We had our ups and downs but there was a completeness that isn’t there now.
She’s got four children. After the two youngest were born she got postnatal depression. She started cutting herself off from people. She wouldn’t speak to me. Maybe she couldn’t admit it. Or maybe she automatically thought I knew how she felt.
Karen Carr’s twin, Lisa, took her own life in 2003: ‘I couldn’t work out who I was any more. With the Lone Twin Network you don’t have to explain why you feel lonely.’ Photograph: guardian.co.uk
After a failed suicide attempt, she was kept in hospital. Occasionally they let her out to see the children or for a walk in the park. And on one of those days she went to a multi-storey car park and threw herself off the fifth floor.
I wasn’t sure I believed it. I was in a little world of my own, trying to understand, why she would leave me? If we were two people as one, how could that link be severed? All our lives we were the Twins. Twin One. Twin Two. And suddenly I was just me. I could not work out who I was any more.
It was the worst few years of my life. I was jealous of my parents’ sympathy cards. I felt, why are you giving my dad a card? It’s me who’s lost a twin. I had to leave my job. I was due to get married within 12 weeks. But the whole dynamic of who I was had changed. We went ahead with it, but we’re divorced now.
And then I read about the Lone Twin Network in a newspaper. I had no idea what to expect from the first meeting. I didn’t know any other twins. I thought, will I see all our twins there, as our shadows, with us? It was overwhelming.
But over time I’ve made so many friends there. They are like my brothers and sisters. When you go to the Lone Twin Network, that thing that’s missing goes away for a bit. Because with everyone there you don’t have to explain why you feel lonely. I now know I’m not the only one who looks in the mirror and thinks I’m seeing my twin. It has allowed me to accept my feelings, I think.
In those first years I didn’t know what I was living for. But then it dawned on me that if I die there is nothing of her left in the whole world. Sometimes when I’m talking, I feel like I’m listening to her talking. It’s like she’s living in me. I’m like her legacy in a way. While I’m still here, she’s still here.
John and I were born in 1945. I don’t know whether he came first or I did. We weren’t identical. John was an outgoing chap. I was small, bad-tempered and bit my nails. When he played cricket with Keith, our older brother, I would grab the ball and throw it over the garden fence. Awful.
I think John would have become a senior consultant or a headmaster. He took charge. There were a lot of things, like eating soap, that I remember doing with John. He was always the first one to say, “Do it.” I was always the one that was caught with a foamy mouth.
John died of leukaemia in 1949. We went on holiday and John felt very tired and cold. That was in the summer and he died in the February. I remember visiting John in the hospital. He was bought a beautiful Hornby train set. I was very jealous and tried to knock the train off the bed. Isn’t that horrible? But I suppose that’s what kids do.
Tony Pattison’s twin, John, died when they were four: ‘Mum and Dad didn’t talk about it so I just accepted it as one of those things.’
Mum and Dad didn’t talk about it so I just accepted it as one of those things. In a way, for the twin left behind, it’s very sad. But what about poor Mum and Dad? They were a couple of young people who were preparing to lose their son, with no help.
The sad thing was, for Mum, John was much more the outgoing chap. He endeared himself much more to people than I did. When he died, Mum just couldn’t understand it. Suddenly, I was expected to be radiant and happy – like John.
And then Anne came along. I was 17, she was 16, just like the Sound of Music. Anne had a brother who had died in childhood and so I’ve always been able to talk over the emotional side with her. A lot of lone twins – from what I have seen – aren’t always in such happy relationships where they can talk to their partners. The person who teams up with a surviving twin can find that they become the dominant partner. Anne has said once or twice, “I think I’m your twin. I’ve taken the role of John.” She’s more the leader.
Mum is still alive. Only very recently has she started to talk about it. She said, “Tony, I don’t think you and John would have got on. He was so different to you.”
Imagine saying that now. After decades of nothing. She said recently, “You were very jealous of John and you couldn’t understand what was going on.”
I said, “Did you tell me what was going on?” She said, “Oh, no no no.”
To this day she doesn’t know I’m a member of the Lone Twin Network. Even at 97. It’s best not to stir it up, isn’t it?
We were born on 13 November 1943. My twin sister, Jacqueline, was born first but she was strangled by the cord. By the time I was born two hours later I was already a lone twin. My parents always said that I was very mardy, but I’ve come to realise that you’re bereaved and have no idea why that person you shared the womb with isn’t there with you.
No one ever had to sit me down and tell me I should have had a twin. It was all just part of the family lore. I know a lot of the lone twins find that their parents go into decline and just remember the dead twin rather than them. But I had no sense of my parents’ grief, growing up. I think they used their grief to support me. Birthdays and Christmas have always been joyous occasions. But I’ve still had a sense of loss. Even though I never knew Jacqueline, she’s always been part of my life.
Jill Deeley’s twin, Jacqueline, died at birth: ‘My mother had another set of twins after me – I’ve spent my life feeling jealous. We should have been two pairs.’
When I was two, my mum gave birth to another set of twins, my brother and sister. My grandad said, “Just look after Jill, the twins can look after themselves.” Meaning they would always have each other but I was always going to be on my own. I spent all my life feeling very jealous and I think that has got worse over the years. I love them to bits but they do have this kind of closeness that I still find quite hurtful at times. As a child you just accept being one of three. But the more you talk about it the more you see we should have been two pairs.
I saw an article in the Birmingham Mail. Joan Woodward was doing a survey of lone twins so I got in touch. Joan made you feel it wasn’t something to be afraid of. It’s quite a big thing to own up to, especially if you’ve lost your twin at birth, because nobody knows. Until Joan introduced me to the idea of lone twins, all I could think to say if people asked if I had brothers or sisters was, “Yes, I had a twin but she died at birth.” That’s a real conversation stopper, but if you say you’re a lone twin it’s much easier to talk about it. We’ve all been grateful to Joan for introducing the term.
Joan started the Lone Twin Network and I eventually became chairman. I don’t think there’s anything quite like being in a room, knowing that everyone’s in the same boat. Nobody wonders why you’re still upset after all these years. There’s just something about it that makes it easier to get on with life. I think I’ve channelled all my grief into helping newer lone twins, and it really works for me.
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