We’ve never launched another author’s book here at Momastery. Today is a first, which is fitting because Rare Bird is a one-of-a-kind book.
Yesterday was the third anniversary of the death of Jack — the beloved son of my friend Anna Whiston-Donaldson. Three years ago yesterday, Jack and his little sister Margaret went out to play in the summer rain and Margaret returned alone. Jack was literally swept away. It is all unthinkable. But the miracle is that Anna thought about it. She looked all of it right in the eye and she did not turn away. She did not run or numb or fade. She felt it all and bore it all and so the hole left by Jack has become a Holy Hole for Anna.
Anna grieved and she still grieves, but somehow she grieves with great hope. And she channels her grief into service to the world. To that end, she wrote RARE BIRD – which LAUNCHES TODAY. Rare Bird is a book about Jack’s life and death. It’s about how a family survives the loss of one of its own and it’s about hope and miracles and pain and redemption. Rare Bird is an absolute masterpiece.
The incredible thing about this book is that while Anna is telling the story of her family- she is also telling the Story of Grief. Anna gives the world an incredible gift as she becomes Grief’s Translator. The horror of grief is that it so rarely can explain itself. Grief stuns the griever into silence or wordless wails so that those who love the griever cannot know what she feels or needs. And so the griever become even more alone, more isolated, with less hope. The magic of Rare Bird is that- ANNA BUILDS A BRIDGE FOR US- a bridge from our heart into the heart of the griever. Anyone committed to becoming a better friend or a wiser human being should read this book.
Please, please – let us not say: I can’t. I won’t read it. It’s too much. That pain is too much. That is not what we say to someone in grief. And it’s simply not true. We can bear each other’s grief and joy. That is what we’re here for, in fact. And so please remember that loss is not contagious but it is inevitable. Loss visits us all. And so when a prophet steps forward and says: Let me teach you. Let me tell you how this feels so that you can be ready when loss comes to you- and so that you can be ready to serve when grief comes to your friend. We say: YES. Tell me. I’ll listen. And I will understand that in telling me your story you are offering me a GIFT. I accept. Thank you.
This book is a GIFT that Anna has offered to the world. Let us say THANK YOU and buy it and read it and give it. Let us do our part to conquer at least the alone part of grief. We can beat that part. Rare Bird will help.
One of the gifts of Rare Bird is the glimpse into how to help a friend in crisis. Below, Anna shares her wisdom with us.
ALSO- Listen to our podcast to hear Anna and me discuss how we met, writing, faith, and why – on the night of the accident- my van never made it to her house.
Five Ways to Help Your Grieving Friend
Memorialize and Honor.
Don’t Give Up.
1) Show up. Go to her house. Go to the funeral. Mark your calendar for a few days or a week afterward to stop by with a latte and a hug. Do it again. Grief is isolating, while also being exhausting and overwhelming. Your friend will likely need you to initiate for a while, but if you remind yourself to “Just Show Up” physically and emotionally, you will help her heal.
2) Memorialize and honor. Honor your friend’s loved one by attending vigils, visitations, and any charity events held in his or her name. Support causes that are meaningful to the family. If you did know the loved one, write down your memories to give to your friend. If you didn’t, that’s okay too! Let yourself learn about him or her through your friend. Keep your eyes and heart open for a meaningful way to honor him or her. A few women tied blue ribbons around trees and mailboxes in our neighborhood, and it spread throughout town as a way to memorialize our son. Small gifts such as a special piece of jewelry, a book, candle, or artwork, may give your friend something to hold onto even as her tangible connection to her loved one feels like it is slipping away.
3) Listen. Your quiet presence and silent hug mean MUCH MORE to your friend than any grand gesture. Supporting a friend is scary because we are terrified of saying the wrong thing. Words are next to useless at a time like this, so give yourself a break. A simple “I’m so sorry” and a listening ear are enough. Your intention is pure, and your friend will be able to sense that. “Do you want to tell me what these past few days have been like?” might be a way to give her permission to open up if she wants to. But silence is okay.
4) Remember: Remember the birthday of the deceased, and the anniversary or the time of year of his or her death. Call, text, or send a card– “I’m thinking of you today as you miss your mom.” Or, make a note to reach out on a significant holiday such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or Valentine’s Day. Depending on the situation, this could also be the first day of school, or the opening day of baseball season when the pain could be acute. Don’t worry that you will be reminding your friend of her loss. She is likely already thinking about it, and your small acknowledgment will let her know you are too. Find a way to bring up the loved one’s name in conversation. The more you do it, the easier it gets, “I watched the Yankees play last week and thought of Jack,” or “Your mom really loved summer, didn’t she?” This helps your friend know that even though time has passed, you still remember.
5) Don’t give up: Your friendship may feel one sided for a while. You may be tempted to back off, give your friend space, or let her reach out to you once she knows what she needs. You may even feel a bit let down that she seems to be relating to others more than you these days. Perhaps she has formed bonds with others who have experienced a similar loss, and you are wondering what this means for your friendship. The key is to keep letting her know you care. Let go of expectations of how/if she will respond. Grief is extremely disorienting and lonely, and you can stave off some of that by being consistently present even if that is just through Facebook, texts, and (unreturned) phone messages. Yes, your friend has changed due to her experience, but she still loves and needs you. And if you are willing to walk beside her in her grief, you will both be richer for it.
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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