Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love   -     By: Anna Whiston Donaldson
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Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love

Convergent Books / 2015 / Paperback

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In Rare Bird, Anna Whiston-Donaldson unfolds a mother's story of loss that leads, in time, to enduring hope. This is a book about facing impossible circumstances and desperately wishing you could turn back the clock. It is about discovering that you're braver than you think. It is about the flicker of hope and the realization that in times of heartbreak, God is closer than your own skin.

Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 224
Vendor: Convergent Books
Publication Date: 2015
Dimensions: 8.25 X 5.50 (inches)
ISBN: 1601425201
ISBN-13: 9781601425201

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Publisher's Description

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER, NOW IN PAPERBACK


"I wish I had nothing to say on the matter of loss, but I do. Because one day I encouraged my two kids to go out and play in the rain, and only one came home…."

 
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.

Author Bio

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.

Editorial Reviews

"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


From the Hardcover edition.

Product Reviews

4.8 Stars Out Of 5
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  1. 4 Stars Out Of 5
    Death Breaks Things
    February 12, 2015
    BONDing over BOOKS
    Quality: 4
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 4
    "One ordinary day...I went from being an ordinary mom...to someone who couldn't even recognize her own life anymore." Every once in a while you read a book that touches you in such a way that it leaves a memorable mark in your spirit. RARE BIRD - A Memoir of Loss and Love by Anna Whiston-Donaldson shares her personal story that reminds many of us that "grief is so exhausting."

    No parent ever wants to bury their child. As a parent, Tim and Anna were protective and prayerful, yet optimistically cautious about their children. Never imagining that one day they would become those parents.

    One afternoon their son, Jack went out to play with two friends and a freak rain storm started. As the waters rose quickly, he slipped into the creek, was swept away by the current and ended up trapped in a drain pipe. Once his body was found the entire community was wrapped up in grief, the fact within "minutes his body had traveled fifty yards."

    Written from a mother's perspective, the loss and grief is no less unbearable for the surviving family members, father Tim and 10-year-old, Margaret. The unexpectedness of the tragedy and the way he died has thrown them into a state of flux, where everyday becomes a blur. Each day brought a special set of challenges for her. One day they were a family of four the next they adjusting to their "new normal." They were now a family of three. As the daily guilt overwhelmed her, she fought to accept the reality...the finality of it all. Anna continued to ask herself, "Can someone be gone, dead, when his favorite cereal is in the pantry?"

    On many occasions Anna is angry at her husband. Angry and resentful because "many days she can barely drag herself out of bed and he has "resumed" a level of normalcy and routine in his life. She is also mad at God, angry for taking her son too soon. She laments, "It is hard to care about anything other than our loss and our struggle to survive right now." She struggled to understand why it happened "because hurting people want to know understand; we want to know why...Every person in a family matters, and when one is gone, the family is off-kilter."

    The saving grace through all of this was the enormous emotional support from family, friends and community. With time, she relaxed her ire with God and realized that all along, "He has been there with them in the midst of their pain...Signs remind me that the God I believe in is active right now, pouring compassion out on my own little hurting life." There was an unexpected revelation about friendships and the friends she "expected"would be there for her/them. She learned that "Prior closeness does not determine who will show up for you...death breaks things, even friendships."

    RARE BIRD is a raw, honest and touching recollection of how Jack's death changed her in ways she never expected. She wanted, needed to share, so she wrote a book. The pages became her therapy, her journaling helped her to come to her to express her sorrow and gain the courage to finally move forward. The lesson learned is "Whether we're facing the loss of health, relationships, expectations, or even our dreams...You'll realize that you're braver than you think and that survival is possible when life's storms take us in uncertain, unwanted directions."
  2. pa
    Age: 35-44
    Gender: female
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    Rare Bird {Book Review}
    September 23, 2014
    lorealle
    pa
    Age: 35-44
    Gender: female
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    I'm always so excited to dig into a new book and this was no exception. I had read the back cover, knew the gist of the book and was still excited to start. I snuggled into bed beside my husband, who was already snoring, and began to read. Within minutes my eyes began to well with tears. Eventually working my way into a full-fledged sob.

    Think of the worst thing that you can imagine as a parent. The one that gives you nightmares that wake you up in complete and utter despair and pain. Where the pain would be so insurmountable, you can't even bear the thought. How would you ever survive the death of one of your children.

    Annas son Jack died in a freak flash flood while playing with friends in their neighborhood. Oh, how many times I've allowed my kids to play in a warm summer rain. It is simply something that is so inconceivable to consider. How could that happen? How could God let it happen?

