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.


  1. Love this, Jennifer! I loved rare bird the same way you described it. It is about life and hope and love. So proud of Anna!

  2. Thank you so much. xo

  3. Anna’s book really moved me, I just adore this book. What a great review!

  4. What a poignant review. It sounds as wonderful as I hoped it would be. I can’t wait to get my copy this week at her book signing.

    • Peggy Thompson says:

      Anne Marie … Where and when is her Book Signing going to be?

      • Hi Peggy! Anna is having local events this week: Thursday night at 7 pm at One More Page Books in Arlington, VA and Fri night at 7 pm at Vienna Presbyterian Church, Vienna, VA. Then, on Sept 23 at 7:30 at the Patrick Henry Library, Vienna, VA. Anne Marie and I are going to the Friday night celebration. :) Hope to see you there!

        • Peggy Thompson says:

          Thanx for the specifics, jennifer! Waiting on my weekend schedule but would love to attend the
          Fri nite event at Vienna Presbytarian. Hope to see you then. will invite my Bernadette to join me.

  5. Peggy Thompson says:

    Jennifer … Thanx so much for alerting me to the fact that Anna has written a book of inspiration, encouragement and hope based on the tragic loss of her son, Jack, four years ago. I have never met the Donaldsons but I vividly remember that day and how quickly the word spread that a 12 yr old boy had been swept away by the fast moving current of a very small stream or creek. What especially caught my attention was the fact that I live in the same town and, in fact, close family friends live on the same street as the Donaldsons practically next door. We were facing our flooding lower level with a very different perspective. Needless to say, my first instinct was to pray for his safety and rescue. When he was found and it was announced he had died, I prayed even more for the Donaldsons. Later in the week, my neighbors, who were members of the Donaldson’s church, alerted our neighborhood to tie Blue Ribbons on our mailboxes, trees, and fences in honor of Jack. In fact, the response in our entire community was overwhelming and a testimony to the heartfelt caring and love we all wanted to share with this devastated family.

    I so look forward to reading Rare Bird and intend to share the book with others who have lost a loved one, especially a child, to me the most difficult loss imaginable. I have several (too many) very close friends who have endured this treadful experience.

  6. What a beautiful post about a tragic reality that too many families have to face. I, too, fear losing those I love dearest, especially my own children, and it’s difficult to fathom how any mother could recover from such devastating loss, but it looks like this book is a beautiful testament to her son and the joy he brought his family. I’m anxious to order a copy!

  7. I will ***definitely*** check out this book! It sounds so wonderful and inspiring. I too believe in signs from Heaven, so I particularly want to read it! I hope you don’t mind my sharing the following. I lost my best friend, my father. My Dad had bipolar one disorder. when I called him long-distance in the hospital to tell him I was diagnosed with it (at 8 weeks postpartum) he cried as he felt responsible. I can’t believe it has already been 7 years since he died. I think about him every day. The Death of a family member absolutely terrifies me, because I went into a depression so dark after Dad died that I had to be hospitalized. I missed his funeral. I wasn’t stable to begin with when he died, but Now that I’m stable, I pray every day that when a loved one passes away, I won’t plummet so low that I cannot function. It’s one of my greatest fears I’ll repeat history, but I now have hope that I will somehow make it through better than I did before. I know that reading Anna’s book will give me strength to carry on. Thank you so much for writing about her and her work, Jenn!

  8. I’d like to add that I did just buy “Rare Bird” last night, and it’s riveting. It only takes reading the first few pages to see that Anna is an amazing person. Her writing is so good that it’s hard for me to even attempt to find words that do it justice. I am so glad I found out about her book through you, Jenn. Thank you!

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  1. […] remembered how I told them about Anna’s son Jack and his accident when they saw me reading Rare Bird last year. God called Jack home to heaven four years […]

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