With and Without Her: A Memoir of Being and Losing a Twin

In her new book – With and Without Her: A Memoir of Being and Losing a Twin – Dorothy Foltz-Gray shares the story of her sister's murder and the immense grief she endured after losing her identical twin. Here is an excerpt.


It is past twelve, a starless night when we reach St. Joseph’s Hospital. A black cross rises from the roof cornice, and from inside, the dimmed lights of night duty add a blue cast to the windows. We are bending the rules, violating the regular rounds of the hospital.


An attendant in reception directs us to the floor where my parents wait. Deane’s friends who have driven us remain behind. The elevator doors open, and I see my parents leaning against the wall opposite the elevator, their leaden faces, and I realize what I already knew: my sister is dying.


My sister’s estranged husband, Art, walks toward me. “Where is she?” I ask. “I want to see her.”


My father hesitates. But all of us walk down a hall into a small room with a single bed, and there, her head swollen and swathed, her face bruised, her chest inflated by the ventilator that keeps her alive, is no one who resembles my sister. She looks grotesque, inflexible, huge-shouldered, dark, and battered. Beside her, a respirator rises and falls, its end pieces winding into her throat. Her brain has no activity, but the rhythm of her heart repeats on the green monitor next to her bed. I bend close to her, close enough to whisper in her ear. The machine keeps up its pumping. I hold her hand, more like her now than her face, my face. This cannot be Deane. I want to do whatever the doctors did not, cross whatever border biology has set, see if I can wriggle past the barriers until I find her and pull her back.


I look up and see my father first, his face slack with sorrow. He is watching me, but he is silent, his disbelief crashing into mine. My mother too is silent, her head down, her face pale with fear. She cannot look at me, as if she is already far away, too afraid to be fully present. She places her hand on the foot of the bed, not quite on Deane’s foot but close enough. My father takes my elbow to pull me back out of the room.


We walk down the hall to another hospital room that the nurses have lent my family—a kind of drawing room to receive friends and flowers. But tonight the room is empty. In fact, the whole floor is dark and silent. It is 1 a.m., and the quiet heightens our sense that we have left the accustomed world. Dan and I sit on the edge of the bed, my mother on a chair, her profile to us.


I am shaking and cold. As my parents and I talk, what we say makes no more sense than Deane’s swollen head. Our words pool together and hover on the floor between us.


In a while, I walk out of the room, and a nun comes toward me. She takes my hands and looks into my face. Her own face is cupped by her habit, distilling her features, the round, clear eyes, the soft, aging skin. She bends her head toward mine and says what no one else can hear, says what no one else could have said: “Congratulations. Your sister is in paradise.” I want to step inside her, to be that certain. I envy her belief. What do I feel at her words except reassurance; here at last is someone who knows something about Deane beyond brainwaves and .357 magnums and death. For months afterward, I assume that Deane can color the sky pink or control the songs on the radio or open up a parking space or turn water to glitter on a fall day. She is everywhere because I know she would not leave me. My certainty makes the world’s mysteries thin enough to pass through.



My parents have rented a car and drive us to a small motel nearby where they have booked rooms side by side. Dan carries in their bags, our bags. He pulls the covers back, unzips the suitcases, fills glasses with ice and water. He does, as always, what needs doing, his gift to see such needs before anyone else does. I kiss my parents, and Dan and I go to our room next door. In a few minutes, we turn on the TV to have noise, distraction. The channel is set to local news, and Deane, her colleagues, her gunman are today’s headlines. Is the announcer screaming? Deane’s clinic and the ambulance and the voiceover of death cram into our room. Gunman kills one, injures three at Chelmsford clinic. The world is full of this news, and the TV forces our immersion. Except the news objectifies the personal, screens it with a lens, these deaths of strangers by a stranger, a story that makes any watcher for one moment feel lucky. A piece of the world goes crazy, but you’re not there.


We turn the TV off, click off the lights but do not sleep or touch. At last I go into the bathroom, lie down on the cold tile floor, and begin to cry for the first time that day. Only the sound I make is one I have never heard my body make before. It is the sound I have heard when news reporters cover foreign disasters, photographing women whose heads turn up and mouths hang open, who scream more than cry, and what journalists film is an abstraction called mourning. As if a cry could push away what these women know, as if their bodies too are in battle with death. As mine is.


Danny comes to me and guides me to my feet, holding my elbow, his arm around my waist. “Come back to bed,” he says, almost a whisper. He doesn’t say I need sleep or that tomorrow will be long and hard, but it is what I know he means. I slip under the covers. But for me, sleep cannot subdue the stimulant of shock and disbelief, and it hurts to lie there, buried by loss.


So, once again, I get up. I feel more at ease sitting near Dan. I sit in an armchair and write. I can draft Deane out of death or tunnel my way in with words, paving a path to her. I begin that night what I will do for months: hunt for what will bring her back. This black and white on a page: this is my key, and I keep going like a scientist accumulating data on faith until one day the pieces fit and death didn’t happen. I write until dawn, and then I get back into bed to sleep for several hours until my sister’s face wakes me in a dream, and I hear my parents next door. I get up and put on the same clothes I wore yesterday, clothes that can’t protect me from the Boston cold.


I walk next door to my parents’ room and knock. “Did you sleep?” I ask, leaning to give my mother a hug. She is dressed but distracted, rushing to finish, to put makeup on her pale face, to get her earrings on. It irritates me that she is dressing as she always does, can even consider makeup and jewelry. I am surprised that this morning her concern for appearance can annoy me. But her reactions are off: she has moved into another world where she will be silent or simply skimming the surface of what she remembers about how to behave. “It’s cold,” I say. I walk over to my father, who is bending over his suitcase, and kiss him too. He has on a tie, as always, a white shirt, black suit pants. “They have a motel restaurant,” he says. “I just spoke to Jeff. He’s driving up. He’ll be here this afternoon. We should eat something.”


Danny and I follow behind them to the restaurant, a clean, clinical place with paper mats and plates of pancakes that rush by on a waitress’s arm. We pass a pile of newspapers. “Shooting victim near death” is the headline, and I know I will not eat. We sit down, and I ask for coffee and juice. “You have to eat,” my father says. He turns to the waitress. “Add an order of toast.”


Dorothy Foltz-Gray is a freelance writer, editor and author of several books including Make Pain Disappear and Clean Sweep: The Principles of an American Entrepreneur and the Company He Founded. In her latest book, With and Without Her: A Memoir of Being and Losing a Twin, Foltz-Gray remembers the childhood she shared with her identical twin, and details her struggles in the wake of her sister's murder.


Top Image: Flickr Creative Commons / OiMax


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