Being a twin is a special, magical miracle that few of us get to enjoy. Unlike other relationships, twins begin theirs before being born. We begin developing our identities not alone but with each other through in-utero bonding before our first breath is taken. This significant bonding is carried with us throughout our whole lives. Ask any twin and you can bet that they are each other’s best friends. You always have somebody to play with, to laugh with, to share with, and to talk with. This relationship transcends many others, as a twin is a confidant with whom everything in your life can be shared without any judgment.
This loss was so traumatic for me that the memories I shared with him for eleven years aren’t there anymore.
I experienced the loss of this powerful relationship when I was eleven years old. My twin brother, Zachary, died from brain cancer in 2001. This loss was so traumatic for me that the memories I shared with him for eleven years aren’t there anymore. More specifically, he isn’t in my memory anymore. For example: Zach had the opportunity to throw out the first pitch at a Colorado Rockies game when he was battling cancer. I can remember going to the stadium, waiting in the lobby for us to be called, walking out to the mound to be with him as he threw the first pitch, but right when I turn to watch him throw it, my memory goes black.
When he died, I did what any other eleven-year-old boy would do—I closed myself off to the loss.
My grief journey didn’t start until I was twenty-seven years old, a full sixteen years after Zach had passed. When he died, I did what any other eleven-year-old boy would do—I closed myself off to the loss. I refused to listen to family members talk about him, I refused to even think about him, I refused to go to his grave. I think I was in my early twenties before I even mentioned his name in front of my immediate family. I had no words to describe my loss. No words that could adequately explain what I was feeling. No words that could even help me process it.
The waves of grief came and knocked me down time and time again.
Coming to terms with a breakup with an ex, I had all sorts of feelings that I had no idea how to handle—anxiety, despair, exhaustion, guilt, detachment, confusion, loss of control, sadness, emptiness. Sound familiar? Yep—these are common feelings of grief. Realizing this with the help of my mother, it was at that moment that I decided to face my fear—to face the grief attached to losing my twin brother. To open Pandora’s box and face the wrath of it, not knowing what would happen. For months and months at a time, it took everything I had inside me to get through the day. The waves of grief came and knocked me down time and time again. I read every single book that Amazon could ship me on grief: on what to expect, how to handle it, what it feels like. But although these books provided a template for how the grief journey is supposed to be, there is nothing that fully prepares you for the pain of grief.
For most of my life, my heart has felt like that. Knowing something is missing but that you cannot have it.
To put in perspective what living without your twin is like: imagine leaving your cellphone at home while you run errands, or at work while you go and grab lunch. The uneasiness you feel of wanting something that you cannot have, the feeling of missing something, the anxiety you feel because your phone is not by your side. For most of my life, my heart has felt like that. Knowing something is missing but that you cannot have it.
Ironically, it’s a feeling that I wouldn’t choose to get rid of even if I had the chance. Going through the grief, purposely choosing to open myself up to that pain, has rekindled my relationship with Zach. I talk to him every single day, and even though he doesn’t physically respond, I know that he is listening. I am a better person by going through that pain. I am more compassionate, empathetic, loving, open, and calmer (most of the time, when the grief waves are at ease). I have learned to live again in a sense. I have learned what many other men in this world stay away from—to be in touch with my emotions and feelings. Now, while this is a work in practice every single day, I am no longer the closed-off person I once was. I am more open to life than I was before, and if there was ever a reason why Zach died, maybe this is it: to show me that I can live in a way that is completely vulnerable. Every day I try to wake up and live my life with an open heart to the world. While some days it takes everything I have, I can always look inward and know that even though Zach is not physically here with me, our relationship still lives on in my heart. I wouldn’t have it any other way.