From the very first newsletter (1987)…
As with anything unexpected, I was shocked to learn my husband and I were going to have twins. After the shock wore off, we were delighted. When our girls were born in October, 1983, it was another shock to learn that our Lisa was gravely ill and would not live. She had a condition called asplenia syndrome (part of which are drastic heart problems and kidney disease) and could die of either. Lisa died 6-1/2 months later, at home, of heart failure. Amy was healthy and still is.
My purpose for writing this is to share with you some of the “things” we did to keep Lisa special to all of us but especially her identical twin Amy.
We have pictures of Lisa in various areas of our home and when we passed the pictures as I was carrying Amy as a 7-month-old, I would point and say “Lisa”. As Amy got older, near 1 and 1 1/2 years old, I would say, “Amy and Lisa were twins and that is special because not many people are twins.” Now that Amy is older she asks many questions about Lisa and expresses herself about Lisa in many ways while playing. When Amy is playing with PlayDo she makes graves and when she sees an “L” she says, “That is the letter of Lisa’s name.”
We always answered questions of our son Brett’s freely and honestly (he was 4 when Lisa died). We had and continue to tell Amy that when Lisa died we put her body in a box in the ground. Now Amy says if we could take the stone off – Lisa could get out. We continue to explain death and all its ramifications.
At birthday time, it becomes a bittersweet experience. We have one twin who is having her birthday and one who is dead. We do always remember Lisa in some way (to this point it has been with flowers on her grave) and Amy has been coming to Lisa’s grave with us. We have always taken a photo so that we can show Amy that later. We then come home and celebrate Amy’s birthday with grandparents and both girls’ godparents.
The first Christmas after Lisa died we wanted to do special things. Dave and I designed a simple Christmas card for the year. We had an outline of an angel on it and simply said, “Our angel in heaven, Lisa, and Brett and Amy, Barb and Dave wish you happy holidays.” We also found a candleholder with a little angel on it and we have that candle lit throughout the holidays for our Lisa.
Lisa lived through one Valentine’s Day and on that day I had put red yarn bows in the girls’ hair and had taken their picture. I saved those bows and now put both of them in Amy’s hair and take her picture on Valentine’s Day.
Lisa’s death occurred in the spring and at the anniversary of her death we have visited her grave and brought flowers. Brett and Amy have visited her grave and brought flowers. Brett and Amy have been with us and we as a family pray and cry together. (The children often play and run around while we talk and cry.) Dave and I do want to recognize that Amy’s relationship to Lisa is different than her brother Brett’s, as ours is as Lisa’s parents. Amy may decide she doesn’t want to go to Lisa’s grave at some time.
One last thing that I have done is to write in a blank book (purchased at a discount store) about the day Amy and Lisa were born, and then every now and then I continued to put events down and plan to give this book to Amy when she can appreciate its value.
Barb, a nurse, went on to be the founder and facilitator of Bittersweet, a local support group for the loss of a multiple in Minneapolis/St. Paul. In the second issue of the newsletter, she wrote about the day of Lisa’s death, and mentioned that Amy woke up two hours early from the afternoon nap that she always took, just at the time that Lisa was dying, seeming to know that something important to her was happening. So she was present on her parents’ laps as her twin died. Barb also wrote:
“The days following were full of notifying people and having her visitation and funeral. We were amazed when Amy saw Lisa in her casket. She stared and stared at Lisa and I think she knew this was a special event and a special person to her. I helped Amy give Lisa a kiss. The day after the funeral when Amy got up, she dramatically leaned toward Lisa’s crib. I knew that Amy knew where she wanted to go. We went over by her crib and Amy looked and surveyed Lisa’s crib, looking in every corner, for five minutes. It was just amazing to see a 6 1/2-month-old infant with that much concentration but I am sure it related to being a twin and looking for her twin who up to this time had been in that crib when she woke up. As Amy neared one year, she had a word for ‘baby’ and just loved seeing babies. By the time of the first anniversary of Lisa’s death, Amy was saying ‘baby’. On Memorial Day, 1985, we were at Lisa’s grave. As Amy was lifted out of the car to go to Lisa’s grave, she ran to the grave, saying, ‘Baby, baby.’ I think Amy thought of Lisa as a baby (Lisa was only 6-1/2 lbs. at maximum) and remains fascinated by babies. Now she continues to talk about Lisa and ask questions. We hope we can continue to help Amy understand this tremendous loss.”
