Brett & Jack
Cindy has written her update every year since the loss of one of her identical twin sons in-utero and going longer…
One year down the road…
February 13…Friday, February 13, 1998…an ominous day by superstitious standards and for me personally, too. February 13, 1997 is the birthday of our identical twin sons, Brett and Jack. It is the day we had anxiously anticipated when we finally got to see our precious little redheaded boys – but in the breath after we said hello to them I was calling our priest to arrange a memorial service for Jack who was stillborn after dying in-utero at 31 weeks’ gestation for no known reason. It seems somewhat fitting that the one year anniversary of this life-changing event was on a Friday-the-13th because while it was a day of celebration for Brett it loomed larger than life with memories of what had happened one short year before.
In many ways I can hardly believe an entire year has passed already. Looking back, it was twelve months filled with lots and lots of twin thoughts – what things should have been like in comparison to what they actually were. For almost seven months we had been preparing to have two babies added to our home and the intense letdown of having just one come home from the hospital (especially an identical who is so, so, so adorable and sweet) is something I struggle with still.
Because Brett is Jack’s identical twin I have the “privilege” of knowing what Jack would have looked like, but what I miss is the dynamics of having Jack present in our lives. When I try and explain to people who somehow think that Brett is a “consolation baby” (I can’t begin to count the number of times people have said, “Well, at least you have Brett”) about how much I miss Jack, the simplest way I can put it is that it’s like living without one of my children, regardless of whether or not I have his identical twin. I ask them to think of what life would be like for them if one of their children wasn’t alive – that is what our lives are like every day. We are certainly missing out on many wonderful things and it makes my heart break – especially for Brett and our older son, Alex, who is such an amazing big brother.
The past year, I have found, has aged me more than 12 months. I feel like I should be at least another decade older for all of the emotions I’ve dealt with. Being busy raising Brett and Alex has definitely taken the edge off the pain of losing Jack, and it is during quiet times that I find myself lost in the shock (still) of losing my baby. I’ve cried every day and every night since learning of Jack’s death – not always intense sobbing, but silent, hot tears that come at a drop of the hat. I hate to cry and I fight them, but it doesn’t matter, they are there and they refuse to be swallowed.
I have been blessed with wonderful friends and family who ask about Jack and how we are all doing and listen when I talk about him, but it is hard to find the words to express how I feel. It simply HURTS. It hurts like nothing I’ve ever felt before – physically, mentally, emotionally. It has made me reassess so many things about my life and I still come back to square one that I can’t believe this happened to my family.
Not knowing why Jack died is hard for me. I like things to be black and white and this is such a large gray area to deal with. It affects so much of my daily life. I sort of feel like I am in a gray bubble and everything else outside of the bubble is black and white, the way my life used to be. About the only thing I’m sure about is that Jack’s absence will never be filled and that absence will always be a special part of our family.
We talk about Jack fairly often at home. I want Brett to hear his name and to understand his specialness of being a twin. Alex talks about Jack and says the sweetest things about him being an angel. If anything, I want this open communication line to help Brett deal with his loss, too. The knowledge that Jack’s death will have a lifelong impact on our family sometimes seems overwhelming, but I try and keep it in perspective and take one day at a time.
The few bits of knowledge I have gained from this experience I can sort of formulate into one statement and that is: as sad and angry and hurt as I am over the death of my son, I am not alone in my sadness and anger and hurt. Everyone, it seems, has their own share of unhappiness, some greater, some less. But I cannot stand around and think “Why me?” Life is far from perfect and it is certainly a learning process. I wish fervently that Jack didn’t die. I wish it so hard that sometimes I think it might come true. It is the continual realization that it won’t that wears on my heart. It is also the acceptance that life will never be what we had expected with twin sons that is also hard. Yes, I am still the mother of twin sons, but it isn’t apparent and dealing with telling people that Brett IS a twin can be draining. And telling people we only have two sons makes me so sad, but sometimes it is easier to say that than to go into the story about Brett being a twin and that Jack died so we really have three sons.
So the second year of living without Jack is underway and it may be a bit easier since the first year is over (although Brett just started walking yesterday and I immediately thought, “I wonder if Jack would be walking, too, now”) and we are adjusting to the fact that we are the parents of a surviving twin. It is a huge adjustment and will continue to be a learning experience. I’m waiting for the statement “Time heals all wounds” to be true because right now I just don’t think that will happen. I think time will only provide the vehicle to distance me from the freshness of the wound, but that hole will always be there. I miss you Jack.
