Rare Bird – A Book About Life

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{Anna Whiston-Donaldson’s beautiful debut book Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love launches today and is available on Amazon.}

Death is a part of life. Nothing about this truth is easy to accept. But chances are pretty high that if we love deeply, at one point or another in our lifetime we will suffer tremendous loss.

I haven’t experienced this rite of passage yet in my life. Sometimes I get scared and anxious about losing the people I love the most. How would I survive without them? Would I ever be able to experience joy and laughter again if I were to lose those who send me into fits of giggles complete with tears rolling down my cheeks. Do I tell them I love them enough? Will I ever see them again after they leave this Earth?

I met Anna only after she had lost her son Jack in a tragic flash flood in a town only 25 minutes from where I live. In 2011, when a mutual friend and author/blogger wrote a post about Jack’s accident, I immediately clicked over and read Anna’s blog in disbelief and started praying along with the rest of her loyal readers and the masses of people sending love and strength to Anna, Tim and Margaret.

How could God let this happen to such a loving, spiritual family such as the Donaldson’s? I had a hard time believing it was true. I struggle with my faith, especially in times of crisis like this. This unfathomable tragedy made me doubt Him even more.

At our mutual friend’s book signing in April last year, I spotted Anna in line waiting to congratulate Glennon and get her book signed. Weeks earlier, I was surprised when I saw a comment from Anna pop up on my blog post about Wild Mountain, a memoir writers retreat I had attended in March. She mentioned in her note to me that she wished she could have been there and it was then that I knew she was writing a book.

We made plans to meet for lunch and talked of the craft of writing, but mainly just got to know each other. We spoke of our upbringing and faith, and I was so appreciative of her openness and honesty with me even though it was our first time getting together. I’m an open book, and I loved that Anna felt comfortable enough to be the same with me. It’s just her nature. She’s thoughtful, smart, easy to talk to, funny and I didn’t want our lunch date to end.

At that lunch, Anna gave me a blue Lego heart keychain left over from Jack’s service and to this day it is in my hands nearly every day. This handsome, witty, intelligent young man who I’d never had the pleasure of meeting would from that point on enter my mind whenever I reach for my car keys. I already knew he loved Legos, the bible, and being silly like your typical 12-yr old boy, but I couldn’t wait to read Anna’s book to learn even more about Jack.

I wouldn’t have to wait long. I was honored when Anna handed me an early copy of the book before it hit the pre-order stage (although I pre-ordered my own hardcover copy months ago, now available on Amazon). Once I sat down to read Rare Bird, I couldn’t stop. From the introduction of her own childhood to tales of family life with Jack and his goofiness which made me laugh out loud. I pictured my two kids six years into the future and realized exactly why I loved Anna’s book so much.

It’s about life. And how no matter how hard we try to plan for the future, we cannot guarantee that it’ll unfold the way we had hoped. There will be unthinkable losses, whether it’s the passing of a dear loved one or the news of a terminal illness, forcing us to embrace the past as much as the present. Anna’s words are a reminder that we should never take any moment for granted because no one knows what the future holds. Each day is a gift.

Anna’s writing is captivating from the first chapter to the last. She held back nothing because she knew in her heart while she was writing Rare Bird that her vulnerability would help others. And not just those who had lost a child suddenly. This book to me explained so much about love and life and why we’re here. Plus, it gave me hope for heaven. The signs Jack sent were some of my favorite parts of the book. Anna selflessly shares these intimate moments within the pages of Rare Bird.

I read and loved Anna’s book because I wanted to know what it felt like to experience early grief and also how to walk lovingly beside someone who is on such a journey. I wanted to understand how to wrap my arms around a friend moving through grief or a traumatic change in their life. Because life is hard. And chances are, it won’t reveal itself to us the way we expect.

Which is why we have each other to learn from and hold onto.

I love you, Anna. Thank you for sharing so much of Jack with us. He will always be in my heart. And I am here for you holding space.

