How Great Thou Part

My door bell rings. I open the door and find my friend, Lisa standing on the stoop.

“The book I ordered you arrived,” she says.

Lisa hands me the book. I thank her. She is thoughtful as always. We say goodbye. I close the door and head into my family room. I turn on the light and fall into the sofa. The night turns dark outside the window on this Saturday night. My hands grip the book. I open it.

The words pull me in though down deep I am afraid to read them. They are the words of a mother. A mother who speaks raw and eloquently. A mother who tells of the moments we hold dear, the dreams we aspire to and the hopes we hold onto as parents. She speaks, too, of the day she would see these things shatter.

Her name is Anna Whiston-Donaldson and her book, now a New York Times Bestseller, is “Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love.”

I walk with her as I read each page. The power of her writing placing me inside her world as she experiences her utterly devastating loss. I can feel her numbness. I can hear her cries as she discovers the worst…….that her treasured and rare Jack will not be coming home to her.

I hurt for her.

My mind races backward to an early June evening. My phone rings inside my purse. I grab for it. I hear only one word, yet it is so foreboding that I have fight or flight. I race from the back of the restaurant towards the exit. I won’t let my brother speak. Instead, I just keep begging him over and over again to tell me that everyone is okay. I throw my body at the door and make my way outside. I lean up against the wall. I am still begging.

“Colleen, I’m sorry. We lost Matthew today.”

I collapse. I hurl screams into the air. I am living while dying.

I am drawn to Anna’s story despite the fear of tracing the steps of a mother’s ultimate suffering. I watch my sister battle this unspeakable truth every day.

Anna tells a compelling and visceral image of loss and love. I wonder where she draws the strength to be so courageously honest. I ingest all of her emotion as her love finds its way through the pages.

I am unable to fight the love within me. It cascades down my cheeks. I am crying for my beautiful nephew. I am crying for my sister and her Matthew. I am crying for Anna and her Jack. I am crying for love.

I swipe at my tears. The pages before me blur. I close the book. I reach for my computer and I e-mail Anna Whiston-Donaldson. I share a few personal thoughts with her and ask for an interview.

We meet at a local coffee shop. It is October and just a month and three years since Anna has lost her sweet, beautiful, twelve year old Jack.

I sip my decaf coffee while Anna sips her tea. She is outwardly beautiful. I have already been privy to her inward beauty. She is full disclosure and candid. She is also selfless with a captivating grace. Her spoken words as raw and inspiring as her written words. There are occasional hints of her impossible loss welling in her lovely eyes, though she wrestles through them.

I, too, fight to keep the flood within my eyes.

“I am humbled by your ability to share such overwhelming devastation in a way that speaks so strongly to others,” I say.

What I don’t say is how selflessly that I feel she delivers this. It is her loss, her Jack, yet her hand extends beyond the pages to squeeze the hand of the reader. Anna lets us know that in loss we will be angry, weak, hopeless, isolated, bitter and eventually we will be strong.

Anna sets down her tea.

“No one is going to stay a stranger to grief,” she says. “ So why not be honest about it now and let yourself feel it and see it now?”

Anna says her book speaks of all loss and not only the unspeakable loss of her child.

She speaks the truth. We will not escape this terror in our lives. Yes, the terror. It is not a pleasant word. Let’s be honest though. It is what loss invokes in us.

Anna opens the forbidden conversation. She is expelling the, “Shoosh, don’t talk about it….Don’t ask her about him….Be quiet….It will be easier for her.”

She is exposing grief for its ugly dirty self. The thing we run from, hide from, and retreat from. However, when we absorb Anna’s love, her pain, and her precious son, she bravely lifts the cloaked veil. The ugly, dirty, grief is cast aside.

“Grief is simply a, ‘love story,’ in reverse. A necessary ending to an exquisite love.”

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