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The incredible, inspiring double lives of our clown princes Peebo and Dagwood

Opinion

Inseparable twins Peter and David Bissell were best friends since birth and brought joy as the clown double act Peebo and Dagwood. David turns 47 today – the first birthday he’ll spend without his brother by his side, writes Rebecca Levingston

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The last big event I went to was a funeral for a clown. Peebo, identical twin of Dagwood, died in March, just before Queensland shut down.

Hundreds of people turned out to farewell a beautiful, silly soul. We laughed and we cried too many tears because it was too short a life.

Born Peter and David Bissell, they became Peebo and Dagwood. Twins, brothers, best friends, clowns.

David and Peter Bissell as children.

It’s their birthday today – August 19. For the first time, Dagwood will grow older but Peebo will not.

I asked Dagwood how he will mark his first birthday without his twin … he’s unsure. It’s been five months since Peebo died. It feels like yesterday. It feels like forever. Grief warps time and time is something these brothers have been stretching since the day they arrived.

Peebo and Dagwood played a joke on their parents the moment they were born in 1973. No one was expecting twins – surprise! Like the mini car filled with clowns, an extra one arrived and the show began. The shocked doctor had to tell mum and dad about the second bub. To this day, they’re unsure who arrived first. They also weren’t sure how long the twins would live.

The boys both had cystic fibrosis and doctors predicted they wouldn’t live long past toddlerhood. Ta-da! They hit their teenage years growing into strong, gorgeous lads. Dad Bobby and mum Narelle nurtured their lungs and their cheeky humour. Laughter is good medicine but it wasn’t enough.

Eventually, the hospital became their second home so the doctors and nurses got front-row tickets to the performance that was life for Peebo and Dagwood. They entertained other kids on the wards. Jokes and drugs and late-night fast food runs. Just your usual teenage adventures – boom-tish!

Time ticked on. Then it got harder to breathe. What was needed to extend time for Peebo and Dagwood, was unthinkably rare.
Two new sets of lungs – identical, critical, medical miracles.

Cue drum roll … Peebo and Dagwood both had double lung transplants.

Both men were given a second chance at life and they went on to live their creed to laugh, live and love. Peebo became a dad to Millie.

Doctors told Dagwood that if he got three to five years from his new lungs he’d be lucky. That was 15 years ago. Only a handful of people in the world have such long lives post-transplant. The long scar that marks his chest also marks the moment he was gifted bonus time.

There’s not enough time to summarise the somersaults that these clowns have performed to keep surviving. They lost their sister to cystic fibrosis, they’ve drawn strength from the support of a community who’ve rallied around them and they’ve become life long friends with doctors. They clowned even when they had to paint on smiles to hide pain.

One of my favourite videos of Peebo and Dagwood is them driving to a clowning gig, fully made up and singing (badly) to Islands in the Stream. Kenny and Dolly’s words took on new meaning. “No one in between” wails Peebo. “We rely on each other” sings Dagwood as he reaches over and takes his twin’s hand. Actually I’m not even sure who’s who but when one brother kisses the hand of the other, nothing is surer than that bond.

Peebo got cancer. That’s what’s stopped the clock. In hospital, he wore his daughter Millie’s pink dressing gown. Wrapped around him bringing comfort in his final moments with Dagwood and his parents by his bedside.

Millie now finds comfort in her uncle, the carbon copy of her Daddy on their bike rides where they watch golden sunsets and wait for the stars to come out. That’s when Dagwood talks to Peebo. At nighttime, when darkness and grief meet and the hours seem too long.

David Bissell with his niece, Millie.

Millie Bissell.

 

I asked Dagwood if there’s anything of Peebo’s that he kept. His watch, he said. What he really wants is more time with his twin. A minute, a moment to make another memory. Tick, tock, you never know how much time you have left. 2020 is a blurry calendar.

Time is ticking and tricking all of us this year. But today’s date is special. Happy birthday Peebo and Dagwood.

Rebecca Levingston presents Mornings from 8.30-11am Monday to Friday on ABC Radio Brisbane

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