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Coping as a lone twin

By Vision Reporter

Added 13th October 2000 03:00 AM

* I have no idea why he died but I grew up with a sense of guilt that I had done something wrong

* I have no idea why he died but I grew up with a sense of guilt that I had done something wrong TWINS belong to a special club which the rest of us can't join. They have a special relationship, an uncanny empathy, sometimes a private language; we feel faintly envious. But what happens when a twin dies at birth, in childhood, as an adult? How does the survivor feel? We singletons never think about that. Jen Coldwell and other lone twins tell of their grief, confusion and crises of identity in a new book which describes to the rest of us a pain we can never experience. Coldwell writes of her confusion in trying to describe herself: "I was a twin? I had a twin, I am a twin, I used to be a twin." The book is the result of a four-year research project by Joan Woodward, a psychotherapist and lone twin who had never met another until she travelled around England and Wales to conduct interviews. She discovered that almost all the lone twins shared the confusion she had felt since the death of her sister at the age of three. She found that twins who had lost a brother or sister before the age of six months suffered most. "Many had no photographs, no memories, nothing to link them to their twin. If you have something and you lose it, the intensity of the loss is less than if you have never had it." One of the key themes to emerge during the study was guilt, the constant question, "Why am I alive when my twin is dead?" Liz Dawson was born in 1952, her twin brother was dead at birth. Much later she called him Richard. "It has helped me to give him a name and talk to him as a person, but it took a long time to reach the right time to do so," she says. "I have no idea why he died but I grew up with a sense of guilt: I felt that it must have been something I did. Did I strangle him with the umblical cord? It is much more likely that it was something to do with me, the girl twin, using up all the nutrients at the expense of the boy twin." The study also revealed how the attachment process is more complex for twins than for singletons. Troubles start when any attachment is unwillingly broken and the lone twins speak of their loneliness and incompleteness. Broyny Goode, whose identical sister died at birth says: "The effects have been deep and intense, at the very core of my soul. Perhaps the main result is that I have always felt very isolated and alone. I have had many friends throughout my life, many of them close, but I've always felt an intense loneliness which nothing quenches." Being a lone twin, says another, is like having a wound which has barely healed. "It feels like being disabled," says another, but on a more optimistic note, Judy Moffitt, whose sister died aged 48, tells how, despite grieving for her dead sister, she at last feels a whole person rather than half of one. "I think quite a few bereaved twins would say they still are a twin but I definitely feel I am not," she says. "For the latter part of my life, I am one whole person, not half of one, as I felt when my twin died... while she was alive, I was struggling to be different but now I'm much more like her - what I feel I would have been if I had not been born a twin." For others the gap left can never be filled. " I don't think you ever get over the loss of a twin, even if you lost him or her at birth. There is always a feeling that you are a searching for someone close enough to replace your twin, but of course you never can and it is always a disappointment when you face the fact that you can't." "I don't think you ever get over the loss of a twin, even if you lost him or her at birth. There is always a feeling that you are searching for someone close enough to replace your twin, but of course you never can and it is always a disappointment when you face the fact that you can't." Woodward brought together 25 of her 219 interviewees in 1989. From that emerged the Lone Twin Network, with 500 members who meet to compare notes, knowing there will be no need for troublesome explanations. "How did yours die?" But, above all, they have been able to talk openly and honestly, which so many of them had never managed to do before." One woman in her fifties, whose brother died when he was five, says: "For virtually all my life, I've been without him. And yet I haven't really. Once a twin, always a twin." Note: The Lone Twin by Joan Woodward is published by Free Association Guardian News Service Ends.

Coping as a lone twin

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