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Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love Paperback – September 8, 2015
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“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
From the Hardcover edition.
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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I love this book because it held my interest all the way through. There are no boring parts. It's both heartrending and uplifting. There are small miracles. I am a lover of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books--especially the ones that center on messages from departed loved ones and miracles. So there's some chicken soup in this book to warm your heart and strengthen your faith. But Jack's family are human beings--they're flesh and blood and they have a terrible unexpected untimely death to grieve. I hung on every word. Whiston-Donaldson tells her story so honestly and openly. She doesn't pretend to be a saint. She tells us about all her family's feelings including the anger and resentment that can be a part of grief. It's as though she opened up her soul and let us see just what it's like to have two beautiful children and then suddenly one is gone.
I can't praise her enough for sharing her story.
When Anna’s son gets swept away by flooding waters I was swept, riveted, into her story. “Watching” another mother deal with the loss of her child and witnessing the different ways each family member struggles and survives gave me reassurance that there really is mending. So honest in her account of her journey, Anna reaches back to where it hurts and to where the first inklings of hope occur, and then conveys that to her readers. That the book and Anna’s life are based on a strong religious faith did not bother me. She does not shove her faith or her ideas about coping with tragedy on her readers. God is simply one of the important characters in this book. God gets questioned, tested and pummeled. And life itself is laid threadbare on its butt before Anna discovers that “Each day is a new opportunity to show each other grace.”
Rare Bird profoundly affirms the message that the ones we love and thought we lost will forever “fill our hearts with life.”
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. If there was a poster child for 'kid least likely to get swept away in a stupid creek,' Jack would be the one."
Rare Bird is as poignant and heart-wrenching as you'd imagine an account of a mother's grief after the sudden loss of a child could be. But Whiston-Donaldson is careful not to portray Jack as perfect; she paints a complete picture of a complicated, loving, intelligent, and special child, who undoubtedly would have grown into an exceptional man. And she is honest about her feelings—the blame she places on herself for letting her children go out and play in the rain that night, struggling with her belief in God after this loss, and the challenges she faced in dealing with her husband, her daughter, and others while processing her grief.
"But maybe all deaths feel like this—improbable, strange, untimely, unnatural. Maybe every single death needs to be examined, spoken of aloud, and turned over in the mind to make it seem more real. And perhaps not being able to grasp all at once what has happened is a small mercy in itself."
This is an important and powerful book for anyone dealing with grief. I identified with many of the things Whiston-Donaldson said, such as, "I soon learn that prior closeness does not determine who will show up for you." Even though I didn't lose a child, nor do I share her religious beliefs, I was moved and affected by what she had to say. Grief is, sadly, a universal emotion, but how we deal with it is so individual, yet many of her frustrations, fears, and regrets spoke to me.
For her sake and the sake of her family, I wish that Anna Whiston-Donaldson's first book, as she said she thought it would be, was about painting furniture. Yet I feel tremendously fortunate that she was willing to share her family, her grief, her faith, and most importantly, her son, with us.
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