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Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love

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On an ordinary September day, twelve-year-old Jack is swept away in a freak neighborhood flood. His parents and younger sister are left to wrestle with the awful questions: How could God let this happen? And, Can we ever be happy again? They each fall into the abyss of grief in different ways. And in the days and months to come, they each find their faltering way toward pe On an ordinary September day, twelve-year-old Jack is swept away in a freak neighborhood flood. His parents and younger sister are left to wrestle with the awful questions: How could God let this happen? And, Can we ever be happy again? They each fall into the abyss of grief in different ways. And in the days and months to come, they each find their faltering way toward peace. In Rare Bird, Anna Whiston-Donaldson unfolds a mother’s story of loss that leads, in time, to enduring hope. “Anna’s storytelling,” says Glennon Doyle Melton, “is raw and real and intense and funny.” With this unforgettable account of a family’s love and longing, Anna will draw you deeper into a divine goodness that keeps us—beyond all earthly circumstances—safe. This is a book about facing impossible circumstances and wanting to turn back the clock. It is about the flicker of hope in realizing that in times of heartbreak, God is closer than your own skin. It is about discovering that you’re braver than you think.


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On an ordinary September day, twelve-year-old Jack is swept away in a freak neighborhood flood. His parents and younger sister are left to wrestle with the awful questions: How could God let this happen? And, Can we ever be happy again? They each fall into the abyss of grief in different ways. And in the days and months to come, they each find their faltering way toward pe On an ordinary September day, twelve-year-old Jack is swept away in a freak neighborhood flood. His parents and younger sister are left to wrestle with the awful questions: How could God let this happen? And, Can we ever be happy again? They each fall into the abyss of grief in different ways. And in the days and months to come, they each find their faltering way toward peace. In Rare Bird, Anna Whiston-Donaldson unfolds a mother’s story of loss that leads, in time, to enduring hope. “Anna’s storytelling,” says Glennon Doyle Melton, “is raw and real and intense and funny.” With this unforgettable account of a family’s love and longing, Anna will draw you deeper into a divine goodness that keeps us—beyond all earthly circumstances—safe. This is a book about facing impossible circumstances and wanting to turn back the clock. It is about the flicker of hope in realizing that in times of heartbreak, God is closer than your own skin. It is about discovering that you’re braver than you think.

30 review for Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love

  1. 4 out of 5

    Larry H

    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 b 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. 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.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jennie Goutet

    There are almost no words to describe how much this book moved me. If you have suffered grief and want to see how to reach the other side of the chasm, or if you have faith, and you want to see how it can survive the worst nightmare a parent can undergo, or if you're a mom, and you worry that your heart won't survive the knowledge of just how fragile our power is to protect our children . . . then this book is for you. Yes, it's hard to read about something so tragic it can leave you sobbing unt There are almost no words to describe how much this book moved me. If you have suffered grief and want to see how to reach the other side of the chasm, or if you have faith, and you want to see how it can survive the worst nightmare a parent can undergo, or if you're a mom, and you worry that your heart won't survive the knowledge of just how fragile our power is to protect our children . . . then this book is for you. Yes, it's hard to read about something so tragic it can leave you sobbing until you can't breathe. But Anna writes about it in a way that is both heart-rending and practical. Her voice is both raw - a heart that beats, visible and throbbing with pain - and it is real, so that you find yourself nodding your head, laughing in teary sympathy, as life carries on in the big ways and the small. Rare Bird lives up to its name. It is unquestionably about the loss of Anna's son, Jack, who is like no other boy. But it is also about a unique love that extends beyond the grave - a rare love that reaches its tendrils down from heaven and envelops those who are still on this side.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Poppy Marler

    This book is difficult to review because I would have much rather read about repurposing old furniture and I'm not a DIYer. It also wasn't a quick read as I found myself lingering over the descriptions of Jack's personality. I was invested from the beginning by more than his beautiful smile and big brown eyes. The author does a wonderful job describing Jack's place in his family and how the dynamic completely shifted with their loss. The power in this story doesn't come from the recounting of the This book is difficult to review because I would have much rather read about repurposing old furniture and I'm not a DIYer. It also wasn't a quick read as I found myself lingering over the descriptions of Jack's personality. I was invested from the beginning by more than his beautiful smile and big brown eyes. The author does a wonderful job describing Jack's place in his family and how the dynamic completely shifted with their loss. The power in this story doesn't come from the recounting of the tragedy or immediate aftermath, it is in the author's unwavering faith. Though their family will never be whole without their beloved boy, I put the book down convinced they would make it. Like all good books, I have been thinking of the lessons forced upon the Donaldsons and how they apply to my life and family since I finished.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alison Lee