Brett & Jack…two years
I have sat down several times at the computer to try to put into words what exactly I am feeling on this second anniversary of Jack’s death and Brett’s birth – an event that has changed my life so dramatically in so many ways. In reality, much of what I do day to day is the same as it always was. I am a stay-at-home mom with lots of outside activities to keep me very busy. So essentially on the outside I am leading what one friend has labeled “a charmed life”.
It is the inside of me that is so different. The pain of Jack’s death, while two years old, is still RAW and SHOCKING, although I have become somewhat accustomed to the pit in my stomach and the lump in my throat. And because that pain hasn’t diminished, I have found that I have incorporated it into my life because I realize that it will never go away. I have tried to incorporate it into compassion above all else and into love for what I am lucky enough to have on earth with me, but this process of constantly dealing with channeling my sadness and pain and hurt into something more positive is so exhausting. Trying not to cry when I hear an expectant mother talk about her impending twins’ arrival – and more importantly trying not to feel scared for her that something might happen during her twin pregnancy and turn her life from nervous excitement into a sort of black hole – is something I just wish I didn’t have to deal with. I wish my life was “normal” again and I could be nervous and excited for her without all the “baggage.”
Thinking back to two years ago and how “normal” my life was also makes me sad. I think the thing that makes me sort of angry is that I did appreciate how “normal” it really was. My sister and I talked all the time about how lucky we were and really knew we were blessed and I literally thanked God for my life every day. When, 31 weeks into my twin pregnancy, we found out that one of our identical twin sons had died for no apparent reason I just couldn’t understand it. WHY was such a big question in my life. I still would like an answer to that, but over the past two years I have done lots of reading and reflecting and the bottom line is that we are only human and sometimes things go wrong and there is no better answer than that it’s nature taking its course. Being a very “black and white” person this has been a big hurdle for me. It’s just too much a gray area, but that’s where I am now.
I have wonderful, WONDERFUL family and friends who make my grieving process so much more tolerable. They ASK me how I’m feeling about Jack. They tell me they think about Jack all of the time. They cry with me and give me lots of hugs. Most importantly, my two living sons are the lights of my life. Alex is six-and-a-half years old and is so good for my soul. His perception of Jack, without ever really knowing him physically, is so intact. One night this past fall he just blurted out at dinner that he “really misses Jack”. I told him that I miss him so much, too and asked him what he thought it would be like to have Jack with us. His response, “Well, we’d need about 500 Nuks!!” (because Jack’s twin, Brett, is quite attached to his Nuk!) Of course it made me laugh through my tears and it was just what I needed.
Brett, of course, is two and is very emphatic about it. “‘I TWO!!” he says proudly. Celebrating his birthday this year was tough for me, even more so than last year. I think it’s because Brett is such a presence and his personality is so bright; it makes me miss what Jack would have been. And Brett is so sweet and adorable – just everything you’d want a toddler to be (although he does have his moments). It makes me heartsick to think about Brett times two –how amazing it would be to have his twin here with us. So I just give Brett twice as many kisses and hugs and fortunately he still puts up with it!
Getting down on paper what I am feeling on this two year anniversary has been hard. I kind of feel like I’m neither here nor there. There is definitely no resolution for me, but I have let this grief evolve a bit in order to live with it. I continue to read about the grieving process and I am sending Jack’s records to a specialist at the university here to see if he has any possible answers as to why Jack died. I feel like I need to find out as much information as possible for myself and for Brett when he starts to ask about his twin. And as best I can, I am taking one day at a time, filling them with as many hugs and kisses as I can.
Stories-Going Longer #2
Down the Road…Three Years: Brett & Jack
It is hard to believe as I sit here ready to write that the 3-year anniversary of our twins’ birth is only a week away. It is hard to believe for so many reasons. One, because we are living our lives without one of our twins, Jack. Two, because our surviving twin, Brett, is such a fountain of energy and happiness and love it’s almost unreal to think a mere 36 months ago I was praying for his survival. And three, I am still dealing with the loss of our child on so many different levels every day.
To find the words to express how I feel about the loss of Jack is beyond me. I am still so deeply sad that he is not alive and the dynamics of having his identical twin growing up before my eyes makes my head spin. I know what I am missing to a certain degree, but then again, I do not know what I am missing because I don’t have “twins” to raise, just a surviving twin.
