Random header image... Refresh for more!

What Can You Even Say?

I keep returning to the same news story of a set of twins who underwent euthanasia this week in Belgium. They were born deaf and were now going blind, and “they wanted to die because they ‘could no longer bear being unable to hear or see the other’.” I want to talk about it, but I have nothing to say. I tried talking about it with Josh, but the conversation was very brief, like a quick dash of salt.

“I keep reading about these twins. I want to talk about it.”

“What can a person even say?”

And yet I read the article again this morning, almost as if I’m expecting it to say something different.


So I pull apart the word: euthanasia.

Eu = good

Thanatos = death

Good death.

I break down the words even further, dig back to their roots; their stories.

Thanatos was the personification of death in Greek mythology. He was the son of Nyx (Night) and Erebos (Darkness). Like the brothers in Belgium, Thanatos was also a twin.

His brother was Hypnos, the personification of sleep. Hypnos lived in complete darkness — figurative blindess — in a cave without sound; deafness. The parallels keep rolling around in my mind.

In a pantheon of death-related gods, Thanatos is sometimes also specified as the god of peaceful death; easy death. When I read their brother’s account of the twins’ death, their small final wave and the repetition of the words “up in the sky,” all I could think of was this image of Thanatos and Hypnos there in the room, carrying the brothers gently beyond.


I was moved by their death. Choosing to end their life together. It spoke to the enormity of their relationship. Obviously different but an equally powerful image is the one Ben Folds calls forth in his song, “Luckiest.”

Next door, there’s an old man who lived to his 90’s

And one day, passed away in his sleep

And his wife, she stayed for a couple of days

And passed away

I’m sorry, I know that’s a strange way

To tell you that I know we belong

That I know that

I am

I am,

I am the luckiest

Don’t we all love that idea as much as we don’t want to die at all?  To not have to go through the emotional pain of being parted from someone we love; in getting to go together with the person who holds our heart at the end of a very long, very loved life?

The brothers, of course, were not old.  This was not the end of a long life, but rather a road clipped short in middle age.  And maybe that was what made the back of my throat ache as I read about them.  Because this wasn’t the fading described in the “Luckiest.”  It was a horrible loss for their parents, their brother, their friends and family.  It was a choice, and because it was a choice, there were always other options — obviously unpalatable options, but options nonetheless.  And maybe it is the presence of those options-that-aren’t-really-options (or, more accurately, while others may have chosen those other options, they weren’t options that were acceptable to the brothers) that makes this story keep flipping around in my mind like a fish pulled out of a lake.  That fish; attached to a line.


In my head, I keep thinking about how we process suicide, especially because at the same time, there have been so many articles about Aaron Swartz’s suicide.  Three lives, all cut short by choice, and in one case, it is called euthanasia, a good death.  And in the other, it is called suicide; Latin for self (sui) killing (cida).

There is so much anger after a suicide.  You want to resurrect the person just so you can scream at them about how much they’ve hurt you.  And yet we also have this thought that there are right times to end your life, reasonable times when living becomes unbearable and death then becomes a “good death.”  When we breathe a sigh of relief after a loss and say, “at least they aren’t in pain anymore.” How do we decide what is euthanasia and what is suicide?

It feels as if all deaths exist in greyness, processed by the remaining living.  And some we label euthanasia and some we label suicide, and others become accident or tragedy or finally or expected or too soon or unfair.  It’s almost as if this is part of the grieving process, to divvy up the deaths into their respective bin in our head so we know how to mourn.

Do we go first to tears or first to anger or first to shock or first to a shuddering sigh of relief?

How do we know if we don’t label it?


Josh is correct: what can you even say about this?  It was their choice, and as someone who supports not only the concept of euthanasia but also respecting another person’s choice, it stands to reason that I have no opinion on the rightness or wrongness of their death.  It happened.  And it is mostly a private moment for the family, though it was shared as a news item with the rest of the world.

I cup my hands around the fact of their death and do my part as a human to hold it.

