While this resource refers to the death of a twin sibling, it is equally applicable to a sibling from any other multiple birth. 

Twin siblings often share a very strong bond which is unique to them. The closeness of the relationship is said to develop early – even in the womb – and as they mature, twins are likely to spend a great deal of time together, sharing experiences and key life stages such as starting school, making friends and getting involved in activities. In some cases they may even have a private language or other way of communicating with each other.

The death of a twin sibling can have a profound impact on the surviving twin. Many bereaved twins say they feel as though a part of them is missing. Research suggests that this grief can be prolonged and intense; with support, twins can be helped to manage the impact of their grief.

Why can feelings be complicated?

When a twin sibling dies, the surviving twin may experience particularly complicated feelings. Many twins feel their identity is so intimately bound with that of their twin sibling that their death can result in profound feelings of loneliness. 

Others may have complex feelings about their 'blended identity', for example, an identical twin may always be reminded of their twin who has died when seeing their reflection in the mirror which could be both unsettling and disorientating, or in some cases, comforting.

People sometimes see me and say: 'Alright Dan?' then apologise. But I say: 'Don’t apologise because it’s nice you still remember him'. The mix up was always there and it’s a nice thing, it doesn’t hurt - it’s warming. Someone once came up to me and said: 'You’re Mike, aren’t you?'. He got quite upset but then said, 'You’re so like your brother - your expressions and your laughing - it’s just nice to still see'. 

Mike, whose identical twin brother Dan died

Some twins may feel that their identity is less intertwined, especially if they had very different personalities and interests, and they might relish their individuality, but the profound connection can still remain.

We were two different types of people who went down two different paths, but Dan was the only person I could trust – I’d always fall back to him when I had a problem or something I wanted to get off my chest – it was always him.

Mike, whose identical twin brother Dan died

How they express their feelings will be dependent on their age when their sibling dies. A baby will have no cognitive understanding at the time that their twin dies but will be aware that they’re not present and may also pick up on tensions and distress in their caregivers. They may be particularly clingy and unsettled and cry more than usual. Regardless of their age when their twin sibling died, it will be felt through their childhood and for the rest of their life; for example, every birthday they celebrate will also be tinged with sadness, a reminder of another birthday not shared with their twin.

Most children under the age of six generally do not understand that death is permanent. A young child may not understand that their sibling has died and will not come back; they may look for them and ask lots of questions repeatedly. Primary aged children often exhibit 'magical thinking' where they think that they can influence what happens, for instance thinking, 'If I do this, my twin will come back'. It can help to talk to your child about their sibling using age-appropriate language so that you address any misunderstandings or gaps in their knowledge. 

As children mature and realise that death is permanent, they also become aware that it can happen to other people including themselves. They may be protective and try to look after their important adults and any other siblings. They may feel that they were somehow responsible for the death, feel angry with their twin for dying and leaving them, or feel that they should have died instead of their sibling. Some might even feel jealous of their twin when people talk about or remember them. It’s important not to idealise the child who has died and if talking about aspects of their personality in a positive way, it can be comforting to relate this positively to the personality or skills of their sibling. You might say: 'Katie really liked drawing just like you do' or 'Ben was also very kind like you are'. 

Older twins may find it difficult to talk about their feelings and may feel extremely isolated. Some adolescents can express their distress by impulsive behaviour or taking risks while others can become withdrawn. Young people do not like to feel pressured into expressing their emotions; it can feel too painful and make them feel vulnerable. They can find it difficult to talk to their parents and might prefer to talk to their friends. However, sometimes friends may be sympathetic but find it hard to really understand what the bereaved teenager is feeling. You may be able to help them identify someone they might be happy to speak to. 

You might say: 'It can be really hard having all these muddled feelings and it can help to share them with someone. Is there anyone you can think of that you might be happy to talk to about how you feel? Or would you like me to find someone?'

Do bereaved twins face particular challenges? 

He is and was her other half. So she has ultimately lost a half of herself. This is not how we have talked to her about it, but this is sometimes how she feels. We have continued to make sure she is comfortable with herself and to celebrate her as a person. We acknowledge that she is a twin, but we did and always will acknowledge them both as individuals.

Lucy, whose twin son died

In most cultures, being a twin is considered special. The loss of a twin sibling can feel like a double loss - it is not only the loss of a sibling but can also feel like the loss of the surviving child’s identity as a twin. It’s important to acknowledge that although their twin has died, they are still a twin child, by helping them maintain their bond with their sibling in a way that is meaningful for them, such as by writing about them or creating a memory box of things that remind them of their twin.

When a twin sibling dies, the surviving sibling may feel they have to compensate in some way for the loss of their brother or sister, perhaps by behaving in a certain way, trying to be more like them, or by suppressing their own grief because they feel responsible in some way for their parents’ grief. 

It’s important to let your child know that you love and value them for themselves and although you are sad that their twin has died, this does not mean you love them any less. Also let them know that they are not responsible in any way for their twin dying or for your being upset, and that it’s OK to grieve and to feel sad sometimes.

How can I support my bereaved twin child?

The more truthful you can be and more open, the better. The fact she doesn’t have her twin will be with her forever. We’ve found that giving a ladder of knowledge of information about what’s happened has really helped.