    This isn't just a memoir. This is a grief-handbook, a beautiful one. At some point in our lives, grief will wrap it's hand around all of us. It's important to know in that moment that we are not alone and that we can reach out to one another during extraordinarily hard times.

    I'm not going to lie, this book will make you cry. But you wont be able to put it down. You will be pulled into their family and feel like you know them intimately. You will grieve with them. Hope and beauty seem to pour out of these pages that you initially assume will be filled with darkness.

    WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group provided this book to me for free in exchange for this honest review as part of their Blogging for Books program.
  3. Age: 18-24
    Gender: female
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    Rara Avis~ Rare Bird
    September 21, 2014
    Sufficient in Jesus
    Age: 18-24
    Gender: female
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    "It's as if our brains are operating on two separate tracks. On is the here and now of living and loving. The second is what could or should have been, yet will not be. Most days I can keep the second track hidden. Other days I don't have a prayer." ~ Anna Donaldson, Rare Bird.

    This is one of those memoirs that pulls you in and holds you fast.

    This is a book about the death of a child. The grief of a family. And the Love that held them together.

    Through this memoir, Anna gives us little pieces of herself and her son. She shares her Jack with us, and lets us love him through her words.

    I have a 12 year old in my family, so much like Jack.

    He lives in a cul-de-sac neighborhood, where no deadly threats should ever lurk.

    His friends are two houses down, but his sister is really his best buddy.

    He and his sister voluntarily share a room, and apparently their nighttime hijinks can keep the whole house awake!

    He attends a private Catholic school, and he reads voraciously.

    He can carry on a conversation that is engaging, funny, and thoughtful.

    While I was reading, somebody noticed the beautiful book cover. It's two children, clearly vibrantly alive, flinging their arms up to embrace a pair of soaring birds. "What's that about?" they asked. "Is it good?" And I replied "Yes. It is good."

    And then I quickly explained what I meant.

    "Good" seems like the cruelest word possible to use about a book like this.

    Yet somehow, I think the very act of telling Jack's story is an intrinsically good thing.

    Rare Bird bares a mother's heart and shares a child who was gone from earth too soon.

    And this memoir will meet many readers in their own time of loss.

    Anna is clearly writing her own story, and she never tries to speak on "grief in general." That's what makes her book so powerful. She doesn't outline 12 steps of mourning, she just tells us honestly how she felt. And as she tells us, we recognize the truth.

    That's why I want to give this book to two family members at least. In my family, we're missing a Mom/Grandmother/Auntie. And I think we would cling to portions of Rare Bird. At one point Anna says, "But in my grief everything seems meaningless if it doesn't deal with life and death and the promise of heaven." That's a statement that we made, too.

    So thank you Random House for my review copy. I too suggest that almost everybody read Rare Bird.
  4. Massachusetts
    Age: 45-54
    Gender: female
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    One of the best books I've read this year
    July 24, 2014
    Kyliegirl
    Massachusetts
    Age: 45-54
    Gender: female
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    About halfway through this book, I stopped reading, found the author on Twitter, and messaged her: Rare Bird is breathtaking. Thank you!

    Indeed, Rare Bird is the brilliant, heartbreaking, yet somehow encouraging memoir of a mother coming to terms with the death of her twelve-year-old son, Jack, and her struggle to keep life afloat with her husband Tim and ten-year-old daughter, Margaret. Sound sad? It isand yet less so than you might imagine. Real is a better word. Whiston-Donaldson writes in a voice that makes you feel like you're having a conversation. Highs and lows and laughter are mixed throughout, scattershot, the way they happen in life. And yes, the through line of Jack's death is devastating, but in a way that is worth every page and every tear. Rare Bird has shot to the top of my "favorite memoirs" pile. (Kudos to publisher Convergent Books - the editors there are consistently putting out sharp, well-written, well-shaped memoirs. They're my new go-to in faith-based nonfiction.)

    One of my favorite things about this book is how vividly the author describes herself and her family--I can picture them (party because I've seen pictures on her website) but more than that, I feel like I know them. She offers so much nuance and shares small moments and reactions that make them into 3-D people, rather than just strangers going through a difficult time. And some of the chapters make such good points about life, I just wrote "Wow" at the top of the page.

    I love this, from the introduction:

    "I think maybe [the story of Jack's death] is more of a universal story than I realized. The story of a woman who has suffered profound, crushing disappointment, whose plan didn't pan out, whose heart has been broken by life, and who is wondering if she's alone in her pain."

    Rare Bird is all this and more. Highly recommend.

    Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I plan to buy several copies--one for everyone I know who is struggling with questions of disappointment, loss, and faith. So I think the publisher was brilliant in getting me hooked on this book early in the publishing cycle.
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