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Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love

4.38  ·  Rating details ·  1,633 ratings  ·  299 reviews
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 pe ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published September 9th 2014 by Convergent Books (first published January 1st 2014)
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Larry H
Oct 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
I remember in September 2011 when the Washington, DC area was hit by a quickly moving and unexpected set of rainstorms that left highways flooded, creeks running far over their banks, and trees felled. While we were fortunate not to lose power, many in the area did. I remember reading that several people were killed during those storms, mainly as a result of getting caught in the floods, including a 12-year-old boy from the town next to ours, who apparently fell into one of the creeks affected b ...more
Jennie Goutet
May 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are almost no words to describe how much this book moved me. If you have suffered grief and want to see how to reach the other side of the chasm,
or if you have faith, and you want to see how it can survive the worst nightmare a parent can undergo,
or if you're a mom, and you worry that your heart won't survive the knowledge of just how fragile our power is to protect our children . . . then this book is for you.

Yes, it's hard to read about something so tragic it can leave you sobbing unt
Poppy Marler
Jun 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is difficult to review because I would have much rather read about repurposing old furniture and I'm not a DIYer. It also wasn't a quick read as I found myself lingering over the descriptions of Jack's personality. I was invested from the beginning by more than his beautiful smile and big brown eyes. The author does a wonderful job describing Jack's place in his family and how the dynamic completely shifted with their loss.

The power in this story doesn't come from the recounting of the
Alison Lee
May 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A stunning, heartbreaking and heartwarming memoir of a mother's tragic loss of her son, and how she found light in an impossible nightmare. Anna writes with honesty, raw emotion and yes, even humour. She takes the reader through what seems to be an ordinary life, marked by incredible and unimaginable loss, where a family falls into the dark abyss of grieving for one gone too soon. Grief is not a straightforward, linear experience. It is one of valleys and mountains. It is not merely despair, but ...more
Aug 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've never lost a child. I can't even begin to imagine the pain losing a child would bring. Reading this book gave me just the tiniest glimpse into the aching heart and world of a grieving mother, father, and sister. The words Anna Whiston-Donaldson uses are so profound. I felt that if I were going through what she has, I would be saying "Yes! That is exactly how it is!" What a wonderful, yet heartwrenching book.
Aug 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Liz Whiston-Dean
I have started this review three times already. My words are inadequate to describe the gift of this book. It is a window into real grief - not sugar-coated, not pretending to be ok. It is wrestling with the hardest questions in the hardest circumstances. Grieving parents will find it a place to land when they feel like they are alone in the world. Others will learn to better walk beside those who are grieving. The loss of a child is a grief like no other, yet grief is a universal experience for ...more
Katie Sluiter
May 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's so hard for me to muster the words for how I felt reading Rare Bird. I was hesitant to pick it up since I have two young boys and I suffer from anxiety. I thought surely reading about Jack's accident and Anna's grieving process would be enormously triggering for me, but something in my heart pushed me. I knew it would be Ok to read these words.

Rare Bird is not a "grief book". It is a beautiful memoir filled with the grief and terror of losing a son, but also the hope and peace that comes f
May 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Anna's words will leave you haunted, breathless, wanting to encircle her and her family in a cuccoon of safety. That's impossible, of course. If that could have been done, one would think the precautions we take as normal parents would have been enough to save Jack. The title's use of the words loss and love are precisely what the reader feels and takes away from this memoir. About the loss of her beloved son Jack (whom you will grow to adore, whose memory you will cherish), it is also about fai ...more
Sep 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
I have a confession: I read tragedies. Not traditional tragedies, where the ending is depressingly tragic [well, okay, I like those, too], but real-life stories that share a true tragedy and the journey of rising above, cultivating strength and faith. Rare Bird is a mother's account of losing her twelve year-old son in a horrific drowning accident. It is about a mother's love and a mother's profound grief. It is ultimately about faith.

I'm a bit of a worrier. Why would I want to read books about
Kari Yergin
Jul 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio
4.5. Struggling with her faith and her grief after the tragic loss of her son, this author wrote what feels like a beautiful and authentic memoir of what is likely the most difficult time of her life. I loved her frank discussions of her relationships with her husband and her daughter as well as her evolving feelings and beliefs.

