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Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love Hardcover – September 9, 2014

4.8 out of 5 stars 274 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love

Q&A with Anna Whiston-Donaldson author of Rare Bird
1. Tell us the significance of Rare Bird, the title of your memoir?

Rare Bird rose up as the perfect title for this book! Not only was our son enamored with birds, his first word being “bird” at just 7 months, but after his death, we started seeing comforting signs come from birds showing up at the strangest times. Unbeknownst to us, one of my old friends would write a poem about Jack entitled “Rare Avis” or “Rare Bird”. Readers will discover how all this ties together in the book. Jack was so very special. We consider him a rare bird, indeed.

2. What will your community of blog readers find in Rare Bird that is different or new from the journey they have followed since Jack’s passing?

Those who follow my blog An Inch of Gray will recognize my family and our story, as they have walked with us so faithfully since the beginning of this journey. They already know us from my words. That said, they will find more back-story on our marriage and family dynamics, and more of the raw, ugliness of grief than I shared on the blog. They won’t get as many stories about Jack, whom they have come to love, but I think they will get to know him even better in the book.

3. Was there ever a point in the public response to Jack's death, when their sympathy and support felt too much or uncomfortable?

No. I felt like I needed every shred of support I could get. It never felt intrusive to me. Jack’s death was so horrifying and frightening, that any sympathy and love sent out into the world on behalf our family helped to hold us up. In one short day, I went from an anonymous blogger to one whose readers knew where I lived, my real name, etc. But I would not have traded their support in order to stay anonymous. I needed their prayers too much for that. Tim and Margaret had different needs than I did. Tim wanted to be around people in a social setting, and Margaret wanted things to be as normal as possible.

4. How have you and your husband Tim come to interpret the dreams, visions and images of Jack that family and friends shared? Were these helpful?

We accept them as signs of comfort from God. We have come to believe that Jack’s eternal life in heaven is active and vibrant, and that souls find ways of bringing us comfort and assuring us they are safe. I am delighted that so many others—friends, family, and blog readers—experienced similar signs, a whole notebook full of them, because I think that helped all of us see something beautiful and mysterious happening in the midst of something so terrible.


Review

“Profound, tender, honest—and utterly unforgettable.”
— Gretchen Rubin, author of #1 New York Times bestseller, The Happiness Project

“Will touch every reader who picks it up.”
–The Washingtonian

"In this powerful debut memoir, blogger Whiston-Donaldson tells the tragic story—of the death of her 12-year-old son Jack. The author is an emotionally insightful guide to the territory of grief. She notes the relationship of grief and shame, the comforts and sorrows of sex, and the hideous fights between bereaved parents. From its disarming opening sentence (“I thought the first book I’d write would be about painting furniture”), the book avoids sentimentality. The book is well paced—the reader knows from the start that the author’s child is dead, but doesn’t know precisely how he dies for some chapters—and is underpinned by a steady drumbeat of faith, as Whiston-Donaldson negotiates a new relationship with God after Jack’s death. She feels deeply loved by God, “almost as if I’m wrapped in a soft, cotton batting,” but she is also “disappointed and hurt... and the only broken body I can picture right now is Jack’s.” Whiston-Donaldson’s compelling account belongs on the shelf next to Richard Lischer’s Stations of the Heart."
Publishers Weekly

“In her beautiful, clear-eyed prose Anna brings to life complex miracles: that the anchor of being strong is tied to feelings of unbearable weakness; that the ache of grief is often accompanied by glittering beauty; and that all we do not understand is more important to making sense of life than what we know. Her story, as well as Jack’s story, is gorgeous, bold and true, and no one will be unchanged in reading it.”
— Stacy Morrison, Editor in Chief, BlogHer; author of Falling Apart in One Piece

“This is not a book; it is a kaleidoscope. With every turn of the page, a new discovery is made that forever alters your view of pain, joy, heartache, time, hope, and healing. As I journeyed through Anna’s divinely written prose, I found myself unable to stand by as a passive recipient of her message. I needed to act. Because of Anna and Jack, I talked with my child about heaven. I walked around the pool’s edge to sit beside a grieving woman. I looked into the darkest places of my soul and for the first time, I did not look away. If you yearn to stop hiding from that which prevents you from truly living, step into the kaleidoscope that is Rare Bird. Turn the page—wake up, stand up, comfort, love, and live. Turn the page—let your eyes be opened to the light that exists in whatever darkness you face.”
— Rachel Macy Stafford, New York Times best-selling author of Hands Free Mama

“A masterpiece of hope, love, and the resilience and ferocity of the human spirit.”
— From the foreword by Glennon Doyle Melton, Momastery.com; author of Carry On, Warrior
 
