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Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love Hardcover – September 9, 2014
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From the Publisher
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.
“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.”
"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."
“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
About the Author
Anna Whiston-Donaldson is a popular blogger at An Inch of Gray. A graduate of James Madison University and Wake Forest University, she taught high school English for six years before becoming a full-time mom and writer. She lives with her husband, Tim, and daughter, Margaret, in suburban Washington, DC.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
Anna loves her son with a ferocity.
Anna loves her God with a ferocity.
And this book reconciles her loss of one and her belief in another in a way that is timeless and breathtaking. And yes sad. And yes also brilliantly honest and real.
This is a book about love and it is the most devastating of love stories. I can not tell you that you won’t cry… because you will. I can not tell you that you won’t be afraid and broken alongside this mother, because you will. But you will also be filled with so much love that you will absolutely not be able to keep it from exploding out of you into the world. Because even in her grief, this is first and foremost a book about love. And I am honored that Anna shared her love of her son with the world… because it inspires me to love better, to love bigger, to let go and to remember that we just don’t know how long we have to love these precious gifts. And so we should love them the best and the biggest while we can. Anna’s thoughts on life after life… the inexplicable life that comes after the biggest hurt of all… are healing in a way I never knew I needed to be healed. There is a God. Even when we think there isn’t. Even when we hurt so big that there is nothing safe from our pain. There is a God.
And he loves us. And he loves Anna. And Jack. And Tim. And most especially Margaret.
I don’t really do book reviews. I don’t go into the words or the story or how the author chooses to put things in writing… there are professionals who can break and parse and tell you all of that. What I know is my heart… and my heart loves this book. So if you want to know what love tastes like, go read this book, inhale the love Anna has for her children, and then share it with the world… the way she has.
When my now adult daughter was born, I remember holding her and looking into her beautiful eyes, feeling a joy beyond belief. I once was told that the eyes are the windows to the soul. looking into her eyes and feeling this joy, I noticed an incredible feeling of fear.as It now dawned on me that I was responsible for assuring a "safe" upbringing for this child. I found myself holding her closer and tighter as I felt both joy and fear.
Anna Whiston-Donaldson lived a spectrum of emotions with the tragic accidental drowning of her beautiful boy. Anna's ability to put words to paper and have them become (in my opinon) meaningful for those of us who are unable to articulate a loss of this magnitude. I strongly believe that anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one (not just a child) would benefit from reading this book. Will the pain go away? Probably Not, but there just maybe an understanding and possibly an acceptance or healing.
The two friends I gave this book to,have thanked me in writing and verbally and when we get together we still bring up our evolving emotions..
This will be my go to book for friends when they experience the loss of a loved one. I just want to say Thank you to Anna for capturing the words in your heart and head, as well as your pain and sharing it so exquisitely.
This book is a tearjerker. Whiston-Donaldson tells the story of the death of Jack, her twelve-year-old boy that drowned in a near by creek. Most of the book is the story of her, her husband Tim and daughter Margret pick up the pieces in the midst of their grief. Whiston-Donaldson is vulnerable about how Jack's death made her feel self-loathing, deep pain, isolation and broken. She also struggles to hold on to her faith in God through mourning. This memoir is set in the first year since Jack's passing, so you see her walk through the raw pain and shock, and the cloud of grief that settles in afterward. You also see rays of hope break in as she learns to live with the pain. She also comes to trust that Jack is somehow still close to her.
This is Whiston-Donaldson's story in her own words. I think many of the short chapters, probably came to life as blog entries (she blogs about her grief online). It is a touching story and I am glad I read it. I give it four stars.
I received this book from Convergent Books in exchange for my honest review.