#ForMiriam I Advocate: World Mental Health Day

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When I think of what happened in DC last week, I keep coming back to the same feelings of anger, frustration and sadness.

Her life shouldn’t have ended that way.

There is something called Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training, which is a training program developed in a number of U.S. states to help police officers react appropriately to situations involving mental illness or developmental delay. The Washington, DC chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness has a page on their website describing the District’s Crisis Intervention Officer Program, as having “had 5 graduated classes of officers so far, as well as new recruit trainings.”

I can’t help but wonder if the officer {or officers} who pulled the trigger had [Read more…]

Comfort: Five Minute Friday {6}

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COMFORT

Back then, newly sick and with the fear of a mental illness diagnosis looming over my head, there were few things that brought me comfort.

 

One that was the most strong was her love

and her continued fight

to get me back to well.

 

There were so many tears back then. But we were able to smile when we were together for pictures, even if it sometimes felt forced. Behind the smiles there was silent suffering.

 

No matter what, she never stopped trying to comfort me. To ease my pain. To take the hurt away from her baby, her firstborn.

 

She will always bring me comfort in times of sadness. She’s my mom.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

I love you with all my heart.

xoxoxo

Five Minute Friday

On angel’s wings

She was gone in a second.

My post last week was unintentionally appropriate. My mother-in-law called that evening to tell us that my husband’s grandmother had been in the hospital with pneumonia and now she wasn’t eating or drinking. Things did not look good. We starting looking at travel plans.

It was decided that my father-in-law would fly out the next day, and my husband and sister-in-law would join him in Wisconsin on Thursday evening and would stay the weekend. My mother-in-law, the kids and I would stay back and wait for an update.

Unfortunately, the update we were hoping for never came. Instead we got the call telling us she had passed away.

My father-in-law missed saying goodbye in person by one hour. A mere sixty minutes. 3600 seconds.

In my heart I know that she peacefully entered into heaven. I am absolutely positive she knew how much every member of her family loved her. I know that my husband’s grandfather and cousin who left this Earth before her were there to hold her hand. And I believe that Jesus wrapped his loving arms around her and told her he was so proud of her for a life well lived.

And I was grateful for our last trip out to Wisconsin to see her this past May. I wrote about how I was sad that I forgot to take certain pictures, but that I was so glad to have had the time together to make memories that would last longer than the pictures I would have taken.

I spoke at her funeral service. I spoke about one of those memories we made during our last trip. It’s my favorite memory of Grandma. After dinner one night, I suggested we pile all the great grandkids onto the couch around Grandma (6 of the 10 great grandchildren were there) to take some pictures. It was silly and challenging to get all the kids smiling and looking at the camera, but we got some great pictures. The five boys toppled off the couch and resumed their play, while Baby Girl climbed over to sit right next to her Great Grandma.

What happened next was the highlight of my eulogy. Baby Girl stood up and started patting her Great Grandma’s beautiful white perfectly curled hair, as if to say, “Pretty, Grandma! So pretty!”. Only our little lady wasn’t talking quite yet. So it was just an adorable exchange of giggles, smiles, and high-fives. Such a special moment that I did catch on camera. Although I didn’t even need the photo to remember the moment. It was that memorable.

Grandma was laid to rest on Saturday. That evening, the ladies of the family went through her (many) jewelry boxes to decide who would keep which pieces. We reminisced on the times we saw her wearing various bracelets, earrings, and necklaces. My little princess sat on my lap the entire time and would open up one of the wooden boxes, and then slip bracelet after bracelet on her tiny wrists. Everyone agreed that she should keep that bracelet box. Her brother later enjoyed “decorating himself” as he referred to donning the baubles on his arms.

In the end I chose one simple necklace that reminds me of how dainty, elegant, and pretty my husband’s grandmother was. She was a gentle, loving woman who is now an angel who will always watch over her family from heaven.

Her necklace reminds me of angel’s wings.

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Rest in peace, Grandma.

I love you.