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.
I read this book in the months after my own brother died suddenly at the age of thirty-four. We had been an ordinary family too as that day in December 2013 dawned and yet as the clocked ticked closer to midnight, I was in another state, holding the hand of my baby brother as we talked about taking him off life support.
Jack: gone too soon.
Benjamin: gone too soon.
There were times when 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. For while I wanted to empathize with both my mother and Anna but then the selfish and scared part of my heart took over and I couldn’t bear the mere thought of a life without my sons in it.
Until I remembered that both of these women I thought so much of had indeed lost their sons all too soon.
I owed them, if nothing else, empathy and care and a chance to share their story.
There is honesty in this book. There are the answers to the question you expect.
“How do you go on?”
Slowly, painfully, with your faith battered and revived in between the spaces of every moment between each aching breath.
There is no easy way to navigate grief. For better or worse in addition to caring for yourself you also must care for the family you mother and the community surrounding you. Sure, you might laugh at the wrong time or find yourself so angry at the unfairness of your loss that you hardly recognize yourself or your own place in the world anymore but remember, you are human, allow yourself to be.
I learned that within the grief of an unexpected death, was the truth that every day could pose a potential hazard. Every drawer you pull open, every picture inadvertently brought up as you look for another one, every small insignificant moment for the world at large can be the doorway to memories that will bring you to your knees.
Anna does not shy away from those moments, instead she writes them with a grace that amazed and buoyed my own spirits with every sentence.
Anna’s story gave me hope for my own.
Her words let me know it was okay to take my time in finding my way around the lump in my throat and the empty space in my heart. It became an integral part of my healing in those first few months and is still a book I reach for when I feel my faith is waning.
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 detailing the little things and the private moments is what makes it possible to not collapse under the empathy it is impossible not to feel.
Love and loss placed aptly on the cover, it is a beautiful, tender and moving memoir. You will close its pages changed, moved and forever grateful for Donaldson’s words.
I hope you read this book.
Then, I hope you share it with other people.
I hope Anna always knows how much her story has touched so many lives, especially mine.
Love to you my friend.