One Of Our Twins Has Died. Now what?
The death of a child is a heartbreaking, horrible moment that will you will carry with you your entire life. The death of a single twin child (or higher order multiple) is an experience that is always difficult to describe. Mostly, it could be called a blessing and a curse. This article is written jointly, between Still Standing regular contributor, Megan Skaggs, and her husband, Willie Skaggs. Megan’s words are in regular print, while Willie’s words are in italics.
Almost five years ago I gave birth to a set of identical twin boys. Will came out first and was a healthy 6lb bundle of joy. Michael Joseph ‘MJ’, came out just a minute later. He was also 6lbs, but was born with a severe birth defect, called a congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH). I remember when I was pregnant and we found out about his birth defect. He was given a 50% chance of survival. I remember thinking it could only be a cruel twist of fate to plan a first birthday party for only one of my twins, and therefore, MJ must be meant to survive. When our boys were just 35 days old we made the hardest decision of our lives: to take our second born son off of life support and let him pass away peacefully in our arms. Walking out the only thing I could think was, ‘One of our twins has just died. Now what?’
I remember holding MJ for the first and last time 35 days after he was born. I was overwhelmed with emotions and I tried to cherish that moment and remember wanting that moment to last forever. I remember trying to stay strong in that moment because that is what men do. “Men do not cry or show emotions”. Why? Because that would be a sign of weakness in our society. So I remember in that moment saying good bye to my son, telling him how proud I was of his fight and that I love him, telling him to now rest in heaven and I would miss him each day but I will never forget him and that others would not forget him as well, I tried to stay strong and worry about others instead of truly absorbing that moment. I then remember thinking, now one of my twins had died. Now what?
The following hours were a blur as we packed up our things and left the NICU for the last time with no plans to return. The next morning I laid in bed holding our firstborn son, sobbing while I listened to my mother and husband pack up all of our ‘twin things’- the extra swing, bouncer, and all of our other doubles we had in preparation for our twins. I held Will and apologized over and over because he lost his twin and it must have been my fault.
The moments that follow were a blur. I remember carrying out enough frozen milk to fill a huge box that required its own freezer, I remember coming home to a dog that got out of her kennel and tore up the roses I had bought the day before for my wife’s birthday, and I remember ordering pizza late at night because that was the only thing open. As a father and a husband I knew I had to be strong for my wife and son. It was almost an out of body experience taking down MJ’s crib, bassinet, dresser, car seat, bouncer, etc because if felt as if I were looking down upon myself doing these things because we could not bear looking at them without MJ in them. All I could do was go through the motions of survival. Almost as a river adapts to the earth, I just flowed through life. I was numb to the world but strong and stoic for my wife.
As a new mother I desperately wanted to ‘be there’ for Will’s first months of life. But when MJ died my world had crashed so hard and so fast. I fell apart. Most of the first six months I don’t remember. I told my husband I couldn’t handle seeing anything with ‘Baby’s First Christmas’ when December came around. It was just a few months after MJ died and I couldn’t imagine seeing only one twin in those outfits. We told our families and managed as best we could through the holidays. Most of the first year I really don’t remember. We went through a lot of motions and did the best we could for our son in our arms. I have photos of the things we did that year, but I don’t remember doing much of them. I am glad we made that effort and forced ourselves to do many of the things we did with Will. While the memories aren’t very clear, the proof is the amazing child we have today. His first birthday party was harder than I imagined. It was the culmination of so many emotions over the previous year, and my worst nightmare coming true.
Throughout much of the first 6 months to a year after MJ died this was my theme as a father and a husband, to be tough and not feel emotions because if my wife and I were both unable to function our world would crumble. I placed all the weight of the world on my shoulders and remember going through life after our twin had died thinking of only what I had to do. Tunnel vision on one goal and that was to do only what had to be done and survive. Some friends, family, co-workers, peers, etc. had vanished and to be honest they were of no concern if they would vanish. To this day there are people in our lives before MJ died who are still not because of some reason or another.
Willie and I did the best we could that first year. Looking back there are things that I would change if I could. But I realize that the first year is the hardest. It’s learning how to live again. My healing began the second year without our son. It is still an everyday struggle. As the seasons change, so does my grief. Our journey as a husband and wife, and bereaved parents, is hard work. It was a struggle to find joy again. It was a struggle to know we had to find joy again- quickly because of the growing son we still had. We are continually growing, learning, and grieving.
As a father and husband looking back I would say that my grief really started 3 years after MJ’s death and this year (almost 5 years out) has been a real struggle. Fathers and husbands please tear down the restraints of society and the way others think you should be and open yourselves up to be vulnerable and feel the pain of the death of your child. Forge your own path of grief because no grief is the same and that grief is something you must cope with. Be true to your feelings and emotions and allow them to be seen by the world and experienced by your heart.
Our twins will always be our twins, but not at the same time. Will is an amazing little boy who I can’t wait to see grow every day. MJ is deeply missed in every moment. The blessing is Will, the curse is knowing there should be one more little boy next to him in all that he does, but death stole that away. Losing MJ changed our entire lives. We live each day by growing and grieving. Together.