"Rare Bird is not just another well-written story of love, loss, and the aftermath of death, but it is a story that clearly shows the constant presence and grace of a loving God. It gives assurance and comfort to those whose hearts are grieving, and hope to those who are afraid."
— Mary C. Neal, MD, New York Times best-selling author of To Heaven and Back
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Convergent Books (September 9, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1601425198
  • ISBN-13: 978-1601425195
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (274 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #311,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I still remember hearing the news, that Jack Donaldson had died in a strange and terrifying accident on a rainy September night. I didn’t know Jack. I didn’t know his mother Anna. And yet, when I heard the news, I felt compelled to fall to my knees and pray like I’d never prayed before for comfort for the family of four that was now heart-achingly missing one member. He was twelve years old. He was only twelve years old.

Throughout the past three years, I’ve kept up with the Donaldson’s story through Anna’s blog and through facebook. Though I’ve never met her, I’ve felt so connected to her and her family that when I heard she was releasing a book about her Jack, I pre-ordered it and insisted my friends do the same because she felt… like family.

And then Rare Bird arrived on my Kindle.

Oh.

Oh friends.

This a book to cherish.

These are words to wind around and through your heart again and again until you bleed with the sheer cutting wisdom and love. Because this is a book so full of love that it spills out and around the virtual pages until you can barely see through the tears. I never before realized how much tears taste like love. This book has moved me in ways I can’t begin to describe because though it is a book about a mother’s grief… it is more. It is a book about a mother’s hope… a mother’s love… a mother’s heart. This is a love story from a mother to her two children and it is hauntingly beautiful. When I was barely half way through, I pulled my son from his bed and snuggled with him to read the rest. When I dropped him off at school this morning, I didn’t care if I was embarrassing him when I hugged him close and kissed the softness of his cheek. Because I am his mother and I love him with a ferocity.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I remember in September 2011 when the Washington, DC area was hit by a quickly moving and unexpected set of rainstorms that left highways flooded, creeks running far over their banks, and trees felled. While we were fortunate not to lose power, many in the area did. I remember reading that several people were killed during those storms, mainly as a result of getting caught in the floods, including a 12-year-old boy from the town next to ours, who apparently fell into one of the creeks affected by the massive amount of rainfall. I couldn't even fathom the loss his family and friends were feeling, and that boy, Jack Donaldson, remained in my mind for a few weeks as I read and watched a number of follow-up news stories about the aftermath of his death.

So several years later, when I read that his mother had written a book about coping with this loss, and struggling with her faith, I felt drawn to it. Having lost my father unexpectedly just about six months ago, I knew this book would affect me, but it did both in ways I anticipated and ways which surprised me.

Anna Whiston-Donaldson was a blogger who chronicled her family's life, their faith, and her decorating tips. She and her husband, Tim, had two children, Jack and Margaret, and they were deeply rooted in their community, their church, and in their circle of family and friends. The four of them were tremendously close-knit, and Anna was always a very protective parent, warning her children of potential dangers and trying to keep them safe at all times, an irony not lost on her after Jack's death.

Jack was an athlete, an actor, always striving to make his friends and family laugh. But he was also tremendously sensitive, complex, and very cautious—as Anna's sister said after Jack's death, "I don't get it.
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Format: Hardcover
It was no surprise to me that I would find Anna Whiston-Donaldson's book, "Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love", to be a remarkable story that touched my heart on a deep level. I knew that Anna would write a book that was raw, honest, open and deeply full of her naked soul. That is the kind of person of integrity that Anna is. I met Anna three years ago when I started attending the church where she worshiped with her family and worked as manager of the book store. A friend of mine introduced me to Anna the first Sunday I attended the service and her smile was very warm and friendly. I knew I liked her as soon as I met her. I never met her son, Jack, but I saw him a couple of times sitting with his parents and sister in the balcony. It was a few months after meeting Anna when I heard about Jack's tragic death.

Anna is an amazing woman of deep faith and incredible honesty. I have enjoyed reading her blogs over the years. Being an African-American woman, I often admired Anna's way of speaking up for people of color and her compassion for people who are oppressed, poor and have no voice in society. She has the soul of an angel and the heart of a lion when it comes to speaking her mind about injustice. When I read her book, "Rare Bird", I heard the lion's roar of her broken heart and the angelic voice of someone who desperately needed to turn to God for answers. Her book speaks the truth of a mother's love for her child and a mother's anguish over her child's tragic death. Every chapter that I read of her book brought tears of sorrow and joys of laughter at so many beautiful things she shared about Jack and his remarkable life.

I never had children and cannot imagine the intense pain of losing a child.
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