I’ll never forget the moment I hugged a woman whose husband tragically died just a few days earlier. It was my son’s preschool teacher. I didn’t know her that well. I knew that my son loved her. I knew that she was kind and loving to my son who was one of those kids who needed a little extra kindness and loving in preschool. I knew she was a mother who was expecting another baby. I knew she was hurting.
I went to the funeral home even though it was uncomfortable and honestly it scared me. It scared me to think about death. It scared me to think about my husband dying. It scared me to think about seeing someone dealing with such loss and in so much pain. I always hated and avoided funeral homes and viewings as much as I could. But something made me go that night for this woman, whom I barely knew.
I walked in and knew no one. I looked for the teacher and couldn’t find her. “She’s downstairs if you want to see her,” a kind woman told me somehow understanding that I had no idea what to do. “Go ahead,” she encouraged.
I walked down the stairs and there she was, my son’s teacher. She stood up and looked at me and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much for coming here. It means so much.” Her eyes were open wide, very wide like they were searching for understanding, for meaning. She looked both scared and comforted at the same time.
I will never forget the overwhelming-ness of that moment—her pain, my wanting to do anything to help her, the knowingness that this was where I was supposed to be at that moment.
Anna Whiston-Donaldson’s book, Rare Bird, reminds me of that moment. It is a raw, real, heartbreaking and inspiring look at the pain of the death of a family member and the healing power of God. Anna’s son Jack died in a terrible accident when he was 12. During some parts of the book I feel like I am standing with Anna and looking into her wide open, searching eyes and feeling her pain and wanting to do anything I can to help her.
Reading a book about the death of a 12-year-old boy in a freak accident was admittedly hard. I am a mother. I have a 12-year-old son. It hit close to home. But in a way, that’s why I wanted to read it. I wanted to understand how a mother, how a person, can go through something like that. I wanted to understand how to help someone going through such a huge loss and so much grief.
The heartbreaking details of Jack’s accident and the aftermath are just that, heartbreaking. Throughout the book Anna explains how she finds comfort in her faith, in God. For someone like me who has a lot questions and a lot of doubts, I found her faith inspiring. I felt comforted by her connection and belief and trust.
Rare Bird is a beautiful book but Anna doesn’t shy away from talking about the hard and surprising parts of grief. She talks about friendships that changed, setbacks, anger and struggling with the different ways she and her husband grieve. She writes about how her daughter painfully deals with losing her brother.
Reading the book I felt utter heartache for their loss. I smiled at the memories she shared about her son’s love of Legos and their family traditions. I felt uncomfortable and upset by the pain and the honesty of their struggle. I felt hope in their grace and their strength to keep going.
So many times we shy away from people’s pain out of fear or not knowing what to say or do. But pain and grace and faith are what connect us… at some point in our lives, we all have loss, we all have to figure out how to keep going. We all can feel scared and comforted at the same time just like my son’s teacher, just like Anna and her family. “We are human. We are flawed. We are ordinary people thrust into less than ordinary situations, just doing what we have to do,” Anna writes.
After reading Rare Bird I am filled with compassion and empathy and a desire to do more for people in pain. I’m inspired to take a closer look at my relationship with God and not be afraid to dig a little deeper and find out what I really believe. I want to kiss and hold my children tighter. I want to show up and do whatever I can to help people suffering from any kind of a loss in any way I can.
Rare Bird is the story of a family in pain, but it’s also the story of a family full of faith and love and resilience. It is a story to be told and retold and retold. As Anna writes, “It is in the telling and the retelling that we work our way through painful territory and gain insight.”