Grief, loss, sadness, pain… and hope layered with an incredible amount of faith and love. This is the journey Anna Whitson-Donaldson takes readers in Rare Bird, a Memoir of Loss and Love. Her well-crafted and honest telling of what it means to tragically lose her 12-year-old son Jack — in a rare and unexpected flash flood — touched my heart and made me think about what it really means to grieve.
The part of Rare Bird that resonates in my soul is not the sadness and pain. It is instead, Anna’s awakening of a new strength of spirit and her understanding of what it means to remain connected beyond death. What it means to still feel and accept love regardless of a physical presence. The realization that there is more… so much more to life and God and even our relationships than ever imagined.
“Even in death, Jack continues to fill our hearts with life. I can feel it. It’s the love between a parent and a child that can’t be snuffed out or drowned or stolen. It’s hope for heaven – not a boring eternal rest, but a vibrant, purposeful existence with God that continues to affect what is going on right here, right now.”
I do not know what it feels like to lose a child. I cannot even say I understand what it means to unexpectedly and tragically lose a loved one without so much as a goodbye. But, I do know grief and am still in the early stages of grieving the loss of a parent.
This begs the question, is all grief the same? Is there a common thread to be found between a mother who loses a young son unexpectedly and a grown woman who loses a father from a terminal illness? This is what I wanted to know as I began the book. Would I relate to Anna from a perspective of loss, or would her book be a tragic story that would feel at arm’s length from anything I have experienced?
The answer is that I found myself relating to and understanding much more than I ever imagined. While the shock and horror of losing a son, especially the way she did, is on a completely different level of loss, there are layers of grief that feel the same. There is an awareness of more that slowly creeps in and helps you move on with life – even when it feels like the whole world should stop moving. There are signs and dreams and realizations that speak to us when we least expect. I have felt these more than once and Anna shares some of the signs of comfort she experiences in the book.
“Everyone will lose in this world, and signs of comfort remind us that there is great love even in our darkest moments… Each connection, each glimpse of the supernatural, is an astonishing display of tender, personal love, and that’s what I want others to know, even if they don’t experience them firsthand…. But with signs we are sometimes able to glimpse a little bit of the mystery of God in a way that amazes and encourages us right where we are.”
The beauty of Rare Bird is Anna’s ability to share her story and experiences in a way that is heartbreaking, yet somehow hopeful. She doesn’t sugar coat her experiences or her struggles. She doesn’t try to create a false picture of what it means to lose so much. She is honest about how loss, especially one so sudden and so unjust, can make you question every relationship and every piece of your faith. In the end, Anna chooses hope and love. She chooses to honor Jack — which takes an incredible amount of strength.
Throughout the book, I found myself empathizing with Anna’s loss in other personal ways. My oldest son Alex and Anna’s son Jack are the same age. They should both be sophomores in high school right now. I live only a few miles from Anna (although we have never met) and I remember everything about that fall of 2011 and the news accounts of Jack’s accident. Anna’s book brought me back to that time and reminded me of the fear I felt when I first learned a boy Alex’s age had drowned in a freak flash flood along the banks of a normally small creek.
I remember having a conversation with him about not playing along our nearby creeks in the rain — not something I would ever have thought to say. I remember feeling afraid during the next very similar storm only a month or so later. To me, this was an inexplicable tragedy that could happen to anyone. Except, it didn’t just happen to anyone. It happened to Anna and her family. Anna and her husband, Tim, lost an amazing son. Anna’s daughter Margaret lost a big brother – her best friend.
The hole from Jack’s passing can never be filled. Not for them ever. But, maybe, Anna’s brave and raw words can help others struggling from the anger, confusion, pain and aloneness of loss. Perhaps, Jack will have the chance to live on in the minds of every person who reads Rare Bird. I believe this to be true and I know that after you read Anna (and Jack’s) story, you will also think of him like I do — soaring on the wings of every bird you see.
As Jack’s favorite Bible verse, says, “For nothing is impossible with God.”
Anna’s book is officially released tomorrow – September 9, 2014. Please pre-order your copy of Rare Bird. You can watch the trailer below. I dare you not to feel Anna’s spirit and faith as you hear her speak. Then please order the book (yes, I asked twice – it’s that worth it).
Disclaimer: I was given an advance reading copy of Rare Bird and was invited to join the blog tour for the book. My words, however, are from my heart and I was not compensated in any way for this review.
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