“The word cleave, one of my favorite vocabulary words, pops into my head. It’s an unusual word, with two opposite meanings: to cling together and to split apart. With th
Hannah Christmas
I've had this book on my shelf for months. I forgot about requesting a copy to review, left it sitting there on my shelf until I went back to request another book and the website wouldn't let me because I left this one behind.

Oh, how sorry I am to have left this beautiful story forgotten.

I read, and I finished it much faster than I ever would have expected to finish a book while in my final year of college. The story itself tore my heart into pieces, and knowing that the story was true and rea
May 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a gentle reminder of how fragile and fleeting life can be. It's also a treasure of hope and inspiration for those currently in the midst of a tremendous loss. I am comforted having read Anna's words because her experience losing Jack taught me that no matter what we do to try to protect our family from harm, we cannot prevent life and death from happening. Rare Bird describes how a mother found the courage and strength to keep facing life for her family while in the midst of intense ...more
Dec 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I don't think I've ever read a book that made my heart ache from cover to cover as much as this one did. I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose a child in such a freak accident and I hope I never will. But I am so grateful for this book- for Anna Whiston-Donaldson and how she lays bare her intense grief, and conveys the toll Jack's death took on her faith, family and marriage. I learned so much from reading her memoir, particularly how I can help and support friends whose world has crumb ...more
Nov 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
I marked this book to-read November 15, 2014, and my niece Elli committed suicide November 18, 2014. I just realized this.

Little did I know when I finally found this at the Warrenville Public Library (shame on you Wheaton PL for not owning this book) that reading it would open my eyes more clearly to my sister's grieving process. It is a beautiful book of faith, love and the what-ifs that every mourning parent must feel. I'm going to buy this for my sister, I don't know if it will be useful to h
Jessica Bern
Aug 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I heard the story behind this book, I wanted very much to read it. Why? As a devout non-believer in religion, I was very curious to see how the author dealt with this horrible tragedy in light of the fact that she is a devout Christian. I was prepared to read all about how God and prayer solved all her issues, etc but was shocked to find that was not the case. Yes, she turned to prayer and her church, but what she also shared was the raw, honest truth about her life after her incredible los ...more
Kerstin Auer
Jun 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A powerful book, no doubt about it. I'm amazed with how much grace Anna managed to write about her heartbreaking story.
What happened to this family is beyond words and not only my biggest fear, but also that of any parent out there. I was a little scared to read it, but I am so glad I did. Anna's honesty and raw emotion are a treasure and while I knew there was no happy ending, I was so glad to read that there is hope. I know that this book will touch people's hearts - it certainly touched mine
Leigh Ann
Jun 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rare Bird is a beautifully written memoir of one of the most difficult things a family can imagine - the death of a child. Anna Whiston Donaldson is so honest and transparent about her fears and her doubts and her faith, and how each of these play a part in her continuing journey through grief. She leaves the reader filled with hope in the knowledge that our loved ones are still with us long after they've gone. Rare Bird is a treasure.
Sep 29, 2017 rated it liked it
As the author and her family live in my area, I vaguely remembered this happening. That being said, the proximity of the events and resulting sadness touched me in a way they may not have had the triggering event happened elsewhere. Anna is a wonderful writer and gracefully puts into prose the difficult and complex feelings of a mother who has unexpectedly lost a child. Her words are honest. The story of loss is one that, as she says, everyone will experience in some way at some time. There was ...more
Katie Janowicz
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There really aren’t any words that are adequate to describe the impact this book has had on me. It was heart wrenching to read and hits very close to home as I have my own 12 year old boy who fuels my heart. The author’s beautiful boy, Jack, died in a freak accident and she so bravely shares the details of their story. While it pained my heart to read, it provided me a sense of awe and deep admiration for a mom who was willing to be so utterly honest and open with her grief and inner most though ...more
Jennifer Wilson
Oct 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I don't know why I have been seeking out memoirs of loss. I have lost my mother, grandfather-in-law, as well as three family friends this year. Reading about loss should be the last thing I want to do, but when I was offered a chance of an advance reading copy of Rare Bird, I accepted it.

