Review of If the Spirit Moves You by Justine Picardie

Searching for our Brother or Sister

I’ve just finished reading Justine Picardie’s book If the Spirit Moves You in which she documents, in diary form, a whole year following the death of her younger sister and best friend Ruth who died from breast cancer at the age of 33.  Throughout the book Picardie is searching, hoping to find and connect with her sister.  To hear her voice.  It’s funny, poignant and heart breaking.

The search

Searching for our brother or sister is very common after loss. Picardie’s search really resonated for me although my search was a little less international!  Quite often I would think I’d seen seen my sister when someone with a similar build or hairstyle was walking in front of me. Thinking you’ve seen your brother or sister is such a jolt to the senses because in the split second before you realise it can’t be your sibling, there’s the briefest of moments when you think it is and it hurts. 

My experience

Grief often causes you to do many things you may not ordinarily do.  At the time my sister died in 2009, I wouldn’t have described myself as particularly spiritual, but I remember contacting a well-known medium and asking whether my sister would have Down’s syndrome in spirit form.  Yes, it probably sounds crazy but at the time it seemed so important to me to know.  I thought ‘if Down’s syndrome is caused by having an extra chromosome then that’s physical.  So, if my sister is now simply energy (which is what I was starting to read) and has no body then surely she can’t have Down’s syndrome and if she hasn’t got Down’s syndrome then who is she?’  Would I recognise her?  What would her voice be like? 

You can see the rabbit hole I went down and the distress the not knowing caused for a time.  The medium did reply and said something about people with Down’s syndrome being old souls. They come to earth to help a family learn and they often go too soon.  It doesn’t really matter what she said, what I’m saying is that I recognise that search and I’m sure many of you do too. 

Back to the book

Picardie’s book includes other significant people in her life – her mum (who’s a therapist – yay!), her dad, husband and children and also includes other losses.  Now I’m cautioning you here and I’m sorry but I’m going to be deliberately vague as I don’t want to share what happens because one of the losses can’t be shared in abstract. It is to be experienced within the book. However, it said something to me about how life carries on around our grief and we simply can’t know what is coming next.  If you read the book, you’ll see what I mean.


By the end of the book, it was clear that Picardie’s sister continues to live on through her and maybe for me that was the takeaway of the book.  We’ve lost someone and we want them back but in searching for our brother or sister, we find we’ve never totally lost them.  Yes, in physical form we most certainly have but they do live on – in our hearts, in our conversations about them, in the expression of our feelings, in the rituals we develop to honour them and, if we’re lucky, in our dreams. 

Now in no way am I trying to minimise our suffering or the enormity of them not being alive anymore but part of the process of grieving is to ultimately find meaning and to develop a way of being in the world which includes our brother or sister but also allows us to go on living, even when it feels impossible.  I think this is what Picardie achieves in If the Spirit Moves You, that the process of grieving can sometimes encompass an external search to find meaning alongside an internal search in which we sift through our thoughts, feelings and beliefs in order to find a place for our brother or sister to reside in us whilst continuing with our own journey.

Donna @ Siblings Matter


Paula · January 22, 2021 at 3:51 pm

A very moving blog Donna and thank you so much for sharing our own experience. If the Spirit Moves You sounds like a good book.

    Donna · January 25, 2021 at 9:21 am

    Thank you for your kind comments Paula. The book was a recommendation by a counsellor in a group I belong to and I’m so glad she pointed me in the direction of it.

Geraldine · January 25, 2021 at 8:21 am

What a poignant review of an amazing book. I remember reading it many years ago.. I think I cried most of the way through, but I was grieving myself at the time. Not for a sibling but for a close family member. I was a hospice nurse at the time and her book along with her sisters was recommended as opposed to a theoretical book about grief. It certainly gave an insight into sibling grief.

Josephine · January 27, 2021 at 8:40 pm

It’s really interesting to read how your grief led to the searching and it has made me interested to read the book.

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