'Finding out my twin sister had killed herself was the worst day of my life'

'Finding out my twin sister had killed herself was the worst day of my life'

When Caroline Flack took her own life a year ago, she left behind her twin Jody. Speaking from experience, Nancy Power talks about the unique pain of losing your special sibling.

Where twins are concerned, there’s usually a quiet one and a loud one – a rebel and a reserved type. That was the case for myself and Jane.

Born 15 minutes apart, I never imagined that the other half of me would be gone before we’d even reached 21.

Losing your twin is a particular kind of agony that’s near impossible to describe. When I heard that Jody Flack had gone through the same with Caroline, and worse, having to identify her beloved sister’s body,
it brought the heartbreak rushing back.

Twins Jane and Nancy Power pictured together in 1984.

Not that it ever really goes away. Time doesn’t heal the pain, you just get used to living with it. I have for more than 30 years, after learning of Jane’s death by suicide on a foggy October evening in 1986.

I was a student in Nottingham and, having just found out I’d been awarded a work placement in Italy, I was having an impromptu celebration with my flatmate.

There was wine, loud music, and the feeling that finally, my career in fashion was finding its feet. That would all come tumbling down when the phone began to ring.

It was my mother, asking how to get into my flat. I went downstairs to open the door and saw my parents – who had by then been divorced for years – approaching in the mist from a payphone, there to tell me Jane had finally succeeded in taking her life.

Different paths

Like Jody and Caroline, Jane and I had diverged. Caroline’s twin Jody has three children and never engaged with the spotlight, while the presenter’s glamorous life was regularly featured on social media and in the press.

I always knew what I wanted to do in my career, while Jane never did, noticeably struggling to engage with school from the age of 14.

On the day I left home, we hugged and kissed, promising to write to one another every day. As she walked down the driveway to catch her bus, I asked her for one more hug.

Hearing about Caroline Flack's sister Jody brought memories flooding back for Nancy.

She didn’t look back. I think that was the turning point – her feeling like I’d abandoned her.

Less than two weeks after I left, I phoned home to be told she had tried to take her own life – something I blamed myself for.

Why had I not gone after her that day? It would be the start of a series of attempts to come, a two-year period in which she was diagnosed as clinically depressed and schizophrenic and committed to a psychiatric institution.

I spent that time at college sick with worry, hoping she would get better. When people talk of an unbreakable bond between twins, it’s true – an unspoken commitment you have to one another for life.

Knowing she was hurting and that I couldn’t fix it made things more unbearable still.

The day that Jane killed herself was the worst of my life. Every second of that drive home from university was torture, like I had been ripped wide open – every inch we went forward was just another away from her.

Nancy and Jane celebrating their 18th birthday together.

I wanted time to stop, to be able to change things somehow, just as I did when we went to clear out her flat and found a pool of her blood on the floor.

Or at her funeral, when the curtains drew over her coffin – I wanted to jump up and rip them down.

Burying my grief

Right after Jane died, I kept being told to look after my mother, but nobody ever asked me how I was feeling.

And so, for almost two decades, I buried my grief entirely, until the sadness I’d been pushing down became a tide I could no longer ignore.

Drowning in my devastation, I spent the next five years in therapy dealing with the clinical depression I had developed from my loss.

Not only had I lost Jane, but my older brother James had died at the age of 30 from pneumonia.

The twins with their brother James.

Having no one to share childhood memories with – playing in the village lake, finishing each other’s sentences, her sarcasm – compounded things even more.

In front of a counselor, I was finally able to remember my funny sister aloud, and reread the many letters we had sent one another – as we promised we would – that I had for so long been unable to look at.

Eventually, I felt I’d said all I needed to, but losing Jane has never become easy, or even easier, to live with.

I came across the Lone Twin Network (LTN), a charity for bereaved siblings, in a magazine article and sought support.

I feared that I was the first to lose a twin to suicide and that my situation would somehow be taboo or make me less worthy of help.

But they truly understood. Now 55 and a volunteer on the LTN committee, I know how much more common this is than I realised.

This year will be the 35th since I learnt Jane was gone and while I wish I could pass on advice to those like Jody, who are suffering what is truly an insurmountable loss, there is nothing you can say to quiet the pain of wondering what a loved one’s life might have been.

All we can do is remember them – no matter how much that hurts.
'Finding out my twin sister had killed herself was the worst day of my life'
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