    A stunning, heartbreaking and heartwarming memoir of a mother's tragic loss of her son, and how she found light in an impossible nightmare. Anna writes with honesty, raw emotion and yes, even humour. She takes the reader through what seems to be an ordinary life, marked by incredible and unimaginable loss, where a family falls into the dark abyss of grieving for one gone too soon. Grief is not a straightforward, linear experience. It is one of valleys and mountains. It is not merely despair, but A stunning, heartbreaking and heartwarming memoir of a mother's tragic loss of her son, and how she found light in an impossible nightmare. Anna writes with honesty, raw emotion and yes, even humour. She takes the reader through what seems to be an ordinary life, marked by incredible and unimaginable loss, where a family falls into the dark abyss of grieving for one gone too soon. Grief is not a straightforward, linear experience. It is one of valleys and mountains. It is not merely despair, but a search for light, and the finding of immense love and support among the unexpected. It is courage and fear, it is heartbreak and hope. A truly mesmerising and unforgettable read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lydia

    I've never lost a child. I can't even begin to imagine the pain losing a child would bring. Reading this book gave me just the tiniest glimpse into the aching heart and world of a grieving mother, father, and sister. The words Anna Whiston-Donaldson uses are so profound. I felt that if I were going through what she has, I would be saying "Yes! That is exactly how it is!" What a wonderful, yet heartwrenching book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kir

    Love and loss are forever entwined. Some say we can’t know great joy or gratitude until we've experienced heartbreaking loss and I’m inclined to believe them. You can’t know how much something means to you until it has become part of your life and your story and then been taken away. Rare Bird is, at the heart of it, the story of a family; a normal, average and yet spectacularly extraordinary family who lose their beloved twelve year old son Jack to a terrifying accident on the banks of a creek Love and loss are forever entwined. Some say we can’t know great joy or gratitude until we've experienced heartbreaking loss and I’m inclined to believe them. You can’t know how much something means to you until it has become part of your life and your story and then been taken away. Rare Bird is, at the heart of it, the story of a family; a normal, average and yet spectacularly extraordinary family who lose their beloved twelve year old son Jack to a terrifying accident on the banks of a creek behind their home. Donaldson, with a strength and faith you will feel fill your heart, shares the heartbreaking knowledge that the unthinkable can happen to any one of us at anytime. And within her story are the layers of disbelief, grief, anger and a suspension of the faith you’d expect from a mother who has lost her child too soon. There are moments of pure clarity in this book, other moments of pure unbridled pain and yet the small threads of love and care seem to be sewn into every page offering you a glimpse of life after death for the ones left behind. Anna’s voice is what carries you through, strong, eloquent and honest. She allows us to see not only the pain but the purpose in her loss. Her storytelling that details the little things and the private moments is what makes it possible to not collapse under the empathy it is impossible not to feel. I read this book in the months after my own brother died suddenly at the age of thirty-four. There were times that I needed to set the book aside and other times I desperately needed Anna’s words and wisdom to help me process my own grief and to come to an understanding of what my mother must surely be feeling. It became an integral part of my healing in those first few months and is still a book I reach for when my faith is waning. Love and loss placed aptly on the cover, it is a beautiful, tender and moving memoir. You will close its pages changed, moved and grateful for Donaldson’s words.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Liz Whiston-Dean

    I have started this review three times already. My words are inadequate to describe the gift of this book. It is a window into real grief - not sugar-coated, not pretending to be ok. It is wrestling with the hardest questions in the hardest circumstances. Grieving parents will find it a place to land when they feel like they are alone in the world. Others will learn to better walk beside those who are grieving. The loss of a child is a grief like no other, yet grief is a universal experience for I have started this review three times already. My words are inadequate to describe the gift of this book. It is a window into real grief - not sugar-coated, not pretending to be ok. It is wrestling with the hardest questions in the hardest circumstances. Grieving parents will find it a place to land when they feel like they are alone in the world. Others will learn to better walk beside those who are grieving. The loss of a child is a grief like no other, yet grief is a universal experience for all who love. All readers will find impossible hope in the pages of Rare Bird.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Katie Sluiter

    It's so hard for me to muster the words for how I felt reading Rare Bird. I was hesitant to pick it up since I have two young boys and I suffer from anxiety. I thought surely reading about Jack's accident and Anna's grieving process would be enormously triggering for me, but something in my heart pushed me. I knew it would be Ok to read these words. Rare Bird is not a "grief book". It is a beautiful memoir filled with the grief and terror of losing a son, but also the hope and peace that comes f It's so hard for me to muster the words for how I felt reading Rare Bird. I was hesitant to pick it up since I have two young boys and I suffer from anxiety. I thought surely reading about Jack's accident and Anna's grieving process would be enormously triggering for me, but something in my heart pushed me. I knew it would be Ok to read these words. Rare Bird is not a "grief book". It is a beautiful memoir filled with the grief and terror of losing a son, but also the hope and peace that comes from loving someone so deeply. My favorite lines are near the end, "Because hurting people want to understand; we want to know why. But we don't want people coming to conclusions FOR us, feeding us neat little answers of what God's will is and how His mind and heart work. No thank you." Anna is not afraid to open herself to her readers and be completely real about her struggles with God, her family, and the hope she receives from unexpected places.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Arnebya

