Rare Bird — quotes

Quotes from Rare Bird

My review of the book led me to realize I seldom quoted Anna. So, this post is a string of quotes from the book that are especially meaningful to me.

Anna’s thoughts about what she said at Jack’s funeral.

As I read the words I’ve written, I feel filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s as if I can speak forever, and I want to. I am full of light and energy. I want to run to the rear of the church and lock the doors, keeping us here for all time, remembering Jack and what made him special, and talking about God and eternal life.

In that moment I am sure of the hope of heaven, and I don’t want anyone to leave until they are too.

Later I’ll lament to Tim that there was so much more to say about Jack that I’d forgotten, but while I’m speaking, it feels as if God is using the words in a way that reaches beyond the simple little stores of home and life I share. I hope those listening get a glimpse of Jack and God, and will somehow be changed. (pp. 74-5)

Death changes Anna and how to view life, and especially church.

But what about the rest of the church? Is Jack’s death going to be just another sad story, a blip next to concerns about worship styles and staffing? Even in my shocked state, it’s clear to me that God is on the move through Jack’s death. I am able to recognize this because the inconsequential, everyday concerns that have always distracted me have fallen away in the wake of the accident. I’m not sure how long this will last, and I don’t want to squander anything I’m learning. It needs to be shared.

But I am the most unlikely person for the role. I have neither the stamina nor the inclination to proclaim any new revelations. I am tired. I am hurting. I don’t feel like being God’s cheerleader. And what’s the point of sharing anyway, when this knowledge has come at so high a price? That living our lives as if we are in control is an illusion? Won’t every person who lives be able to learn these truths on his own, through the inevitable losses to come? (pp. 91-2)

A highlight for Margaret, Anna’s and Tim’s daughter, comes later when she meets Justin Bieber backstage, and attends one of his concerts. Smiles all around, until…

The first act comes out and launches into a song called “If I Die Young.” Our family and friends watching at home must have let out a collective gasp. I bite the inside of my cheeks, willing myself not to cry as they sing about a mother losing a child and the child asking God to send a rainbow to shine down on her mother.

I listen to the words, still in disbelief that I buried my child. Outside, the torrential wind and rain finally stop and the sky clears. A friend visiting the city snaps a photo of what she sees over the concert hall as we sit inside. A rainbow. (pp. 128-9)

Reflecting about those who grieve:

I used to be fairly unsympathetic with grievers, at least on the inside. This could have been because I’d lost my mom so early and realized that since grief was going to come to everyone in time, people should just learn to deal with it.

Maybe I was afraid that exposing someone’s pain to the light acknowledging it would somehow make it worse. That it would cause them to dwell on it rather than live life. Maybe I thought they would then want too much from me. It it could be that I was just woefully bad at math

….

Of course I never said any of these out loud. I guess I just didn’t get that you can’t apply math to grief. Loss is loss is loss. Of I realize I have a healthy daughter and husband. I love them deeply. But the balance of the two here cannot negate the loss of the one “there.”

Stupid math. (p. 146)

Anna reveals more of the longer term realization of loss.

Children died in flooded creeks, hospital beds, refugee camps, and the family minivan. It happens. I fear I may have another lesson in letting go. I don’t want to let go of our past. I don’t want to let go of the family I dreamed of and worked for and prayed for. And I don’t want to let go of this idea of fairness that somehow lingers from my childhood, even though it now feels stupid. Because it says that I can do something. That my love and hard work and what I pour into my children will amount to what I think it should. But when I get caught up trying to make life fair, it threatens to mire me in anger and bitterness.

Where does faith fit in? Can I somehow have faith that God sees the bigger picture? That justice is His job, not mine? That He will make all things beautiful in His time? That I was not put here to play God, to decide who is safe enough and who is reckless, who lives and who dies? (pp. 174-5)

Identity in light of loss…

Someone points out to me that there is no label or title for a person has lost a child. Widow, widower, or orphan won’t do. Is this lack because child loss is so repugnant, so out of the natural order of things, it can scarcely be named? Can we not dig and find a Latin or Greek root that could lead us to a term for ourselves?

I’m not sure if labels help anyway, as we struggle to figure out our identities in light of loss. (p. 180)

Anna writing about the group of moms grief group, all who lost a child.

I’m not sure how sharing the broken, hurting pieces of our lives helps us, but it does. Rather than wallowing in despair, this group of scrappy women cheers each other on, determined to find a way to live the lives we have now. And in sharing our loss, we somehow gain. That is the mystery of a community that grieves. (p. 186)

Anna writes about the house and what it meant and means for moving forward, and the tension between past, present, and future.

How being in our house brings comfort because it is Jack’s home, but it hurts so much that I can’t seem to thrive here anymore. How Jack’s death has brought many people closer to God and to their children, but has left us lonely and bereft. How can I feel disappointed at God in the same moment that I marvel at His care for me? (p. 188)

Anna as she explains the move to a different church. This is very close to home for me.

