One Dies, One Survives, Pt. II
interview with Susan Erickson by Kara L.C. Jones

Several months ago, I had an odd week here at KotaPress. In various ways, for various reasons, I came into contact with four different families who had experienced the birth of twins where one of the children died and one lived. The "coincidence" struck me as odd. In my 4+ years of doing outreach work I had only come in contact with one or two families that whole time. Now, in one week, four families. In trying to figure out how to best help everyone involved and offer further outreach to readers who might also find themselves in this sort of bereaved situation, I asked the families if we might do interviews with them. They all graciously agreed.

What follows is Part II of my Q & A with these families. This month we are talking with Susan Erickson, a bereaved grandmother, who was kind enough to share her tender heart with us after the death of her grandson Ryan Shane.

Kara: First, please feel free to share the particular circumstance of your loss. I know that some of you had one twin stillborn and one live; others had both born premature and one died very soon after birth. So if you want to first share your story specifically...

Susan: I am the grandmother of our group. At Christmas 2001 while my husband and I were visiting them, my daughter and her husband announced they were expecting fraternal twins to be born in June. While we were still there she had a loss of amniotic fluid from one sac and was put on bed rest. I made a short trip home to fulfill a commitment and then returned to help care for her and her family. The pregnancy was difficult for my daughter. There was the stress of wondering if infection would set in. She developed a painful leg that disturbed her sleep. There was the confinement and discomfort of being bed ridden and numerous medical visits and tests to determine the status of the baby with low amniotic fluid. Early in March, at about 26 weeks, her doctor admitted her to the hospital as a precautionary measure. The monitoring showed the babies were doing well although the one twin had very low amniotic fluid. The day before the doctor was going to release her to come home she went into labor and the babies were delivered by emergency Cesarean section. The twins weighed a little over 2 pounds each. Ryan Shane, the twin in the low amniotic fluid, lived only 5 hours. Quinn, the surviving twin, was in the neonatal intensive care unit for four months and had the types of problems premature infants do. He now weighs 22 pounds, walked at about one year, climbs with abandon, eats well and has been healthy since coming home from the hospital. At this time he is showing no developmental problems.

Kara: It has struck me that the grief journey of a parent where one twin died and the other survived, is a very unique situation. Yet in the past week, I've had random, totally unrelated contacts with four families with just this situation. Have you met others along the way with the same circumstance? Or have you felt a bit alone in these aspects of your loss?

Susan: I have not personally met any grandparents who have lost one grandchild, but I did make contact, through AGAST (The Alliance of Grandparents A Support in Tragedy), with a grandmother who was a support person for twin loss. I get their newsletter, too.


Kara: In my advocacy work, I really try to promote that we are parents even after our children die -- albeit a "different kind of parent" in grief. For you, there was a double parenthood -- all the "normal" sleep deprived, overwhelming, newborn parenting and then also the parenthood in grief. How did you get through those early days? What kind of support did you have around you?

Susan: I stayed with my daughter’s family from January through April. We did have support of neighbors and friends and family. Family was geographically distant so that meant most of the support fell on my shoulders. I did feel some resentment and disbelief that I was the only grandparent in the trenches. Their three year old was a great comfort since he was full of life and love. When I returned home in April I was exhausted. I saw a counselor. My husband took care of me like someone recovering from an extended illness. In July when Quinn was released from the hospital I returned for a month so I could finally hold him. .


Kara: Did you feel you had time for BOTH children -- the surviving newborn and for grieving the twin who died?

Susan: It was not until I returned home that I truly made time for grieving Ryan Shane’s death. I am a poet, but was unable to write much for some time. One of the things that was helpful to me was to present some books to the public library in my daughter’s community in Ryan’s name. I considered Ryan a hero because he survived until his twin was old enough to survive and because he got his mother to the hospital where she and his brother could get specialized care. So, I found books with children as heroes. I continue to add to that collection as I become aware of such books.


Kara: Was there anything exceptional that the "professionals" around you did to help your family at the time of birth/stillbirth and/or since then? If so, could you tell us a little about that?

Susan: We did feel especially close to one of the nurses who had herself lost a son later in life. She told us to grieve in our own way and our own time. She helped care for Quinn in the NICU and helped us stay positive through those scary days and all the ups and downs that are a part of a preemies life.


Kara: Was there anything particularly unhelpful that people did? If so, could you tell us about that?

Susan: While I know people are sometimes unsure of what to say. the hardest thing for me was when people did not acknowledge Ryan’s death and the sadness around it. But, you know, have probably done the same thing. Hopefully I can be more compassionate in the future.


Kara: I know that the "firsts" of everything are always difficult after a child has died. But you all had a unique situation in which you were also experiencing the "firsts" with the living twin. Can you tell us a little about what the first birthday, first winter, first spring thaw, etc have been like for you in terms of the balance between life and death, grief and healing?

Susan: My original plan for the first birthday was to light an early morning candle in Ryan’s name, but I did not do that. Maybe that will happen on birthday number two. We had a quiet family celebration for Quinn’s birthday which he thoroughly enjoyed. I feel Ryan’s death has made our love and enjoyment of Quinn more intense. While he was in the NICU the doctors came up with what I called the “disease for the day” of possible problems for him. Luckily he did not listen to them! He is a very determined child and I am awed with his unique personality.


Kara: If you are past the first year mark, can you say anything about the longer-term? Birthdays, memorials, just the everyday things that might come up in your family or questions from the surviving twin? Or from other siblings?

Susan: I will just follow the lead of Ryan’s mom and dad as to how they want to handle the future. When people ask me how many grandchildren I have I always include Ryan. And, I talk to Ryan on a regular basis to let him know he is loved.


Kara: If there is another family out there who is dealing with grief under this same kind of circumstance, and if they are feeling very alone, what might you want to tell them or share with them?

Susan: The one book that was so helpful to me was Finding Hope When a Child Dies by Sukie Miller. It helped me adopt the point of view that Ryan’s death is something I will not “get over,” but is a kind of unasked-for-initiation into a deeper experience and knowledge of the world. And that I will continue to incorporate the pain as part of my knowledge and continue to include him in my life.

And I would add that supporting one another through such a difficult time is an act of highest courage and love.


About the Interviewer:
Kevin Smith fan, zine creator, bookmaker, movie watcher, dreamer, tool of the peace movement, sometimes grumpy, would rather just write and never edit or publish again (but can't seem to extract herself from it!), sometimes inspired, always awed by the beautiful minds of people like Nash, advocate for bereaved parents everywhere, creator of the long forgotten Iowa GRRL, and so much more. If you have questions or comments, send email to

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