    Anna's words will leave you haunted, breathless, wanting to encircle her and her family in a cuccoon of safety. That's impossible, of course. If that could have been done, one would think the precautions we take as normal parents would have been enough to save Jack. The title's use of the words loss and love are precisely what the reader feels and takes away from this memoir. About the loss of her beloved son Jack (whom you will grow to adore, whose memory you will cherish), it is also about fai Anna's words will leave you haunted, breathless, wanting to encircle her and her family in a cuccoon of safety. That's impossible, of course. If that could have been done, one would think the precautions we take as normal parents would have been enough to save Jack. The title's use of the words loss and love are precisely what the reader feels and takes away from this memoir. About the loss of her beloved son Jack (whom you will grow to adore, whose memory you will cherish), it is also about faith and questioning faith but never giving up on faith. And love. This memoir is about the love we have for our children and our families, ourselves, and our God. It is about the love that others have for us, how they show us (and don't) during our times of need or, more aptly here, our times of desperately wanting to change just a few minutes of one day. You will close this book and sit and reflect and perhaps cry yet again (because you will cry). But, understand -- you will also laugh. Anna's way with words and her ability to intersperse humor into writing about early grief are what make the book's topic, her dealing with the sudden loss of her son, easier to read about. You will cry, laugh, and absolutely rally behind Anna and her family in this incredibly well written memoir of loss and love and hope.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    I have a confession: I read tragedies. Not traditional tragedies, where the ending is depressingly tragic [well, okay, I like those, too], but real-life stories that share a true tragedy and the journey of rising above, cultivating strength and faith. Rare Bird is a mother's account of losing her twelve year-old son in a horrific drowning accident. It is about a mother's love and a mother's profound grief. It is ultimately about faith. I'm a bit of a worrier. Why would I want to read books about I have a confession: I read tragedies. Not traditional tragedies, where the ending is depressingly tragic [well, okay, I like those, too], but real-life stories that share a true tragedy and the journey of rising above, cultivating strength and faith. Rare Bird is a mother's account of losing her twelve year-old son in a horrific drowning accident. It is about a mother's love and a mother's profound grief. It is ultimately about faith. I'm a bit of a worrier. Why would I want to read books about kids dying in tragic accidents? Do I really need one more thing to worry about? I feel like I am preparing for my own personal tragedy. I want to know how others have survived. I want to have empathy for those I know who have and will experience tragedies in their lives. Rare Bird is not an enjoyable read. That's not the point. It's a lesson in life and faith. I'm a little more worried about things out of my control and a little more trusting in God's plan.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Christmas

