In the 10 years since losing one of my twin boys to undiagnosed twin to twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS), life has moved forward. Despite the devastation and heartbreak of losing Willis, I’ve kept going.
I became a nurse. I had three other children, besides our surviving identical twin, Walker. Life for Walker has moved on as well. He excels in academics, winning the spelling bee for his class. He plays safety for his football team and pitches for his baseball team. Always donning the number 6. Why, you ask? Because Walker and Willis were born on March 6, so that is the number he chose. He has friends, and he loves his family. And all who know him, know that Walker has a twin brother named Willis.
When I was first asked about sharing the photo I took of Walker at Willis’s grave, it was a no-brainer. Of course! We, as a family, thought it was beautiful. It embodied the beauty of the twin bond and the love between brothers. It also showed the devastating effects that TTTS can have on a family. If it could teach other families about this thief that took my son, and Walker’s twin, then I was happy to share our journey. In fact, we had been doing our yearly walk for four years to spread awareness and raise money for our cause. Opening our hearts could spread awareness, and help other heartbroken families to heal.
Wow, I thought. Just wow. People see it. They see the beauty I saw five years go when I found my son sitting against his twin’s grave and telling him about starting school — talking to his brother.
Yes, for a moment in time, this small-town Southern girl was naive, assuming everyone was touched by my son, and a friend to my family. Then I read some of the online comments.
Now, the negative was outweighed by positive, supportive, loving comments. But the negative comments were still there, and they were horrendous: “This mother needs help,” “Somebody help this family. They are sick,” “This child is depressed,” or “This is staged. This child never knew his brother.”
I locked myself away from my kids and I cried. I wondered if they saw my child, if they knew Walker, would they ever say these things? The child who smiles when he speaks of his identical twin brother. The child who shows his friends his Elvis collection because Elvis was also a surviving twin. The child who will be friends with anyone and offers help wherever it is needed.
My son is not depressed. If I had ever seen signs of depression in my child, do these people think I would have ignored that? That I would have allowed the photos to be shared or allowed Walker to spend so much time fundraising, if these things brought him trauma and pain?
It is a delicate balance of remembering his brother and knowing that he is his own person with his own identity. Willis happens to be a part of who Walker is, but that doesn’t define his entire person.
Despite the pain inflicted by hateful strangers, I am more determined than ever to share our story. To show the world we will not be deterred by people who are so miserable in their own lives that they feel the need to judge my family in such a harsh manner. We certainly didn’t ask for these shoes we walk in, but we wear them proudly, leaving Willis’s imprint as we go.
The boys turned 10 in a way I never imagined when I shared that picture on my Facebook page. Walker got to see his dream come true. He helped the world learn about TTTS, while also learning about Willis. It was what he always tried to accomplish — to leave something for Willis on this earth. From the beginning, it was Walker and Willis, then it was just Walker we carried home. For a moment in time as our story went around the world, it was once again Walker and Willis.
Two months later, Walker is full swing into baseball season and back to being a happy, awesome kid. We speak about the articles written about us, but life goes on, like it always does. And perhaps in Walker’s mind, he is able to know Willis is at complete rest, their story has been told, and their work has been done.
I know our story is not for everyone, but it is ours and we are proud of it. We were proud to share with the world the love of two brothers, and in turn, the world gave us all we could have ever wanted, a legacy for Willis.