Opinion: Choosing joy after the death of my identical twin

While I was with her — both at her house and in the hospital — we cried, but we also laughed a lot, because that’s what we always did.

(Photo courtesy of Charla Haley) Charla Haley, left, laughs with her twin sister, Carla.

I’ll never forget the phone call that changed my life forever. A heavy smoker, my identical twin had been diagnosed with lung cancer the week before, and I was waiting for her call to tell me how bad it was. I answered as soon as the phone started ringing.

“It’s everywhere,” she said.

I remember screaming and falling to my knees, sobbing uncontrollably. We were 58.

I booked a flight to Tulsa as soon as I could and worked to encourage as many other immediate family members to travel to Tulsa, too, so we could all be together to support my sister. We laughed and cried and all the while my sister’s carefully chosen words were, “It’ll be fine.”

Her positive attitude was constant and she told everyone, “I’m really healthy except for the cancer.” She’d chuckle, refusing to let anyone give her a prognosis. She said it wouldn’t change anything and it didn’t.

The next nearly eight weeks were a blur and rushed by as I traveled from Utah to Oklahoma several times to spend time with her and her family as she began treatments.

While I was with her — both at her house and in the hospital — we cried, but we also laughed a lot, because that’s what we always did. She passed quietly in the hospital on a Sunday evening holding one of my hands. Just before she took her last breath, I whispered, “Don’t be a stranger.”

As I wrote her obituary while sitting at the dining table in her family home, the words seemed to type themselves and I ended it with, what I believe, are her words: “When you look up in the night sky and see the brightest star, read a great book, hear music that brings you joy, cry over a poignant commercial, or laugh hysterically at something funny, think of Carla.”

It’s been almost nine years since that happened. I think of her often. Some days the joy is near the surface, other days I have to work really hard to not let the sorrow overtake me. That’s when I remember the laughter. The giggles, the snorts, the belly laughs, the times we would just look at each other and burst into fits of laughter. I miss that more than you know — and more than I can express.

But I refuse to live in my sorrow. Each morning, I wake up and decide to remember how lucky I was to be a twin. We were “the Haley twins” for 58 years! What an amazing blessing! And we’ll be twins as long as I live because she lives in me and through me.

I speak her name often. Some days I do it through tears, other days I speak through the joy.

I never want people to be sad when they think of her. I want them to remember the joy, because that’s what I remember.

Charla Haley

Charla Haley works in communications for the Utah state government. It’s her second career, which follows more than 20 years as a radio news reporter/anchor at several radio stations in Salt Lake City. When she isn’t working, she loves spending time with her husband and family members near and far — including grandchildren — and two pets.

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