    I've had this book on my shelf for months. I forgot about requesting a copy to review, left it sitting there on my shelf until I went back to request another book and the website wouldn't let me because I left this one behind. Oh, how sorry I am to have left this beautiful story forgotten. I read, and I finished it much faster than I ever would have expected to finish a book while in my final year of college. The story itself tore my heart into pieces, and knowing that the story was true and rea I've had this book on my shelf for months. I forgot about requesting a copy to review, left it sitting there on my shelf until I went back to request another book and the website wouldn't let me because I left this one behind. Oh, how sorry I am to have left this beautiful story forgotten. I read, and I finished it much faster than I ever would have expected to finish a book while in my final year of college. The story itself tore my heart into pieces, and knowing that the story was true and real for so many people around the world (let alone the author of the book) was just salt on the wound. But this is the kind of pain I wanted. The kind of pain everyone needs, whether you've experienced loss or not. Because as long as we love someone, we will experience loss someday. This will prepare you. The premise of the story is an ordinary family in an ordinary neighborhood that looks a lot like your own. They live ordinary lives with their two children and jobs and church and friends. Everything remains ordinary until a neighborhood flood washes away one the children and introduces this ordinary family to the nightmare that is death. This story walks through the summer leading up to this event, and continues past as they wrestle with the hardest part - moving on. What I absolutely loved about this book was the voice. Anna Whiston-Donaldson is your best friend. Or, at least, she makes you feel like you are. She's funny, witty, and says what everyone thinks. She recounts times when her family was whole, and you just want to laugh and say, "This is my family!" You learn about each family member, their personalities, their fears, their sense of humour. She invites you into her home and her memories of Jack and shows you how wonderful a kid he was, but also how real of a kid he was. It's tempting when children die to turn them into little saints, because their beautiful qualities shine so brightly in our memories through the lens of our intense longing. In downplaying their humanity, however, we can sometimes deprive them of their full personhood....I want everyone to know that Jack was a real flesh-and-blood boy, not some two-dimensional paragon."This family is real, and you see it. You love them, you cry with them, you mourn with them, and you move one with them. This book also wonderfully portrays the love of God. It's hard to believe for some that the love of God can be shown in the death of a child. It can shake the faith of many, but Anna shows how Jack's death did the exact opposite for their family and their town. God came down on this traditional family and rocked them with tangible and supernatural comforts that only God could make happen.Everyone will lose in this world, and signs of comfort remind us that there is great love even in our darkest moments. They don't show me that God is any different from who He says He is, but maybe that He's different from the box I put Him in. The hardest part is understanding how life isn't fair, and we want to do everything we can to make it fair. Anna is like me. She's a rule follower. For people like us, rules exist to keep life fair. Keep everything in a box. Keep everything under control - my control. But when I get caught up trying to make life fair, it threatens to mire me in anger and bitterness. Where does faith fit in? Can I somehow have faith that God sees the bigger picture? That justice is His job, not mine? That He will make all things beautiful in His time? That I was not put here to play God, to decide who is safe enough and who is reckless, who lives and who dies? This is what everyone thinks, but we all know the truth deep down that that is not our job. And if it were, there would be more chaos than there already is. Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love is a beautiful depiction of what everyone experiences at some point or another. I truly believe reading this will help those who are drowning in their own grief. They will see that they are not alone, and that life moves on after death.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This book is a gentle reminder of how fragile and fleeting life can be. It's also a treasure of hope and inspiration for those currently in the midst of a tremendous loss. I am comforted having read Anna's words because her experience losing Jack taught me that no matter what we do to try to protect our family from harm, we cannot prevent life and death from happening. Rare Bird describes how a mother found the courage and strength to keep facing life for her family while in the midst of intense This book is a gentle reminder of how fragile and fleeting life can be. It's also a treasure of hope and inspiration for those currently in the midst of a tremendous loss. I am comforted having read Anna's words because her experience losing Jack taught me that no matter what we do to try to protect our family from harm, we cannot prevent life and death from happening. Rare Bird describes how a mother found the courage and strength to keep facing life for her family while in the midst of intensely painful grieving for the most devastating loss a parent could ever endure. Anna has been able to offer a gift of healing to others while at the same time honoring Jack's legacy. I learned through her storytelling that he was a unique, silly, intelligent kid with a warm smile and a sense of peace in his eyes. Maybe it had something to do with his favorite bible verse, "Nothing is Impossible with God." - Luke 1:37, because he knew his family would be able to sustain and live on although missing him with their entire hearts each and every day. Read this book. Buy this book. Buy five copies - or more - to have so that if someone you know is experiencing a difficult loss, they may be wrapped in the encouragement and support of a mother's heartfelt message.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    I don't think I've ever read a book that made my heart ache from cover to cover as much as this one did. I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose a child in such a freak accident and I hope I never will. But I am so grateful for this book- for Anna Whiston-Donaldson and how she lays bare her intense grief, and conveys the toll Jack's death took on her faith, family and marriage. I learned so much from reading her memoir, particularly how I can help and support friends whose world has crumb I don't think I've ever read a book that made my heart ache from cover to cover as much as this one did. I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose a child in such a freak accident and I hope I never will. But I am so grateful for this book- for Anna Whiston-Donaldson and how she lays bare her intense grief, and conveys the toll Jack's death took on her faith, family and marriage. I learned so much from reading her memoir, particularly how I can help and support friends whose world has crumbled before them and are trying to endure tragedy and loss. When I first started reading, I felt like she should have described Jack in more detail from the onset so that we as readers could feel his loss more keenly. But I came to realize that she described Jack more throughout the book in reliving her memories of him. As I read more and more, I fell in love with this sweet, sensitive boy who reminds me so much of my oldest son. He truly is a rare bird. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book. What a beautiful and courageous work of art.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    I marked this book to-read November 15, 2014, and my niece Elli committed suicide November 18, 2014. I just realized this. Little did I know when I finally found this at the Warrenville Public Library (shame on you Wheaton PL for not owning this book) that reading it would open my eyes more clearly to my sister's grieving process. It is a beautiful book of faith, love and the what-ifs that every mourning parent must feel. I'm going to buy this for my sister, I don't know if it will be useful to h I marked this book to-read November 15, 2014, and my niece Elli committed suicide November 18, 2014. I just realized this. Little did I know when I finally found this at the Warrenville Public Library (shame on you Wheaton PL for not owning this book) that reading it would open my eyes more clearly to my sister's grieving process. It is a beautiful book of faith, love and the what-ifs that every mourning parent must feel. I'm going to buy this for my sister, I don't know if it will be useful to her or not, but it would be of value to any of her friends who want to better understand her journey. And anyone who reads this might see a bit of themselves here -- are you a friend who steps in during a tragedy or needs to stay away? I will forever be changed by asking myself this question and many others as I shared Anna's grief over losing Jack.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Bern