In this past year I think that is the issue that I have struggled with the most. I have only one twin alive so therefore it is assumed by most people that he is a singleton. I struggle with the question “How many children do you have?” because before it was just me who had to deal with it, now my children (I have an older son, Alex, who is 7) are old enough to be aware of the question and how I might answer it. It pains me to say “Two” but it also pains me to say “Three” and then have to deal with the ramifications of stating such. It makes people feel awkward to hear I have a child who died (most people, anyway) and I don’t want Jack to be a source of that discomfort.
Not a day goes by that I don’t relive some part of my twin pregnancy. It was with such joy and absolute amazement that I found out we were going to have twins. I never once wished it wasn’t true. And I don’t really recall ever being very unhappy about the dimensions to which my body was expanding. I was so thrilled to be having two babies. Of course, I laid awake in bed and wondered how on earth we were going to do everything times two – I even went so far as to wonder how we would teach them to drive a car. It seemed like it was going to be an overwhelming responsibility at times, but in general I wasn’t worried about it. I knew we had great family and friends and I knew that they would pitch in forever! I had the details of getting Alex to preschool figured out; how I would fit two cribs in the nursery; when I would grocery shop. In my mind it was all a matter of organization with a huge margin for flexibility. I was ready!
So it still sort of stuns me that I have the “ease” of raising just one child when I was so prepared for two. And because I seemed to have mapped out their lives in my head, and most certainly my heart, going through each new experience with Brett seems to ring hollow without Jack beside him. Sending Brett to preschool this past fall was so difficult. Not from the separation standpoint, but from the standpoint that I could distinctly remember being hugely pregnant with the twins when Alex was going to school there and daydreaming about the days “the twins” would go. I knew they’d never have to worry about having a friend to play with because they would have each other. Now I can’t say that it’s nice not to have to pay two tuitions!! BUT it’s just one small scenario that I played out in my head that is not how it is in reality.
I decided to talk to a counselor about how I am processing all of these experiences to find out if this is all “normal” grieving and she has been helpful, suggesting books that have given me insight into the grieving process in general – it’s so different when it’s a child that dies, versus an older adult. (The book, by the way, is by Dr. Therese Rando called The Loss of a Child.) I feel good that I am talking to a professional about all of this, but I still find comfort in just talking to friends and family about whatever it may be that comes up about Jack – certain feelings that wander into my days unexpectedly and may stay for a while – for example, the great sadness of taking Brett to preschool.
I have to say that I am not angry or bitter about Jack’s death, which sort of surprises me. I am very much a black-and-white person and I thought I would want to blame someone/something for this unexplained death, but I simply feel sadness, in every possible dimension. I can readily talk about Jack and am always willing to share my story, something that at times is exhausting and other times so easy. I still cry every day over things that make my heart ache for my baby.
My true source of strength has been my sons, Alex and Brett. They make me so happy and proud to be their mother. It is such a gift to have them as children that when I am really down, I remember that I have their little bodies to hug and hold and so I give them more hugs and kisses and say a little prayer for my angel in Heaven. I know in my heart and soul that Jack’s life, however brief, was also a gift and I have to believe that in the bigger picture his absence physically is how it should be. I would probably give anything to not have that be so, but it is beyond me, and the acceptance of that allows me to feel sad and miss him and be happy for other parents who have both of their twins with them. It sometimes is a huge pill to swallow but every day, every year, it is sort of changing and evolving to the point that it will just BE.
Down the Road…4 years
A friend once told me that there is a Mexican proverb that says a person must grieve for four seasons, four times for the cycle to be complete. If that is the case, I have supposedly reached that point and I know that my grieving has indeed gone through different changes and perhaps it has completed a cycle, but I honestly believe it will be an ongoing process, bringing sadness, tears, and perhaps some understanding to various degrees.
January 15 marked the four-year anniversary when we found out at a routine ultrasound that one of our precious twin sons had died for no apparent reason. My life, at that specific moment, changed so dramatically that I still feel like I am dealing with the fallout. I was 31 weeks pregnant and until that point had had an ideal twin pregnancy. Both babies were about 3 and a half pounds and I felt like I had turned the corner knowing that they were at a viable weight should they be born prematurely. It had NEVER crossed my mind that I would only have one baby survive the pregnancy. In a state of shock, I continued the pregnancy for another four weeks when I went into natural labor and had a C-section to deliver the twins. Brett was born healthy and it was so wonderful to hear him scream!! Jack was born two minutes after him and now I know most definitely why they call it “stillbirth” because there was such intense silence.
