The "Twinless Twin". The Passing of a Twin and its Effects on the Twin that Survived

Seminar Paper 2014 20 Pages

Psychology - Social Psychology


Table of Contents


My Story

Review of Literature
Non-Western Belief
Identical vs. Fraternal
Twin Attachment Styles
Levels of Grief:
Physiological, External and Behavioral Symptoms
Positive Symptomatology
Special Occasions


Implications for Counseling/Social Work Practice




I would like to dedicate this paper to my deceased twin sister Odessa Muriel Headley. Although you are not here physically you will always live on through spirit. I carry you in my heart at all times and through me your memory will forever live on. I love you.

Forever Love

Even though we never met,

I know your face by heart.

Even though we never spoke,

I can hear your voice.

Even though I never held you,

I feel your weight in my arms.

Even though we'll never lie beneath the same stars,

You will always shine above us



Following the death of a spouse, sibling, friend or significant other there are general ways that individuals usually grieve. This has been shown through countless amounts or research and articles. This research allows for counselors, friends and family to lend support to those through their time of bereavement. In the absence of research it becomes harder to lend support, which leaves individuals isolated and alone while they go through a major crisis. The loss of a twin is a type of loss that is not widely researched but yet is experienced by many throughout the world. This population of bereft are labeled ‘forgotten mourners’ due to the fact that although this trauma occurs, there isn’t much research done on how to support them in their time of need.

Being able to understand the unique nature of twin loss will allow for counselors and social work practitioners to be able to lend their support and find ways to guide individuals that have lost their twin as well as guide families and parents through this time. This paper explores the symptomology of individuals at different developmental stages and the impact that bereavement has on their identity development. In addition this paper will examine the different grief levels and twin attachment styles along with western and non-western beliefs surrounding the life and death of twins in hopes to bring light to a forgotten population, ‘Twinless twins’.

[1]Key Terms:

Singleton*: a baby or person who is not a twin or a multiple

Twinless Twin*: a person who lost their twin due to death

Twinship*: the condition of being a twin or twins

SIDS*: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Co-Twin*: the other twin


My Story

On December 17rd 2006 I distinctively remember watching them as they walked slowly to the front door. Everyone in the house ran down stairs, some with balloons in hand others with their eyes open wide and smiles plastered on their faces. Everyone watched in amazement at what was suppose to be one of the greatest days ever but as for me I had never been so ambivalent. This feeling of ambivalence was not something that I was foreign to feeling but at this particular moment I struggled with myself to feel what everyone else felt although it was terribly hard. I wanted to have a smile plastered on my face and my arms open with a sense of invitation but yet my face stood still just as time did as my new twin cousins, soon to be adopted sisters entered my house for the first time. Why had I been so ambivalent? Years after their arrival I sat and processed this question and realized that my resistance to their arrival came from the fact that I had once been a twin myself.

8 years ago my parents legally adopted my twin cousins from Georgetown, Guyana. This decision took a toll on me because I was actually born a twin but as a result to complications at birth, my sister died 8 month later leaving me a “Twinless Twin”*. It may be hard to fathom how an individual could miss a person that they’ve never technically met but I am walking testimony. Knowing that the twins were coming to permanently live with us disturbed me not only because I was going to see the twin connection I never got to experience with my sister, I would also lose my rank as the baby of the family. Being 18 and just starting college I was a very sheltered child and could not wrap my head around how I could possibly accept them into my life wholeheartedly.

The twins coming to live with me made me confront the absence of my sister and my feelings surrounding it more than it ever did in my 18 years of living. Along with my sensitivity towards twins I began to notice other things that I hadn’t noticed before such as my inability to be alone. I have always had a lot of friends and have always liked being around people. I use to attribute that to my large close knit family but the weird thing about my wanting to be in the presence of people, sometimes it drastically changes and there are these off moments where I just want to stay in my room all alone and sit there in darkness with just my thoughts. Something that I’ve been known to do for as long as I could remember, an action that isn’t seen as weird but just a part of the things that I do.

In my house we never really bring up our feelings as a whole but more so when it comes to the passing of my sister, and for a long time I felt it was because my family couldn’t deal with it but now I believe it was out of protection for me. Protect me from feelings that I had no answer to or feel something for a person I spent 9 months with but never actually met.