It feels a bit weird to be at a different church, even just part-time, but if we’re learning anything, it’s that life is weird. I take communion, but I don’t serve it anymore. I am not here as a leader or a giver. I don’t go out of my way to meet new people and make them feel welcome and comfortable, as would be my instinct. Instead I am here to partake and absorb and let God’s words fall down on my head. I soak up the truth of who He is. I tell Him I am open to receive grace and comfort. I remind Him I trust Him, even though His ways are not mine and I am still sad and hurt. (p. 190)

Breaking the bowl (read the book to find out about that one)… and more.

I guess the only thing that is certain to me now is that the small God I followed before, the one I must secretly have believed would spare my family pain if I just didn’t ask for too much or set my sights too high, is somehow not big enough to carry me now.

That little God isn’t the one who comforts me when I despair. Not, it’s a big God, who loving voice reminds me of my mother’s, who gently whispers to me, “I know, Anna,. I know, honey. I know.” (pp. 218-9).

These are just a few highlights that really resonated with me, helped me rethink and reflect on my own losses (two immediate family deaths and two other deaths of people very close to us within 6 months).

Thank you, Anna, once again.

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Rare Bird — Book Review

The book no one wants to write… the book everyone needs to read.

I have read many books over the past 55 years, ranging from theological to history to biography to technical. Of all of them I would have put two books in the above category, until now.

Weak and Loved by Emily Cook (about her daughter’s seizures)

And She Was a Christian by Peter Preus (about his wife’s suicide)

Now, the third one, Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson (about her son’s death). This is a book about her son’s death and the family’s journey in the trail afterward. 514slwUS0PL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_

I had read her blog accounts over the past 4 years, getting bits and pieces of the story. Yet I did not have any further insights. This book covers the details of Jack’s death, and immediate reactions. But even more Anna reveals the depth of the loss and the path that she and her husband followed, and their daughter.

Anna writes in such a way that she draws the reader to want to be at the river’s edge shouting for someone to help Jack, or Anna, or Margaret, or Tim… She reveals the torment, the futility, the “what-ifs” that inevitably arise in such circumstances. The tale of tragedy and the brokenness of life was gripping, and I wanted to read it all in one sitting.

But I could not. The pain, the agony was too much. At one point I couldn’t read it for 5 days, it was too overwhelming for me. I can’t even imagine the days for Anna and the family. She couldn’t put Jack’s death and her life aside for even an hour, like I could with the book.

Anna offers insights throughout a 2-3 year process of living with this. As a pastor I have seen people respond with love for the family when a death occurs, but often the continual support begins to wane after a few weeks or months. She doesn’t give us a short snapshot of this process. Because there is no short snapshot. Instead she walks the reader through the long path of grief. Anna also describes the changing nature of her grief, letting us see the depth of grief, but also the extent of the grief. Not very often do people learn about what she went through without having gone through the experience itself. Anna provides a flashlight through her own experience so that we can walk that path, yes, in a sense with her, but more importantly with someone close to us who is walking that path.

We lost our son for many years, not through death, but through prison and then him going missing for 17 years. Many times in my own despair I thought, “If only it would end. The unknown is too difficult.” We grieved throughout that period. But after reading this book, I realize that even an end does not stop the hurting, the loss, the grieving.

In another way, though, Anna helped me to realize something of our grief based on what she experienced. There were things, events, etc. we could not participate in or go to. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries were not celebrated because the pain was too much. Sometimes people were constant reminders of what we lost. Anna describes this sense of loss so well.

I also found that I could not share with many people what I was experiencing (it took many years for me to learn how to communicate), because I realized that many people didn’t understand, and sometimes what they said was hurtful (even though not intentionally). Anna also shares with the reader the sense of gratitude for those faithful people who stood by them in the darkest days, weeks, months, and yes, years. Loving, helpful people who sometimes just allowed her to cry. We experienced Christian friendship like that, too.

When I was stationed in the Navy in 1974, my only uncle died at age 49. My grandmother was 64 at the time (two years younger than I am now). I remember standing beside the casket and she said, “No parent should ever have to bury her child.” That memory is clear to me today as it was 41 years ago. And Anna’s book is a monument to those words.

And yet… my grandmother continued to live through that. And Anna has lived through this loss. This book is a book of loss, despair, anger, frustration, courage, and strength, all because of God. As Anna explored aspects of death and coming to grips with it, she shows to the reader, the winding path she is on, but ultimately the path which Jesus walked with her. This is a book of help and hope for everyone. It is memoir of loss and love, and the God who is present through it all.

Looking back now, because the sense of loss was so close to me, yet nowhere near the loss that Anna and her family experienced, I don’t think I could re-read it right now. It is too emotional for me. I marvel that Anna could even write what she did. And I am very grateful for what she did. It truly is…

The book no one wants to write… the book everyone needs to read.

Thanks, Anna, for opening your heart on such a personal, deep level.