“Why are you reading that?” Dan asked me, as I sat beside him on our bus trip home after work one day. There we were, in the middle of lots of people, all taking the same public transportation together, and tears were running down my face.
“I’m reading this because I want to.” I answered. “I owe it to Anna. I owe it to this story. It isn’t fair that I have both my kids and Anna doesn’t anymore. The least I can do is read her story.”
It is funny thing we do, isn’t it? We put ourselves in the middle of something that we know will wreck us from the inside out. Or maybe you’re like me and you do the absolutely opposite. You avoid anything that hurts as much as humanly possible. Because the reality has set in that anything can happen. Anything at all. And that’s so scary. So we avoid it. We avoid painful stories and tears and anything that reminds us that bad things do happen. We think that this somehow that protects us.
“My new story was a tragedy so frightening that, as parents, we feel we risk something even by thinking about it, because it whispers into our hearts a truth we don’t want to hear. That we can’t keep our children safe. That we don’t know what the future holds. We want to cover our ears, close our eyes, and turn away from the horror of that truth.” -pages 1-2
Anna Whiston-Donaldson’s son Jack died in a freak flash flood while playing with friends in their neighbourhood. It is simply something that is so inconceivable to consider. How could that happen? How could God let it happen?
“I feel like I’ve been forced onto a scary, dangerous amusement-park ride, constructed by a psychopath, not a loving God.” -page 68
Anna writes about her story – what happened and how she has lived through it in her book Rare Bird. I want to tell you that this book is a must read, because it is. I want to tell you that you will love this book, because you will. But I know I need to do more than that, because it isn’t easy to let ourselves share in someone else’s grief.
Rare Bird isn’t just a memoir. It is a beautifully written handbook for anyone who is grieving, who will grieve, or who will walk beside someone who is grieving. Unfortunately, we will all fit into these categories in our lifetime. Grief will touch us, and it is important to know that we are not alone and that we can reach out to one another during extraordinarily hard times. Rare Bird gives us a glimpse into the complexity of grief, and the contradictions that surround it. Anna shares her raw pain with her reader in a way that somehow leads to hope. She shows life continuing through the awfulness. As she questions God through her pain, she sees Him clearer.
“Are we all so overwrought with grief at the thought of a little boy gone too soon that we’re seeing things? Wishing? Grasping? Trying to see connections and significance when there is none? Or could it be that at times like this, when the unimportant falls away like chaff to the ground, we are finally able to recognize what God is doing in the world around us every single day?” -page 137
This book will make you cry, but you won’t be able to put it down. You will be pulled into Anna’s family and feel like you know them intimately. You will grieve with Anna over the loss of Jack and you will find yourself incredibly hopeful that Anna and Tim and Margaret will pull together and thrive, even in the pain. And as a reader, you so very desperately want to let Jack’s story be told. It doesn’t feel right to stop turning these pages.
Anna writes about how the people who came through for her the most during these hard times were the people who weren’t afraid to acknowledge what happened. When a mother loses a son, she doesn’t want to hide away making everyone else feel comfortable. She wants to acknowledge the child that still feels so very near to her. She wants to have people to share her story with. I learned so much from this book. I know I’m the person who wants desperately to help a friend in need, but I never know how. I avoid hard topics, hoping instead to help friends take their focus off their grief. I avoid what’s wrong, and in doing so I avoid my friend. As I read Rare Bird, I realized that Anna wasn’t just teaching me how to be a friend to someone who is grieving, she was giving me the opportunity to practice it by diving into each word she writes about Jack. In reading Rare Bird, I help give meaning to Jack’s life.
“I get a sense I’m learning from the women who show up for me. Who offer themselves up in a way that I’ve never had the guts to do. They are braver than they think.” -page 89
You need to be brave to pick up Rare Bird but you will absolutely not regret it. Hope and beauty seem to pour out of these pages that you initially assume will be filled with darkness. They aren’t. Anna has used her incredible voice to attack grief head on while she shares her son with the world.
“In sharing our loss, we somehow gain. That is the mystery of a community of grievers.” -page 186
Rare Bird is a five-star book.