All the decisions I’ve ever made were because of my sister. My choice of friends, dates, career, and schools has all been made with my twin in mind. I never wanted to do anything I think she wouldn’t be proud of. Me being the twin that got the chance at life, I wanted to always take full advantage and live every moment to the best of my ability. Going to college and excelling, then moving along to obtain my Masters Degree was a plan I set in motion because I knew what I was capable of and I knew that she would be proud, I had to come to terms that the loss of my sister, although tragic, impacted my life in a positive way because it gives me that extra push to succeed that some individuals may not have.

Whether you use the term vanishing twin, lost twin syndrome, womb survivor or twinless twin, the experience of losing a twin seems to be a topic that is not well researched but is experienced by many people all around the world. I believe this is due to the unique nature of twins and the unspoken connection that twins share. Individuals and families that have experienced the loss of a twin although the trauma may be similar, every experience is different. These experiences could lead to co-dependent attitudes, psychological difficulties, feelings of loss and incompleteness and also extreme raising or lowering of expectations on the twin that survived by the family. Being able to understand this will allow for families who’ve lost a child and individuals who’ve lost a twin to better understand their feelings and put into perspective how their experience makes them feel and how that connects to their daily actions and attitudes. The lack of research on “twinless twins” shows the need for this topic. There is much research done on the loss of spouses and children but far less is done on the actual passing of a twin and the bereavement impact on sibling loss or twin loss. Furthermore, mental health professionals will benefit by understanding the differential psychological development of children who have lost a twin and in turn lend support to the children as well as offer parents guidelines on how to help not only themselves but also the child that survived and help them cope with that loss.

Review of Literature


When examining the psychological development of ‘Twinless Twins’ it is beneficial to start at the beginning. McIlroy (2011) examines the meaning of twins by first uncovering that in-utero bonding is the earliest and perhaps most inimitable twinship* experience defining the uniqueness of the twin grieving process. From the moment of conception, twins are bound together through the miracle of genesis and gestation, inhabiting, as womb-mates, the tiniest physical space any two beings can share. In the womb twins develop in tandem, physically interacting with one another, and in some case twins share one placenta and suck each other’s thumbs (McIlroy, 2011). McIlroy goes on to state that studies conducted by child neuro-psychiatrists show that twin behavioral pattern in-utero continue on a similar trajectory after birth, indicating that the inception of twin relationships predates their entry to the world. This finding can make one question the belief that infant’s develop attachment to their caregivers around 6 months of age. This may be true for singletons* but this theory fails to account for twin populations as a distinct demographic, one that shares the unique situation of having intimately shared the womb for space, a space that is normally occupied by a single fetus.

Non-Western Belief

Along with examining in-utero bonding McIlroy (2011) also reveals the potential of certain religious practices to offer valuable insight into the unique nature of the twinship* experience, and the process through which bereaved twins may move toward hope and healing in the wake of an especially traumatic loss. McIlroy states, “in cultures where distinct twin beliefs are not widely acknowledged, surviving twins struggle to find their own way of integrating the loss of their co-twin*, and therefore half of themselves, into a new understanding of who they are. Without this sense of self, twin bereavement may continue indefinitely (pp. 2).

McIlroy (2011) article is centered on African religions specifically that of Yoruba of Nigeria, the Bamana and Malinke of Mali and the Nuer of southern Sudan. These religions are characterized by a system of spiritual beliefs surrounding the life and death of twins. Just as there are western beliefs about twins, African cultures also have their own. For example recognition of a shared or combined soul between twins is common to an extensive range of peoples, including the Sumbanese and Toraja of Indonesia, the Burmese Karen, the Manchurian Tungu, the Mirabelais Haitians, the Yoruba of Nigeria, and the Nuer of southern Sudan. The Nahani of western Canada believe twins to be two halves of a whole, sharing one breath between them, and the Jicarilla of New Mexico observe twins as two people living out one, mutually shared life (pp. 3). Lastly, feared to perish of inconsolable grief and mourning, surviving South African amaXhosa twins are made to lie either face down on their dead sibling’s coffin, or face up in the freshly dug grave the day before their dead twin’s burial, in order to say goodbye (pp. 3). Human behaviors are regulated by belief systems and cultural traditions. When facing similar emotional situations, such as death, we may handle it differently according to our cultural or religious beliefs (Ho & Brotherson, 2008, pp. 2)



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twinless twin passing effects survived



Title: The "Twinless Twin". The Passing of a Twin and its Effects on the Twin that Survived