As any parent of a surviving multiple knows, the happiness and sadness of birth and death happening at the same time is so challenging. There I was with this absolutely perfect little redheaded baby boy and I was THRILLED. Then I’d think of my other little redheaded baby boy and was just blown away by the deepest, saddest feeling – the depth of that sorrow is immeasurably deep. So the past four years have been a continuum of trying to reconcile the extremes of both of those emotions.
For me personally, I have found that holidays aren’t what I find the hardest. I find that day-to-day happenings present the most challenges. In fact, there have been lots of changes in our lives the past four years: births, deaths, moves, traveling and the only constant is that Jack isn’t a part of it and that is what our reality is. No matter what else happens, good or bad, and we’ve had mostly good things happen, there is an element missing that I will always wonder about – the “Jack factor.”
So back to the four seasons passing four times …each season has an essence of Jack that I think will always be there. The summer is good -that’s when we first found out we were pregnant and that it was TWINS (yippee!!!!). Autumn gets to me because it is when school starts and last year when Brett began pre-school I had such a hard time with that. I had such a vision of him going with Jack and when that didn’t happen it was so hard. Winter has two phases. First is Christmas and that is generally a good time for me. I love to be with my family and this generates happiness that must buoy any feelings of sadness I have that Jack isn’t with us. January is a toughie, though. It always seems to be a gray day on the 15th – exactly the same as when we found out Jack had died. The letdown after the holiday celebrations seems to be magnified by this anniversary that leads up to their birthday.
Spring has always been my favorite season -maybe it’s because that’s when my birthday is?!?! Actually I just love the smell in the air and the feeling that all is going to be fresh and new, and just maybe I am glad that I have made it through another anniversary of Jack’s death intact mentally. I also don’t have any pregnancy memories –i.e. “At his time four years ago, etc. etc.” so that seems to make a difference.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that what really gets me through each and every season is my family and friends. I am lucky that they ask about Jack and how I’m doing; that they don’t look “blank” when I mention Jack’s name or try and change the subject. The death of a baby is so delicate and I’m happy that Jack’s death hasn’t been dismissed. My living sons, Alex and Brett, are my angels on earth and I am also lucky to be their mom. The joy of parenting them is something I will never take for granted.
I’d also like to share a list of books that I have read that I have found to be helpful in one way or another:
“Empty Cradle, Broken Heart” (Deborah Davis, PhD.)
“When Bad Things Happen to Good People”
“The Death of a Child” by Dr. Therese Rando
“Given in Love But Not Mine to Keep”
Lastly, to each and every parent who has shared their story in this newsletter, my heart goes out to you. Every time I read a story I wish the ending would be different but knowing that it’s not, I’m thankful that there is an organization like CLIMB offering us a forum and a connection so that we are certain we are not alone. I write and share my story each year as a tribute to Jack and his existence.
Five Years Down the Road…
For some reason, and I know better than to try and figure out why, I am having a hard time writing down my thoughts on this fifth anniversary of the birth of our identical twin sons. (Brett and Jack were delivered by c-section at 36 weeks gestation after Jack had died in-utero for no known reason at 31 weeks. Brett is a thriving five-year-old.)
It certainly isn’t because I don’t have anything to say. And it certainly isn’t because I don’t want to share anything. It’s the exact opposite. I sort of feel like I have so much to say that it is somehow log-jammed in my brain. I guess that’s what they call “writer’s block.”
I think the best way to go about getting some thoughts down is to maybe list what I have gained in my five-year journey through grief.
Since I think five years is sort of a long time, considering how I wasn’t sure I could make it through the day when we found out one of our babies had died, I have this running assessment of where I think my grief is and how I am reacting to it.
The biggest hurdle I have had to overcome is actually accepting the grief in my life. It took a while to realize that it wasn’t ever going to go away. I remember a friend asking if I was going to be okay and if I thought I would be able to “get over” Jack’s death. At the time, I was still in shock, but being the veritable optimist I said “yes.” Well, “getting over” the death of a baby just doesn’t happen. I have incorporated the loss into my life – yes, I have tried not to let the sadness overpower my life, but I will forever be missing my son – every day, every minute of my life.