    When I heard the story behind this book, I wanted very much to read it. Why? As a devout non-believer in religion, I was very curious to see how the author dealt with this horrible tragedy in light of the fact that she is a devout Christian. I was prepared to read all about how God and prayer solved all her issues, etc but was shocked to find that was not the case. Yes, she turned to prayer and her church, but what she also shared was the raw, honest truth about her life after her incredible los When I heard the story behind this book, I wanted very much to read it. Why? As a devout non-believer in religion, I was very curious to see how the author dealt with this horrible tragedy in light of the fact that she is a devout Christian. I was prepared to read all about how God and prayer solved all her issues, etc but was shocked to find that was not the case. Yes, she turned to prayer and her church, but what she also shared was the raw, honest truth about her life after her incredible loss. She showed us vulnerability, the good , the bad and the ugly and by the end had me understanding that one need not wait for a tragedy to occur in order to live life to its fullest. I highly recommend this book and I don't say that very often.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kerstin Auer

    A powerful book, no doubt about it. I'm amazed with how much grace Anna managed to write about her heartbreaking story. What happened to this family is beyond words and not only my biggest fear, but also that of any parent out there. I was a little scared to read it, but I am so glad I did. Anna's honesty and raw emotion are a treasure and while I knew there was no happy ending, I was so glad to read that there is hope. I know that this book will touch people's hearts - it certainly touched mine A powerful book, no doubt about it. I'm amazed with how much grace Anna managed to write about her heartbreaking story. What happened to this family is beyond words and not only my biggest fear, but also that of any parent out there. I was a little scared to read it, but I am so glad I did. Anna's honesty and raw emotion are a treasure and while I knew there was no happy ending, I was so glad to read that there is hope. I know that this book will touch people's hearts - it certainly touched mine.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Leigh Ann

    Rare Bird is a beautifully written memoir of one of the most difficult things a family can imagine - the death of a child. Anna Whiston Donaldson is so honest and transparent about her fears and her doubts and her faith, and how each of these play a part in her continuing journey through grief. She leaves the reader filled with hope in the knowledge that our loved ones are still with us long after they've gone. Rare Bird is a treasure.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ronya

    As the author and her family live in my area, I vaguely remembered this happening. That being said, the proximity of the events and resulting sadness touched me in a way they may not have had the triggering event happened elsewhere. Anna is a wonderful writer and gracefully puts into prose the difficult and complex feelings of a mother who has unexpectedly lost a child. Her words are honest. The story of loss is one that, as she says, everyone will experience in some way at some time. There was As the author and her family live in my area, I vaguely remembered this happening. That being said, the proximity of the events and resulting sadness touched me in a way they may not have had the triggering event happened elsewhere. Anna is a wonderful writer and gracefully puts into prose the difficult and complex feelings of a mother who has unexpectedly lost a child. Her words are honest. The story of loss is one that, as she says, everyone will experience in some way at some time. There was a lot of talk of God and his plan and purpose and the role of religion. Even if you are not as devout as she is, you can still appreciate the comfort and the questioning that such an experience can bring.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Katie Janowicz

    There really aren’t any words that are adequate to describe the impact this book has had on me. It was heart wrenching to read and hits very close to home as I have my own 12 year old boy who fuels my heart. The author’s beautiful boy, Jack, died in a freak accident and she so bravely shares the details of their story. While it pained my heart to read, it provided me a sense of awe and deep admiration for a mom who was willing to be so utterly honest and open with her grief and inner most though There really aren’t any words that are adequate to describe the impact this book has had on me. It was heart wrenching to read and hits very close to home as I have my own 12 year old boy who fuels my heart. The author’s beautiful boy, Jack, died in a freak accident and she so bravely shares the details of their story. While it pained my heart to read, it provided me a sense of awe and deep admiration for a mom who was willing to be so utterly honest and open with her grief and inner most thoughts as she experienced the unthinkable. Her faith in God, though completely rocked, continued to carry her through the pain of living without her son. The signs and messages she received, reassured me that there is so much more beyond what we can see.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Wilson