As a mother of twins, I watch them sit with their heads together, talking about their next big idea.  I think of Marc and Eddy Verbessem’s mother, how she is coping in the aftermath.  Maybe that’s why I can’t stop reading about it, why I want to talk about it.  Koev halev.  My heart is out there, with this family I’ve never met.


1 serenity { 01.16.13 at 7:53 am }

Years after my cousin committed suicide, after gathering information from everyone that was close to her during that time, I realized: Amy wanted to die every day of her life.

The difference? Her struggle with her unbearable pain was private, and her suicide was surprising to most everyone. And, of course, the manner in which she died much too violent. What could have been a good death turned into suicide.

“It feels as if all deaths exist in greyness, processed by the remaining living.” Yes, this sentence. I often wonder if people in the US have trouble with assisted suicide (and it’s funny, we don’t call it euthanasia for humans. Only animals. Coincidence? I don’t think so) because of this. We have trouble processing Death, so instead of accepting it as part of living, we make our doctors take an oath to do everything to keep a patient alive, without regard for whether that might be the best decision for that patient.

I’m not saying that I believe my cousin is better off dead. But I can tell you that SHE believed that she was better off dead, and her death gave HER a measure of peace. And that’s something.

What courage it must have taken for that family to let their twin brothers/sons go.


2 Tiara { 01.16.13 at 7:54 am }

Very interesting post…that I have no words for. Well said.

3 Mary { 01.16.13 at 9:09 am }

I have such a hard time with this. A friend in high school shot himself at the ripe old age of 16 because his parents pulled him out of the high school musical. He left his twin sister behind. I know that he did it because he felt there was no other way, and that is so hard for me to understand. There have been so many times in my life when things have been so hard, and so painful…unbearable, really. And I’ve thought about how suicide would be easier than going through the pain. But without exception, there has been something that got me to see that this too would pass, and it always has. Even my son’s autism, while it will never go away, has gotten easier to bear, and I’d rather be his mommy than dead. I know life was unbearable for the brothers, and I can’t even imagine how they must have felt…but I wish there had been a way for them to feel like life was worth living, even with the hardships. I just don’t know. 🙁

4 Lisa @ hapahopes { 01.16.13 at 9:30 am }

This one’s going to eat at me for awhile. I work with deaf children. I have a lot of kids with progressive vision loss on top of their deafness. Twins too. Their lives are unique and beautiful. They have a lot of support and I wonder what kind of support these men had. I have no idea what it would be like to be in their shoes, but I do know that there must be a lot of pain for their families. Truly tragic.

5 a { 01.16.13 at 9:32 am }

I guess in this case it’s easier to understand because the men gave their reasons, and the reasons don’t seem temporary or inconsequential or reversible? I don’t know – death is hard…for the living, anyway.

6 Tigger { 01.16.13 at 10:16 am }

It makes me sad that this was the only viable option that they felt was available to them. I can see how they would not want to be “apart” – they couldn’t hear each other and soon would not have been able to see each other. For people so very very close, that would have been absolutely heartrending.

I know of couples who have passed within days or months of each other because the one left behind simply could not live without their mate and they died of a broken heart/lack of willingness to live. It saddens me every time…and yet, at the same time, gives me hope and makes me smile. Why? Because that kind of love is possible. That bond with someone is entirely within the realm of possibility. It’s the same reason that I smile when I see old couples walking alone, holding hands. After all their years being married, they are still very much in love and that makes me happy.

I’m glad that the courts allowed these brothers to do as they wished – spend the rest of their lives and afterlives with each other. I’m glad that their family finally came around to their way of thinking – I’m not sure it makes it any easier, but maybe they aren’t so angry.

7 YeahScience! { 01.16.13 at 10:56 am }

I too was incredibly moved by this story… my only experience with twins is dating one in high school, but I can certainly vouch for the intense bond they have that often goes beyond that of other siblings. It makes total sense to me why they chose to end their lives together, but I just cannot stop thinking about their mom. I’m sure she supported their decision, but that does not make it easier on her. My heart just aches for that woman.

