Christa Parravani‘s Her: A Memoir, about losing her twin sister Cara, was published last month.
Losing a sibling at a relatively young age is likely to be a deeply unsettling experience for anyone. Losing a twin can be all that and more.
In a New York Times article (2007), Dr. Nancy L. Segal, who has expertise regarding twin bereavement, comments on the prevalence of “profound survivors’ guilt” among the twins who remain living. “They have problems with other intimate relationships. Birthdays bring on mourning.”
And Christa didn’t just lose a twin. She lost an identical twin. And losing an identical twin is identity-shattering.
Various reviewers of Her: A Memoir and other writers have described the incredible bond between Christa and Cara. It wasn’t just about twinhood.
Emotionally attuned and protectively close to each other since growing up in Schenectady to parents in a rocky marriage before their strong-willed mother essentially raised them on her own, Parravani and her sister, Cara, were obsessed with the other for much of their lives: critical of their shared but subtly different looks; jealous of the other’s boyfriends, then husbands; and certain that the twins would die somehow together.
Kirkus Reviews: “Raised by a strong-willed mother, the twins, Christa and Cara, shared a magical, intense and creative world of their own making.”
The awful turning point, as summarized by Publishers Weekly: “In her mid-20s Cara was violently raped in the woods near her Holyoke, Mass., home, and spiraled into drug abuse (e.g., prescription drugs, heroin) from what was eventually diagnosed as ‘post-traumatic stress disorder with borderline features.’”
One of the most notable elements of Christa’s resulting identity crisis following Cara’s accidental death from a heroin overdose was the frequent experience of seeing “Dead Face”—her term for feeling as though she was seeing her sister’s corpse when she looked in the mirror.
Among the many ways Christa’s life deteriorated after Cara’s loss: her marriage ended, her career as a photography professor was suffering, she lost way too much weight, she became addicted to anti-anxiety drugs, she attempted suicide, she admitted herself to a psychiatric facility.
Eventually, though, Christa did a number of important things that helped her rise from the abyss. She started writing poems about her twin. She attended intensive outpatient therapy. And, she began the process that became Her: A Memoir. She reports that it saved her life.
Reportedly Christa, 35, is now doing well. She’s married to writer Anthony Swofford, and they have a baby daughter.