    I don't know why I have been seeking out memoirs of loss. I have lost my mother, grandfather-in-law, as well as three family friends this year. Reading about loss should be the last thing I want to do, but when I was offered a chance of an advance reading copy of Rare Bird, I accepted it. This book is beautifully written, tragic, and yet filled with hope. The only thing I disliked about the book was the foul language used. Yes, it would be (insert expletive of your choice here) to lose a son, but I don't know why I have been seeking out memoirs of loss. I have lost my mother, grandfather-in-law, as well as three family friends this year. Reading about loss should be the last thing I want to do, but when I was offered a chance of an advance reading copy of Rare Bird, I accepted it. This book is beautifully written, tragic, and yet filled with hope. The only thing I disliked about the book was the foul language used. Yes, it would be (insert expletive of your choice here) to lose a son, but with this being a Christian book, I was surprised at the language and that would keep me from recommending this book to some people. I do appreciate her honesty though, and I am not saying I didn't use language like that after some of the losses I experienced this year, I just didn't feel it was appropriate for a Christian book. The author takes you into her journey of loss. Being there for her daughter. Dealing with the loss of a son. Finding a new normal. Grief popping up at unexpected times. Others not knowing what to say or how to help. Learning about herself. Learning about others. Living with loss, heartache, and sorrow. I admired the support system she had. When my mother died, I felt lost as I was her primary care giver for years. I lost a bit of my identity as I did not have a job outside of that. The day of the funeral a couple desserts, a meat and cheese tray, and some bread arrived at the house. Then it seemed like silence. Death is a part of life, but it shouldn't happen too young. The author's son was in 7th grade. It was a freak accident during a flood. Children shouldn't die. Yet they do. Life comes with no guarantees. Picking up this book is like taking a walk with the author in her painful journey of everything being fine one moment -- her last Facebook photo before the accident was of her children and candlelight because of the power outage. The next day her life was changed forever. While I have lost family members before, I have never lost a child, an hope I never do. But this is a glimpse into the horrible pain that those who have lost a child must feel. Read this book hug your children tighter, and cherish each day because this moment is all we are guaranteed. Make the most of it. FTC disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Maryellen

    On September 8, 2011, Anna Donaldson told her children, Jack (age 12) and Margaret (age 10), to "go for it" when neighbors asked if they could come out and play in the rain. That day was the second day of the new school year and Jack was still wearing his school uniform when Anna watched the kids walk down the driveway in the rain. The electricity was out it was kind of fun with the whole 'Little House on the Prairie' vibe going. Then Anna heard thunder. She jumped in the car and went out to loo On September 8, 2011, Anna Donaldson told her children, Jack (age 12) and Margaret (age 10), to "go for it" when neighbors asked if they could come out and play in the rain. That day was the second day of the new school year and Jack was still wearing his school uniform when Anna watched the kids walk down the driveway in the rain. The electricity was out it was kind of fun with the whole 'Little House on the Prairie' vibe going. Then Anna heard thunder. She jumped in the car and went out to look for the kids in the cul-de-sac neighborhood to bring them home. She saw Margaret first and when she asked where Jack had gotten off to, Margaret said he was with the boys. Anna found the boys, but she didn't find Jack. Emergency workers would find Jack's lifeless body two hours later. He got swept away in a backyard creek that had breached its walls in the flooding in Fairfax County, VA. Jack drowned that day. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/f... RARE BIRD introduces us to the Donaldson Family and takes us on their journey of grief in the days, weeks, and months since that tragic day that changed their lives forever. Anna tells us this story as an incredible gift of having a real conversation with the reader. She made me love her family~~her beautiful, faithful and flawed family. This family is grounded in their faith and to say their faith wasn't shaken would be a lie; but, they wake up every day and they press on. We've all had loss in our lives. We have all experienced some type of grieving. Anna tells her story with aplomb and with humor. What she does not do is preach at the reader or try to tell you how to grieve. A lovely book, a 'rare bird' indeed. ✰✰✰✰✰

  22. 4 out of 5

    Marykate Hughes

    Towards the end of the book, Anna Whiston-Donaldson describes the rating system her late (early?) son Jack used for his dreams - that they could be a color and a number - scary, but awesome, or - peaceful, but only OK. I feel like I need that kind of rating system for this book. It took me over a year to get up my courage to read this book, and finally felt like I could face it knowing Anna has had a miracle baby boy within the last couple of months. How do you "like" a book about a mother descri Towards the end of the book, Anna Whiston-Donaldson describes the rating system her late (early?) son Jack used for his dreams - that they could be a color and a number - scary, but awesome, or - peaceful, but only OK. I feel like I need that kind of rating system for this book. It took me over a year to get up my courage to read this book, and finally felt like I could face it knowing Anna has had a miracle baby boy within the last couple of months. How do you "like" a book about a mother describing her grief over the tragic death of her beloved son? Anna's willingness to chronicle her loss, to give words to the unspeakable, is beautiful in its courage and horrible in its truth. Reading this book felt like someone taking a rolling pin to my insides. And yet...the message of letting go, of struggling, of seeing miracles and accepting grace through the pain resonate deeply with me and allow me to breathe even as I know how little is in my, or anyone's, control.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Marianne Stehr

