Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Twins

Mom and Auntie--The Twins!
The top picture I have no idea if this is my mom or my aunt!

I have had the good fortune of two identical mothers. Not a good mother and an evil one like those depicted in Neil Gaiman's Coraline, but two loving mothers.

You see my mom is an identical twin.

Today, my Aunt lies in a hospital bed close to death. She is almost 88-years-old, and it is her time to go. My mother lies only miles away in the Jewish Home for the Aged, suffering with advanced Alzheimer's Disease.

Knowing my aunt is close to death, I feel overcome with feelings. I am losing my other mother. Although, in reality they were as different as night and day, the one thing they shared, besides there identical looks, was the way they loved. They loved all of their combined kids, all my cousins and all their kids unconditionally.

My beautiful mother and aunt are originally from Germany. During the Nazi occupation, they fled their home in Cologne. My grandfather was a prominent architect, and he was Jewish. He had married a Catholic girl from Dusseldorf. They had a son and two twin girls.

By the time WWII began, they were living in Amsterdam. They had been waiting for travel documents to the US when the Hague was blown up just days before their departure. They were destined to endure the war in Holland.

My uncle by then had left for Oxford and was attending University. When the war broke out, he immediately joined the Royal Air Force.

My mother joined the resistance and worked tirelessly in any way she could. My grandfather had hiding places in his home, just in case the Nazis came for him.

One early morning, there was a knock on the door. My mother looked out her window and saw two German officers. She put on one of her nicer dresses and left off her bra. She woke my Aunt and told her to tell their father to hide.

The officers were quite taken with my mother's beauty, her strength, and her charm. But when they looked up and saw another one that looked just like my mom descend from the staircase, they were mesmerized.

The time past slowly, so the story goes, and my mother and my aunt did their best to deflect the German officers' questions and advances. But, in time, my grandmother (who I never got to meet) apparently marched down the stairs and told the officers in no uncertain terms that indeed there was a Jew in the house, her husband, but she was Catholic, and he had his proper documents. She told them they had no business being in their home and firmly suggested they leave.

They left. But only with a stolen glance at my mom and her gorgeous twin.

They returned once after that to worn my mother that Nazis were talking about experimenting on half Jewish twins and suggested they go into hiding. My mom and my aunt were very lucky.

Tom and I took the kids to Amsterdam a few years back. They were surprised to see how close their grandmother and great-aunt lived to Anne Frank .

My uncle died fighting bravely for the Allied forces. His death left a gaping hole in the history of my family. His lovely daughter shared in the love and devotion of her identical aunts.

Miraculously, my grandparents and the twins survived the war and eventually made their way to America.

Mom and Auntie were great fun. They were stubborn to their German roots. They lived for their children and were connected to each other in an inexplicable way.

My mom sits at the Jewish Home for the Aged. She has suffered with Alzheimer's Disease for 16 years. I am happy today that she has Alzheimer's--she couldn't stand losing her sister.

And my wonderful, dedicated aunt visited my mom as much as she could. In the end, she started to develop dementia.

Just last week Auntie told her son-in-law, "Tell Ellen..." Ellen, is my Mother's name. He asked her time and time again, "Tell her what, tell Ellen what?" But that was it.

I'm convinced she wanted to say, "Tell her I love her," or "Tell her I'll meet her on the other side," or "Tell her I'll meet her at Nordstrom's!"

I think that my mother will die soon after my aunt. Twins are funny like that.

When my mother married my father, she couldn't find the right dress to wear. She loved the one that my aunt had found. So, they ended up wearing the same dress on my mom's wedding day.

Three months earlier, my aunt was sitting at a Hollywood restaurant having dinner with an actor friend of hers. My father noticed the beautiful woman sitting next to a man he didn't know very well. In my father's unflappable way, he sauntered over to the couple and looked straight at my aunt and told her that he wished there was someone at home that looked just like her. My aunt smiled knowingly, "As a matter of fact there is!" The next night, Auntie had set up a blind date between her twin and what would become my mother's love of her life, my dad. (Well it was a blind date for my mother! Not my dad.)

As much as I am prepared, I am still at a loss. A loss for a time that once was. A loss for that loving look and warm sincere smile. A loss for the only two people that would ever tell me the honest truth.

But I am thankful for a handful of cousins who are connected by the strong bond of history and love because of these two remarkable women.


  1. So sorry to hear about your aunt. My mom is an identical twin too, so I know exactly what you are feeling.

    It is a wonderful gift to have "two" mothers.

    Take care

  2. What an incredible story. I am sorry to hear that your aunt is nearing the end of her incredible life.

    Have you ever thought of writing a book about their lives? The few details that you share here leave me wanting to know more - and what better way to prevent part of that "loss for a time that once was" than recording it in words?

  3. What amazing stories. Reading them makes me wish I knew more about my family's history because that is really the only way that we can allow those that we loved live on. Your post pushes me to ask more questions of my parents.

    When my grandmother died a few years ago, I was with her in her final days. She seemed incoherent, waving at people who werent in the room and giving directions that seemed to make little sense. (Prior to her hospitalization, she was sharp as a tack so this was very strange indeed). I honestly think she was communicating with people on the other side. (Seriously) I think loved ones were coming to get her because she seemed very calm about it all. I hope your auntie and mom find peace together again -- I think you will feel it if they do.

  4. Thanks Patti and Kristen for your warm words. My wonderful cousin in England is putting their story down on paper. Visiting the Jewish Home one realizes that we are quickly losing a generation of brave men and women who harbor incredibles stories of strength, of hope, and love.

  5. Emily ask the questions now...I am so glad I know as much as I do but wish I knew more.

    I hope you are right because she has a lot of people waiting for her on the other side.

  6. All I can say is that you're lucky to have such a wonderful, strong family. Thanks for sharing their story, and we'll keep you in our prayers!

  7. You are in my thoughts during this bittersweet time, my friend. You are so lucky to have had such strong women in your life but I know from experience that the more you loved and admired them in life, they more you'll miss them when they are gone.
    Thinking of you..