She Will Always Be Here…
It is winter now but I am thinking back to this fall – our twin girls’ 5th birthday, Amy and Lisa –only Lisa has her birthday in heaven.
There have been holidays and birthdays without her but for some reason I missed her so much for this birthday. Five years of age seems to be a milestone – able to dress and feed oneself, play with others, go off to school. At five years children seem to be not so much part of Mom and Dad but rather ready for the rest of the world.
I remember. It was Amy’s first day of nursery school this fall. We had made a change in the nursery school from last year. Amy was excited – probably thinking about the new nursery school but also fearful of the unknowns of a new school. I was sad. It was sad. I wanted so desperately to take two girls to nursery school. It would be so unique and special but all I could do was take one girl and tell the nursery school teacher of Amy’s twinship. As we walked in the school, Amy holding my right hand tightly (and I holding hers tightly) I suddenly became aware of my left arm stretched out as if I was holding another little one’s hand – Lisa’s. I could see the outline of another girl – Lisa. I was amazed at my outstretched hand but also wanted to fill in the parts. Were her eyes like Amy’s – big and full of expression? Was her hair like Amy’s – brown, generally straight and fine, or was Lisa’s wavy – a way to tell my identical twins apart? Oh I wish I could know what she looks like now, what she enjoys – but only God knows that.
I consciously brought my arm in next to my side and proceeded to get Amy settled at school and talk to the teacher. Later I was able to think that Lisa will always be with us – in spirit, and I believe I actually saw her spirit that first day of nursery school, September 9, 1988.
September turned into October and October 12 is the girls’ birthday. Before October 12 came I was acutely aware of how sad I was that I did not have two girls. I decided that I needed time at Lisa’s grave. This has been helpful for me in the past. I arranged with Dave, my husband, to be with Amy and Brett at home on Saturday. Then I could stay as long as I wanted with no need to be home for the other children coming home from school etc…I took all of Lisa’s pictures and the journal I am writing and just sat at Lisa’s grave and cried, read the journal, and looked at pictures.
The next week came and I felt that I needed to do the same thing, so I did. This time I took a lawn chair in addition and sat and cried, read and looked at pictures. At one point I felt it was time to leave yet did not want to say good-bye. I sort of wondered to myself if Lisa was seeing and hearing me and then as I lifted my head I saw a magnificent white-tailed deer (always my favorite animal) run from the wood and across the cemetery. All I could say was, “Lisa, you do see and hear me.”
Twenty+ Years and Counting
Our identical twin daughters were born 21 years ago this October. Our little Lisa died 6-1/2 months later of congenital problems. Our Amy is now a sophomore in college.
Twenty+ years-how do I recount it? It seems like a huge long time ago. Yet I can tell you every event of the night our girls were born. I can tell you every detail of the day our Lisa died. During Lisa’s life and death, most of our decisions were made out of our hearts – we had no resources. We just wanted the best life possible for our Lisa – we knew she would not live to be an adult.
After Lisa’s death, our immediate family had time with Lisa’s body before the visitation. Brett, our 3 year-old said, “I thought you said, mom, that Lisa went to heaven.” I thought, “That’s right”. But I also thought “Now what do I say?” The words came to me from somewhere. “Brett, Lisa’s spirit went to heaven and her body is at the funeral home.” The next question was, “What is a spirit?” Again the words came to me from somewhere – “A spirit is the thing that makes us laugh, cry or feel mad”. Brett was satisfied and went off to “do his thing”. I helped Amy give her twin sister a kiss goodbye, if for no other reason that to be able to say to her later that she did do that. We also took pictures of Lisa at her visitation because we knew we could never take them again.
On the day of Lisa’s funeral, Amy had other ideas when I wanted to dress her. Amy kept wriggling in my arms until I went the direction she wanted to go. She wanted to go to Lisa’s crib and she surveyed that crib for five minutes, I believe, looking for her sister. I was in awe of a 6-1/2 month-old child having that attention span.