    I read this book, as I have read many others of the same topic to see the reflection of my own grief. Whereas it is a club of mother's with children in heaven, it is not an experience that can be validated from person to person. I think this is what I was seeking. I believe it will be the last book I read like this, finally realizing while I understand some of what this mother felt, I cannot understand it all because the experiences and reaction to those experiences are so vastly different. That I read this book, as I have read many others of the same topic to see the reflection of my own grief. Whereas it is a club of mother's with children in heaven, it is not an experience that can be validated from person to person. I think this is what I was seeking. I believe it will be the last book I read like this, finally realizing while I understand some of what this mother felt, I cannot understand it all because the experiences and reaction to those experiences are so vastly different. That being said, this is a wonderful tribute and sharing of grief, but it is not my journey. I cannot see that it will help many to read it, Anna is a strong, Christian woman, sharing her journey in grief and faith was likely very cathartic for her, but it does not sit well with me. I could only relate in tiny areas of the book. I am not sure who the general audience is for these types of books, but it is me no more.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Meredith Self

    You want this book. Everyone - everyone - experiences loss in life. Rare Bird brilliantly captures the space of doubt that opens up when the world turns upside down, and the gifted author does it with grace and humor. Anna Whiston-Donaldson fills the space with light and truth, even while pain is there. There's loss, and there's hope right alongside it. So many books out there speak to grief. This book has a special voice though- it captures grief RIGHT at the beginning, not looking back at it. You want this book. Everyone - everyone - experiences loss in life. Rare Bird brilliantly captures the space of doubt that opens up when the world turns upside down, and the gifted author does it with grace and humor. Anna Whiston-Donaldson fills the space with light and truth, even while pain is there. There's loss, and there's hope right alongside it. So many books out there speak to grief. This book has a special voice though- it captures grief RIGHT at the beginning, not looking back at it. So there's raw questioning and rediscovering and unknowing that accompanies any big life change that we can all relate to experiencing. Her honesty is heart-opening. Not to be missed are the signs of hope, God winks and synchronicities that are mind-blowing. Jack's presence is felt and his life is uplifting to me every day. Read it. Buy extra copies. You are going to want to gift this book!!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ann Imig

    For anyone enduring a crisis of faith--Whiston-Donaldson's honest, unflinching description of losing her young son, and the grief that grips her family, is balanced with such grace and even, yes, humor. "Rare Bird" leaves the reader more hopeful and less alone.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    "I debated whether to send Courtney a friend request. What could we possibly have in common? Would I be supporting something un-Christian by "friending" her?" "We are heartbroken by what you are telling us, but we're Christians. We don't grieve the way other people grieve, because we know our son is already in heaven." "I know this is a fruitless, worthless argument - that my kids somehow deserve to be alive because of my good intentions as a mother." Anna Whiston-Donaldson went through the unthink "I debated whether to send Courtney a friend request. What could we possibly have in common? Would I be supporting something un-Christian by "friending" her?" "We are heartbroken by what you are telling us, but we're Christians. We don't grieve the way other people grieve, because we know our son is already in heaven." "I know this is a fruitless, worthless argument - that my kids somehow deserve to be alive because of my good intentions as a mother." Anna Whiston-Donaldson went through the unthinkable tragedy of losing a child in a freak weather related accident. This book outlines Anna's thoughts and feelings from the summer before said tragedy through about a year and a half after her son Jack's untimely death. Although I appreciated Anna's honest and raw demeanor, her overarching air of superiority really rubbed me the wrong way. Her faith in God helped her tremendously throughout this ordeal, as did the support she received from her friends, family, neighbors, and fellow church goers. Faith in God isn't really my jam, but I would never judge someone like Anna who has God play such a central role in her life. And yet, Anna judges her readers who do not believe in God. She judges her readers who parent in a different manner than she does. And that's not cool.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    An extremely well-done, poignant telling of a mother's loss of her son to accidental death. Her relations to her God, her family and even to herself, make for engaging listening.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Ridgway

