Rare Bird

I received this book as part of the Blogging for Books program, and actually read an Advanced Reading Copy of the book.

This may be one of the best books I have ever read. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it. It chronicles the experience of grief that Anna Whiston-Donaldson and her family endure after losing their 12-year-old son Jack in a drowning accident. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I received the book, having requested it solely on the recommendation of one of the Blogging for Books officials. It turns out that Anna and her family are pretty strong Christians, and faithful members of their local Presbyterian church, when the story begins.

As would be expected, a loss like this challenges faith. But it did not destroy it. The book is brutal. Anna is completely honest and transparent about her feelings as she writes this. She goes through all the classic symptoms of grief, including blame, when, of course, the death of her son was not her fault at all. But she finds herself asking the same questions that many of us would ask. What if? Over and over again.

The book is heartbreaking. Multiple times I found myself almost sobbing as I read, unable to imagine what she must be going through, but not really having to, because she laid it right out there on the pages. Others may feel differently, but I don’t believe that she ever crosses the line of the whiny pity-party “my child died” kind of experience. However, she does get real. She writes about her feelings whenever she sees the other children in the neighborhood, the ones that were Jack’s friends. For a long time, she can’t even speak to them or their parents. Eventually, she works through this, but it is not easy.

There was one line that really spoke to me. I can’t find it in the book right now, so I can’t quote it exactly, but it said something to the effect of how important it is to love well the child you have, rather than the child you thought you should have had. That speaks volumes to me about my relationship with my own autistic daughter!

There are some moments in the book that get borderline creepy, one instance being when Margaret, Jack’s little sister, states that Jack will die young, as they are on a family car ride together. There are verses that seem to appear randomly on Anna’s phone, verses of comfort. There is no doubt that God was at work throughout the process, and he may have been at work in some ways that many of us might be uncomfortable with. But that doesn’t matter, because it wasn’t me going through this. It was/is Anna and her family.

The verse that was so special to Jack was Luke 1:37. “For nothing will be impossible with God.” The family would cling to this verse during the aftermath of the accident that took him from them. Interestingly, the verse that spoke so clearly to his sister Margaret was Isaiah 43:1-2. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” It seems that the Lord directed her to those verses before the accident. She said, “I like these verses, but now I’m worried it means I’m going to have to go through really hard things in life, and I don’t want to.” She was barely ten years old when she spoke those words of wisdom.

There are no guarantees in life and Rare Bird speaks poignantly to this truth. It speaks it in words that will punch you in the gut and break your heart. I cried. But then I laughed. Then I cried some more. I made sure that my wife and daughter know how much I love them.

Everyone who loves should read this book.

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