Lucy, whose twin son died

Communicating honestly and openly with your bereaved twin child using age-appropriate language can help them to begin to come to terms with the death of their twin sibling. If there is any hint of guilt, reassure them they are not to blame and that having difficult feelings is normal.

Take time to allow them to talk about what happened to their twin. With younger children you may have to repeat information as they make sense of what has happened. With a baby or younger child it can be helpful to let them know from as early on as possible that they were one of twins. It can be helpful to encourage questions by mentioning their twin in conversation, where possible showing them any photos you might have, and making them part of your child’s family story.

Try not to anticipate your child’s reaction but be led by their questions and answer them as they come, rather than providing information they didn’t ask for or don’t need at this stage. A child whose twin died at birth or during pregnancy in particular may need to ask more as they grow older. 

As with the loss of any sibling, a bereaved older child will feel the death of their twin sibling very deeply. Talking to your child about their twin can help them maintain a bond with them and also help them with any worries they may have. Some older children may prefer to speak to another young person who has also experienced the loss of a twin sibling; there are organisations that may be able to help with this (see below). Read our resource for more on supporting a bereaved child.

How can I help my child remember their twin sibling?

We have special days when we celebrate him and do something he loved to do. We talk about him whenever we get the opportunity. We have his beloved toy that comes with us most places on holiday. Also they had baby blankets, a girl version and a boy version. I sewed these together and our daughter has this with her in her bed.

Lucy, whose twin son died

If you don’t want to talk about it, write it in a book – it doesn’t even have to be a sentence, it can be a word.

Mike, whose identical twin brother Dan died

When someone dies, it helps the grieving process to learn to adjust to life without the person who has died while maintaining a connection with them. The intense bond between twins may make this particularly challenging.

Finding ways to remember can be an important way of keeping the twin who has died part of your family. These might include making a memory box filled with things that belonged to or remind you of them, looking at any photographs you might have together, writing about them, doing something that they enjoyed doing or planting something in their memory. You may find it helpful to watch our short animation on remembering someone special who has died.

How can we cope with milestones as a family?

Milestones are very difficult. Our daughter is going to secondary school in September and I’m finding it hard not being able to do the same for him. Buying his uniform, thinking about how he would get on, whether they would be in the same class or not.

Lucy, whose twin son died

For the surviving twin and for the rest of the family, milestones can be very difficult and bring mixed emotions. Knowing that your child is starting school, graduating, or starting a new job when their twin is not, can be painful, and while parents are happy for their surviving child, they will undoubtedly feel sad that their other twin is missing out, and wonder what they would have been like. 

For the surviving twin it can be difficult reaching a milestone without someone who was by their side before, as it can be dealing with the bittersweet feelings of their parents. It is important that other family members consider the impact this might have on such occasions on their surviving twin.

After Dan died, I found it hard to enjoy birthdays. I couldn’t find enjoyment in anything – I thought, 'Dan’s not here, what’s the point?'. People would say, 'He wouldn’t want that,' and while I knew they were right, I couldn’t help my feelings. Mum and Dad bring him up in conversation and happy memories are brought up around birthdays. But it was our birthday recently and I checked in with my Mum and asked if she was OK and she said, 'No not really, last night was tough.'

Mike, whose identical twin brother Dan died

It can be important to do something positive to celebrate your surviving child that is just for them so that they don’t always feel that their achievements are tinged with sadness, grief and the sense of something that is missing.

It may help to talk about how you and they are feeling and to understand that it’s OK to feel sad while also feeling excited and celebratory about new beginnings and ventures. Read more on ways to help your child build resilience.

How can we manage special occasions? 

What I’ve always found hardest is when people say, 'Happy birthday Mike' and not 'Mike and Dan'. Recently, round at Mum and Dad’s they sang 'Happy Birthday' to me and I sang with them and included his name, and they picked up on it too. But I know it can be hard to say his name, I find it hard sometimes. On Mother’s and Father’s Day, I will always write a card to Mum and Dad and always sign it from me and Dan.

Mike, whose identical twin brother Dan died

When you are grieving, managing special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries can be difficult and these days can be painful. With occasions such as a birthday that are always shared with a twin who has died, a surviving twin and their family may feel they don’t want to celebrate the day or the surviving twin may feel resentment that their birthday isn’t celebrated in the way that birthdays of their friends are, for instance.

There is no right answer with this. We started having a birthday for our daughter the day before and their birthday as their birthday. This is what we were comfortable with. That way our daughter gets her time with her friends, she is acknowledged as a twin, and our son is celebrated too. This helps in the long run I’m sure of it. But it is hard at the same time.

Lucy, whose twin son died

It’s important to do what works for you and your child on the day, but also to try to make birthdays and other occasions special for the surviving twin, allowing them to enjoy their day while also finding time to remember their twin. Perhaps you could have two birthday cakes - one for the twin who has died to remember them and one for the surviving twin. Or you could do something to remember them together like lighting a candle or making a card. The best way is to talk about it as a family, and to your child, without making assumptions, and find out what feels right for everyone. 

I bought an outdoor lantern a couple of days after Dan passed and we always light it at special times for him.

Mike, whose identical twin brother Dan died

Other organisations

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