My husband, Dave, and I knew that Brett and Amy would know their sister through us. Yet we did not want to have Lisa and her death be the only topic of their lives. We incorporated Lisa’s death as a matter of fact in our lives. So when Amy and I were looking at Lisa’s picture, I would say ÒLisaÓ and gradually Amy learned to say ÒLisaÓ. Brett showed Amy how to make graves and bodies out of Play-Dough! Amy would have times where she wanted to get all the pictures of her and Lisa and look at them. And we did that probably till third grade.
When Amy actually started pre-school, I remember having her by her hand and then being aware that my other arm was stretched out. I looked at my arm and there was the outline of a little girl – no faceÑour Lisa coming to school with her twin sister.
These years, as any group of years, brought the good and the not-so-good. Amy was excited about being at school all day and going to school with Brett. I always made sure their teachers knew about Lisa, especially if either of them mentioned Lisa, the teacher would know Lisa was real and not a product of imagination.
Amy, sometimes, wanted to talk about and bring pictures of Lisa in “show and tell”. But sometimes she did not want to. I felt sad at those times but tried to respect Amy’s thoughts. The same was true of Brett.
We always took flowers to Lisa’s grave at their birthday and on Lisa’s death anniversary. It was a special time and we took pictures. We watched a maple tree grow that had been planted in the cemetery, in remembrance of Lisa, by many loving relatives. As Brett grew older, we let him make the choice of whether he would go to the cemetery, sometimes he wanted to and others not. Amy has always wanted to go, sometimes wanting to buy her own flowers to take.
At about age 8, Amy was diagnosed with asthma and many allergies. This was another step for our family. Amy was a “trooper” through the “ups” and “downs” of adapting to asthma and allergies.
Amy has always been shy. And so were her parents at that age. At one point, Amy said, “Mom, I think Lisa would be better at making friends but you know what, I am good at math”! And such is the case to this day. At one point, we did get her professional help because her social skills were needing help. Amy feels to this day, the extra help was a good idea. This part of Amy’s life was/is very difficult for me because I am a person who will talk to anybody and Amy is not. But I had/have to help Amy ever so gently and respect who she is. Yes, I did wonder if Amy’s socializing was connected with Lisa’s death – her closest friend was, one day, not physically part of her life. When I have asked Amy about this, she has said, “I don’t know”. I believe I will never know, but I also believe that Lisa’s death is a part of it, but it is also the way Amy is “wired”.
Most of the time Amy has not share that she was/is a twin with other people. When friends would come for a sleep-over, they would ask about the picture of Lisa on the wall, I would say “that is Lisa – Amy’s twin”. When I am goo-gooing a pair of twins in the grocery store or wherever, I always say, “We have twins”.
I was really surprised when a few days into ninth grade, Amy came home and said she was joining theater. I was genuinely flabbergasted but Amy wanted to and I said “have at it”. The group became a wonderful niche of friends for her. Amy did not have the lead parts but she had a part and we cheered her on. Amy feels theater was one of her best activities of high school.
Amy always wanted to be an astronaut but that had to change when she realized that asthma and space do not go together. She then switched to becoming a doctor, a pediatrician. She has always been especially interested in young children. Amy, as a young child, referred to Lisa as “baby”. Lisa was about one-half the size of Amy. Perhaps that is where the interest started.
Amy is now in college taking many credits and doing fabulously with her grades. She is taking a pre-med track and religious studies. Amy has always been a spiritual person and that brings much satisfaction to her life. She is an outdoor woman and participates in rock-climbing, camping, kayaking at college. She struggles with socializing and does not want to get extra help with that part of her life. Her father and I can only be patient and help her the best we can.
Twenty+ years and counting – I can not believe it is that many years but when I think of all that has happened and I look at Amy and the young woman she is now – yes it is 20+ years. Until this last year, I always pictured Lisa as a baby, but now I have started “seeing” her as a young woman. This has been a profound journey for me. I have been so in grief so deep that I thought I was going crazy. I have been so in awe with the spiritual events that I have had. I have learned so much about grief, especially from my family. I have prepared myself for a second career as a marriage and family therapist, focusing on a loss in the family.