    My review, originally posted on Everyday eBook. Rare Bird called my name as soon as I heard about it. On a beautiful September day, Anna Whiston-Donaldson loses her twelve-year-old son, Jack, when he is swept up in a freak flash flood in their neighborhood. What follows is a personal journey that I hope I never have to take. Her story is told in honest, raw, sometimes funny, sometimes devastating prose. How do you mother and comfort your living child when all you want to do is shut down in your o My review, originally posted on Everyday eBook. Rare Bird called my name as soon as I heard about it. On a beautiful September day, Anna Whiston-Donaldson loses her twelve-year-old son, Jack, when he is swept up in a freak flash flood in their neighborhood. What follows is a personal journey that I hope I never have to take. Her story is told in honest, raw, sometimes funny, sometimes devastating prose. How do you mother and comfort your living child when all you want to do is shut down in your own absolute grief about the one who was lost? How do you maintain your marriage when the other person is also grieving? How do you properly honor your son's memory? Whiston-Doyle first wrote about her journey on her blog, An Inch of Grey, written under a pseudonym before her readers began to piece together what she was writing and what they were hearing in the news. This book brings more to the full story of Anna, her husband, and their family as well as more of the ugliness of the day - the day that she didn't share in her blog. A recent Wall Street Journal profile quotes her: "I feel a loss of credibility as a mother," she writes, "a sense of shame and despair hangs over me." This book reminded me in some of ways of The Long Goodbye by Meghan O'Rourke. O'Rourke, who writes about losing her mother, comments on how we live in a society that expects our grief to quickly pass; we are viewed as weak if we hang on to it and revisit it. What she explores, and what we see through Anna's journey, is that grief is a process that we must be allowed to go through at our own pace, on our own terms. It is not always pretty or easy, but it is important that we all recognize the truth of it. Forcing someone to "deal with it" and "get over it" are not realistic or healthy attitudes. What we can, and should do, is practice empathy. Reach out and help people. In the aforementioned WSJ piece, Anna says that she is still grieving three years after Jack's death. While in no ways an easy read, Rare Bird - the book and the boy - will leave an impression on your heart.

  29. 4 out of 5

    elliereads

    Having being a blog reader and always thinking of her, still, whenever my husband dyes my hair, I begged Anna for an advanced copy of her book. I doubt this works with all authors, but I thought it worth a try. When I received Rare Bird, I knew it deserved--and Anna, Tim, Jack, and Margaret deserved--two things. A close and loving reading and a well-written review. I'm a fourth grade teacher, I'm a good reader but I'm no writer. The words I have for this book are not deep or lyrical, and to be trut Having being a blog reader and always thinking of her, still, whenever my husband dyes my hair, I begged Anna for an advanced copy of her book. I doubt this works with all authors, but I thought it worth a try. When I received Rare Bird, I knew it deserved--and Anna, Tim, Jack, and Margaret deserved--two things. A close and loving reading and a well-written review. I'm a fourth grade teacher, I'm a good reader but I'm no writer. The words I have for this book are not deep or lyrical, and to be truthful, Anna's words are not all deep or lyrical. She is a gifted writer, but more so she's a mom who daily deals with a heartbreaking loss. So her words are calm, harsh, candid, puzzled, carefully chosen, freely flowing, and deep. Her views on her Christ Following faith, and how Jack's death stirred them and is still shaping them touched me and caused me to think about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in ways I haven't. But there is no preaching in her pages, just truthful expressions of her experiences. My usual Goodreads reviews are brief. So in my truer form, here's mine for Rare Bird... Read it, even if it's hard, even if you don't believe in God, even if you know it will make you cry. It is a well-written book that will have you from the introduction. And yeah, as I tell my students you must read the foreword and the introduction, they're there for good reasons. Thank you Anna for sharing your whole family with me.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    This is one of those books that was so hard to begin reading because of the subject matter. A memoir about loss and grief is not something that I would naturally be drawn toward, especially since I have not gone through this kind of loss personally. Yet I loved Rare Bird and will likely re-read it when I have tough questions about this life and beyond. In a voice that is down-to-earth, honest, thoughtful, and at times wryly funny, Anna takes us through her son Jack's accident, her own guilt, gri This is one of those books that was so hard to begin reading because of the subject matter. A memoir about loss and grief is not something that I would naturally be drawn toward, especially since I have not gone through this kind of loss personally. Yet I loved Rare Bird and will likely re-read it when I have tough questions about this life and beyond. In a voice that is down-to-earth, honest, thoughtful, and at times wryly funny, Anna takes us through her son Jack's accident, her own guilt, grief and shock, managing her emotions through witnessing her daughter and husband's reactions to their family's loss, the changing relationships around her, and her emergence through the mire of it all, to show us that even through physical loss our loved ones are still close. I particularly loved the way the theme of hope is imbued through Anna's book. She questions God, finds a new reality, way of life, and strengthens her bonds in this world and the next through her experience, and gives us a peek into the work God does in our lives, even through the unimaginable sadness that life can bring. I recommend Rare Bird to anyone who has experienced love or loss, and who searches for meaning in life's tragedies.

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