I think the tears I have cried, and will always cry, are a release of the inability to physically love my child. When I hug my other sons, I know what I am missing in not being able to hug Jack and that lack of being able to express my love comes out in tears. So I know that there will be many more tears because there are a zillion hugs and kisses that I won’t ever be able to give to him.
I am pregnant now for the third time. My first pregnancy was in 1992 and I had a son, Alex. The twin pregnancy was my second pregnancy and one that was amazingly easy until we found out Jack had died. This third pregnancy is my last and I really want to be able to enjoy every minute of it, but I am finding that I am anxious and simply cannot wait until I am holding the baby in my arms, knowing that she is okay. (We did prenatal testing and know it’s a girl which is thrilling!) It is also interesting to me that my feelings of loss over Jack have not diminished in the least at the thought of having another child added to our family. I know that some texts say women have “replacement” babies after they experience a loss, but I can’t quite fathom such a thing. To me, this pregnancy and baby have nothing to do with the loss of Jack.
Down the road … 6 years
Wednesday, January 15: pay day; take out the garbage day; pay the mortgage; piano lesson for Alex; return Brett’s library book … the anniversary of Jack’s death.
So how can it be that six years ago today was the last “normal” day of my life? I was happily pregnant (31 weeks along) with twin boys and finally feeling like I had hit the home stretch … only to have my world come crashing down around me when we found out that one of our babies had died in utero. For no apparent reason. A perfectly healthy baby who was over three pounds and well on his way to being born alive.
After six years and many changes in our lives, life is seemingly typical, but I have to say that the sorrow and grief of our twin’s death is still as heart-wrenching as it was the moment we found out he was no longer alive. In fact, I have found that it has taken on this different dimension, as our surviving twin gets older; it sort of has this foggy feeling that is hard to grasp. Almost like it couldn’t have possibly happened because I have this wonderful, energetic, bright six year old standing right in front of me…how could he have an identical twin who died? So when the reality surfaces that in fact Brett does have a twin, Jack, who isn’t living it is so shocking to me. And unbelievably there are still people who think that both of our twins survived. I just ran into an acquaintance last month and she said, “Oh your twins must be in Kindergarten now.” “Yes,” I said, “Brett is in Kindergarten but his twin, Jack, was stillborn.” Gulp. An unforeseen encounter and a surge of grief. I cry still.
The grief for me can’t be categorized. Yes, I have experienced all the “stages” of grief: shock, denial, anger, resolution; but they come at different times, triggered by something specific or nothing at all. The good thing about time is that it has given me perspective to deal with it. I know it’s okay to be sad. I know it’s okay to have twinges of envy when I see an adorable set of twins. I know that my friends and family remember Jack too. And so it goes.
As for Brett, he is all boy and has an amazing presence. I am waiting for him to “realize” he is a twin but I think because we have talked about Jack openly since he was born that he just accepts that he has a twin brother who died. He hasn’t ever dwelled on it but he has made a comment now and again – like when we hear the name “Jack” (which is often since it is such a popular name), Brett will occasionally say “Like my twin!” I asked him recently if he misses Jack and he said, “No” right away and then paused and said, “sometimes.” It breaks my heart for him to have to live without Jack and for some reason it makes me protective in a different sort of way. I know he will know the grief I feel and I wish I could somehow protect him from it but I know I can’t.
As for our family, we have had another baby – a girl named Mattie Caroline born this past June. She is so adorable and such a wonderful addition to our home and hearts. It is great to see Brett as a big brother – he is adoring of her. Our oldest son Alex, who is 10, asked me when I was pregnant if we would have had another baby if Jack had lived. To answer that is to open Pandora’s box so I just said, “Maybe.” But honestly we might not have. So can I say that Mattie is a “replacement” baby? Considering that she was born 5-1/2 years after our twins is one indication that no, she’s not, but the other thing is that even now with her here I still miss Jack SO much. I don’t think of him less. He is on my mind like he always has been. I will always and forever wish that Jack could be with us; nothing and nobody can change that. I was talking to a mother this past summer whose son committed suicide and she was sympathizing with me over Jack’s death and she said, “A mother never forgets.” That, I have found, is the ultimate truth.
With every issue of CLIMB’s newsletter that arrives in my mailbox I am torn when I start to read it. I NEED to read it to know that I am not alone but knowing that each story is not going to end happily is just so difficult. I want to hug every person who shares a story because I KNOW how deep and aching the pain is. I am comforted knowing that we all have CLIMB as a resource so we do not have to face our losses alone.Cindy