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Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love Paperback – September 8, 2015
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— 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
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Anna is a woman of faith and a book lover who spent years working in a church related bookstore, though her greatest calling was being a wife and mother. Like many book sellers, Anna hoped to one day write a book and thought it would be a how-to book about restoring furniture. Her book would include inspirational Christian quotes and Biblical passages in each chapter. Instead, her first book dealt with losing her son in a tragic manner that defies explanation. She is honest about her emotions, how her son’s death changed every aspect of her close-knit family’s life, as well as her anger, hurt, and unanswered questions. She was told by many she was a powerful example of faith, which when she describes many things she faced is true, but in the pages, she shares what was happening in her heart during this time. She was also honest about her relationship with God and the changes that took place in that relationship in the aftermath of her son’s death. She is not perfect, there are many issues that it seems she still has to deal with, and her hurt can be raw at moments, but I see these things as strengths. This is how people deal with tragedy in real life situations. Television resolves things in a short period of time, life does not.
I am not sure if Anna intended that the book begins at a fast-paced rate then slows a bit, but I found when I first began reading the book, I could not put it down, then it is not as fast paced. To me it demonstrated that life can move fast, change at a moment’s notice, and then there is the slow trudging through life as we try and make sense of things. I personally found this book helpful in understanding the love parents have for children and by sharing her grief so well, I got a glimpse of what a parent faces at the loss of a child. I do think it raises questions that are important in growing in faith and that is why I selected to read “Rare Bird.” However, I would add a cautionary note. Often times when people face a challenge or a loss, giving a person a book seems ideal, and in many cases it can be. I do not believe that this is “that” book that you would give to a grieving parent. It would have to be read when and if they are ready. Now if you are helping someone who is grieving, if you are in ministry, you’re an educator, social worker, this is “that” book.
Thank-you Anna Whiston-Donaldson for sharing this story.
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.
I highlighted so many pages and paragraphs that hit me so hard, and have shared them with my friends in hopes to not only encourage them but to open their hearts to learn the many insights Anna discovers through her painful process. I plan on re-reading this book again... something I never do. But I must. There's so much in this sunken treasure of grief. It's paradoxical, I know- but her perspective is so authentic and chilling and ironically? Inspiring, encouraging and hopeful.
I want every woman to read this, not just the moms out there because tragedy strikes everywhere. Anna's incredibly painful memoir may break our hearts, but while our hearts are open and fragile- she ministers to them fully, creating a powerful purpose.
This book is a gift. Anna is a gift. Her writing is a gift. Receive it and be blessed.
Top international reviews
Her grief on the other hand, she writes about so well, yet we know we cannot fully imagine the pain the family are experiencing. I feel honoured to be able to read about such raw emotion and how it has related to and affected (positively) her Christian faith. I, too, am a Christian and am encouraged by how far God has brought them.
She doesn't canonise her son, it is an honest account of who he was and how her life has changed beyond what she could have imagined with his loss. I am not a mother, nor am I a wife but I have experienced grief and loss and could relate on a small level. This book is an extension of her blog and she is a very talented and genuine writer.