This book is beautifully written, tragic, and yet filled with hope. The only thing I disliked about the book was the foul language used. Yes, it would be (insert expletive of your choice here) to lose a son, but
Meredith Self
Jul 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You want this book. Everyone - everyone - experiences loss in life. Rare Bird brilliantly captures the space of doubt that opens up when the world turns upside down, and the gifted author does it with grace and humor. Anna Whiston-Donaldson fills the space with light and truth, even while pain is there. There's loss, and there's hope right alongside it. So many books out there speak to grief. This book has a special voice though- it captures grief RIGHT at the beginning, not looking back at it. ...more
Marykate Hughes
Sep 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Marykate by: Natalie
Shelves: personal
Towards the end of the book, Anna Whiston-Donaldson describes the rating system her late (early?) son Jack used for his dreams - that they could be a color and a number - scary, but awesome, or - peaceful, but only OK. I feel like I need that kind of rating system for this book. It took me over a year to get up my courage to read this book, and finally felt like I could face it knowing Anna has had a miracle baby boy within the last couple of months.
How do you "like" a book about a mother descri
Marianne Stehr
Sep 29, 2014 rated it it was ok
I read this book, as I have read many others of the same topic to see the reflection of my own grief. Whereas it is a club of mother's with children in heaven, it is not an experience that can be validated from person to person. I think this is what I was seeking. I believe it will be the last book I read like this, finally realizing while I understand some of what this mother felt, I cannot understand it all because the experiences and reaction to those experiences are so vastly different. That ...more
Sep 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Many times books like these are much more for the author than the reader. Whenever a person suffers the loss of someone they love they to try to immortalize that person in some way. As sad as the event was (the drowning of her young son) the author here is making a career of sorts in this quest to portray how special her child was and to keep his memory alive. She even has a blog partially set up for this purpose. I am sure she thinks she is helping others which I am sure she is but I think thi ...more
Ann Imig
Jul 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For anyone enduring a crisis of faith--Whiston-Donaldson's honest, unflinching description of losing her young son, and the grief that grips her family, is balanced with such grace and even, yes, humor. "Rare Bird" leaves the reader more hopeful and less alone.
"I debated whether to send Courtney a friend request. What could we possibly have in common? Would I be supporting something un-Christian by "friending" her?"

"We are heartbroken by what you are telling us, but we're Christians. We don't grieve the way other people grieve, because we know our son is already in heaven."

"I know this is a fruitless, worthless argument - that my kids somehow deserve to be alive because of my good intentions as a mother."

Anna Whiston-Donaldson went through the unthink
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An extremely well-done, poignant telling of a mother's loss of her son to accidental death. Her relations to her God, her family and even to herself, make for engaging listening.
Jennifer Ridgway
My review, originally posted on Everyday eBook.

Rare Bird called my name as soon as I heard about it. On a beautiful September day, Anna Whiston-Donaldson loses her twelve-year-old son, Jack, when he is swept up in a freak flash flood in their neighborhood. What follows is a personal journey that I hope I never have to take. Her story is told in honest, raw, sometimes funny, sometimes devastating prose. How do you mother and comfort your living child when all you want to do is shut down in your o
Hank Stuever
Sep 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
I might have missed this book entirely, but I was fortunate to receive an email last spring from the author, Anna Whiston-Donaldson, in response to one of my TV reviews in The Washington Post about a show called "Resurrection," in which I wondered what pitfalls exist for TV watchers who are grieving -- especially those who've lost children in sudden and tragic ways. "Resurrection," an ABC drama, begins with a little boy who drowned coming back to his parents' doorstep 30 years later, unchanged. ...more
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Anna Whiston-Donaldson is a former high school English teacher and bookstore manager from the Washington metro area. She began writing the blog An Inch of Gray in 2008 to share funny stories of life and motherhood.

After the sudden death of her 12 year old son Jack in 2011, Anna chronicled her grief journey in real time for her readers in order to share what grief is really like and to find healin

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“I didn’t want to replace that old phone because of the comfort it brought us on the night Jack died and several key times since, but it wasn’t the phone that was so special anyway; it was the message that nothing could separate us from God’s love, not even raging water, death, or grief.” 0 likes
“That our marriage has survived, and will continue to survive such devastation, feels to me like something of a miracle, and I don’t take it for granted. Each day is a new opportunity to show each other grace.” 0 likes
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