On Grief – Catherine Simpson on writing When I Had a Little Sister

January 31, 2019

‘Grief, bereavement, physical and mental illnesses had been taboo subjects in our farming family.’

When my little sister Tricia died by suicide four years ago a friend said: ‘Maybe you’ll write about this one day.’ I shook my head; it was unimaginable. This loss was too stunning, too devastating, too big to be contained in words. Where would I start?

Tricia was forty-six when she died and as we slowly cleared her house – which had been our family farmhouse for three generations – I found a lifetime of her diaries along with belongings of the previous two generations of family who had lived and died there.

At first I couldn’t bring myself to read the diaries and yet two years later I found myself needing to know what was in them. Tricia had left no suicide note but perhaps her diaries would explain how her story ended as it did.

In 2015 I began an excavation into her life and death. Reading her diaries and exploring everything I could find – letters, photographs, medical reports – that may offer a clue as to what had really happened. I immersed myself in my sister’s story; time-travelling back to the 1970s and 80s, via Tricia’s own words, to when we were growing up together on our Lancashire farm.

It brought back memories of the eccentric characters, the dark humour and absurdity of life on a farm where you are surrounded by birth, death and reproduction but have no words to describe them.

My search spread to involve the history of other members of my family; it made me realise that loss had compounded loss over the generations – all surrounded by an overwhelming silence. Grief, bereavement, physical and mental illnesses had been taboo subjects in our farming family which ran on principles of hard work and a stiff upper lip.

But for me the death of Tricia changed all that. Now it was time to speak; to put into words what our family had experienced over the past three generations and try to understand how we lost Tricia.
The result of my explorations is When I Had a Little Sister: The Story of a Farming Family that Never Spoke.

When I Had a Little Sister

Catherine Simpson

Out 7th February 2019


4th Estate


RRP £14.99

Proofs available – email to request a copy now

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