On a side note: I kind of love the name Nyx. 🙂

8 Lori Lavender Luz { 01.16.13 at 1:48 pm }

Maybe what makes the difference is giving notice. That way, you can process the questions and some of the anger and grief with the person before they carry out their plan. Some things that make suicide so difficult for those left behind is the sense of being in the dark, of wishing you’d done something different, of being blindsided, of not having a chance to have a say. With euthanasia, all those things can be somewhat mitigated and you may have more of a sense that the person is making a rational (long-lasting) decision than being caught in an emotional moment.

I can see why this strikes you so hard. {{{{Mel}}}}

9 Battynurse { 01.17.13 at 12:27 pm }

I read something once that said suicide wasn’t a desire to die but an inability to deal with the pain. At that point in my life that felt so true. In dealing with severe depression off and on since I was about 13 I can understand why some do commit suicide yet it makes me sad because often the person can’t see in that moment that whatever is causing them emotional pain likely will not be forever and things do get better. However in the case of someone who has a terminal condition or something that will permanently alter their quality of life I can understand and respect their choice if they chose euthanasia or assisted suicide. I like to what Lori says above about giving notice and processing grief before.

10 kateanon { 01.17.13 at 4:12 pm }

I look at suicide differently now. I think euthanasia is a good death, but because those around you have often been a part of the process, so they aren’t struggling with some of the emotions left for those who survive the suicide. I’ve watched D’s family pull apart after a patriarchial suicide that ripped a huge hole in their world.

Even with notice and planning, I wish the family well to deal with the pain left behind.

11 Wolfers { 01.17.13 at 5:23 pm }

This topic is quite sensitive among the Deaf and Deaf-Blind community (I’m Deaf, myself), hence hot debates. “Euthanasia” is one of triggers for anxiety (among with Eugenics and medical view vs. cultural view of deafness). Many Deaf-blind feel very disturbed that the twins chose to end their lives, considering them “cowards.” I keep reminding that we did not know their background, their medical issues (turned out they had many medical issues which was not originally included in media reports), and whether they had access to resources or DB(Deaf-Blind) community in their country. Bottom line is the twins chose how to write their own story, and they chose to go that way. Who were we to say they were wrong? Beside, from what I understand, the family were there at the hospital, saying good bye to the twin brothers. In a way, that was a closure; pain no less, but easier to handle, compared to messy suicides when you think about it. I had a cousin who had ended his life violently (with a gun) two days after his 27th birthday, and his mother hadn’t yet recovered (it being 11 years now).

12 Nonsequiturchica { 01.20.13 at 11:42 pm }

While I am generally for euthanasia, this story didn’t sit we’ll with me (I admit, I didn’t read much about it so I may not have all of the facts). I just don’t think that I consider being deaf or blind a terminal illness. Plenty of people that are deaf and/or blind lead very fulfilling and happy lives. It just seems like the brothers didn’t want to deal with their changing lives….maybe they were depressed too….so they thought it would be easier to die. It just seems like the easy way out- and what does it say to others out there that might be going through the same stuff? It’s simply too hard to deal with so you might as well kill yourself?

In the end, we all have (or should have) the choice of whether we want to continue living or not. However, in this instance, I wonder if their minds could have been changed by meeting someone that was deaf and blind to hear about how they deal with their disabilities.

13 luna { 01.28.13 at 1:58 am }

with suicide, the survivors deal with guilt and anger on top of grief. it hardly seems a “good death,” though that depends on how you see it.

I hadn’t heard of those twins, but that was the same week that one of SF’s famous twin sisters died at age 85. they had only been apart since december, when one of them needed to be hospitalized. http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/One-of-S-F-s-twin-Brown-sisters-dies-4186519.php

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
The contents of this website are protected by applicable copyright laws. All rights are reserved by the author