Peacock tail feathers up close.
Peacock tail feathers up close.

An Essay on Grief

This is a different sort of blog post. On the surface it is a book review. But it is also a reflection on grief. If you are nervous, then go ahead and move along. I will not hold it against you.

Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson

The book Rare Bird, a Memoir of Loss and Love by Anna Whiston-Donaldson is about grief, profound and gripping. The kind of book that asks more of a reader than a few hours of undivided attention. It lets you glimpse the world of a mother struggling to cope with the loss of her son, questioning God in her most private moments, consumed by grief and ultimately facing the question of… why?

My own experience with grief was physical. It has faded with time, but when I first lost this person, I had stress headaches, my throat closed and I could not eat for days. He was like a father to me and I was instantly filled with regret that maybe he never knew how much I had loved him. My tendency to be formal and wrap my heart up in bubble wrap, just to keep it from breaking, did not stop the heartbreak now. It only caused me to regret that I had not told him how much he meant to me when he was alive. But he knew. I know that now because he has shown me since.

This is where the book comes in. Even in death, there is comfort and hope. I look at my own twelve-year old son and think how fragile he is. It is possible to experience completely opposite emotions at once: like despair and love simultaneously. The author, Anna Whiston-Donaldson eloquently describes this phenomenon in her book Rare Bird. She shows us that “the line between here and there is a thin one.”

This book gave me the courage to visit my grandmother the other day. Normally I would not need to draw on my courage to go see her, but she has deteriorated and her Alzheimer’s disease is advanced now. I was afraid she would not know me, or that she would be experiencing sun-downing, or that she would be asleep and I would be disturbing her. But none of those things happened and it was one of the best times I ever had with her. I will cherish it always.

When I arrived, she did not know me exactly, but she knew I was important to her. The delight on her face as I told her about myself was sincere and she was proud of my accomplishments all over again. It was so funny when she exclaimed, “I could pull some strings and get you a gig in here!” It made me smile and I know that she knows how much I love her because she remembered the emotions she had for me even before she remembered who I was.

My dear friend is facing the challenges addressed by this book directly. Her twelve-year old son has a terminal illness. I can only look on and try to help and support her from the sidelines, occasionally offering an ear, a shoulder, or a cup of tea. This friend recently described to me how sharply the world has come into focus for her at times, seeing the trees and the grass in vivid color and knowing all too well how fleeting it is. At the same time, she feels she is blessed and she stands tall like the tree in the midst of a hurricane, bending but never breaking. She has deep roots and draws her strength from the water, the earth, and from God Himself. I am amazed by her beauty and strength. I will give her this book.

Rare Bird, a Memoir of Loss and Love by Anna Whiston-Donaldson is a gift. It is a gift of life; the life you may find unimaginable after suffering loss. It reminds us to untangle the barriers we put up and to love those around us freely; to let go of the fear of losing them. It reminds us that you are “braver than you think.”

© copyright 2015 Mariam d’Eustachio at Simply Turquoise.

5 responses to “An Essay on Grief”

  1. Miriam, thoughtful post. Is the grandmother you mention your maternal grandmother? If so, I have a book of her wonderful poetry in my bookcase here in Texas that I cherish. Alzheimers is just insidious, robbing brilliant ones so brutally. Glad you had a memorable and loving visit. My best to your mother Margaret.


  2. That was beautifully written and also heartbreaking … we love you – and we are praying for Lisa, Vasily and all the family … with much love, your Mother Pela xo



  3. HI MARIAM, Provocative essay.  Thanks. When you plan to see your Grandmother Barbara, please call me. I’d like to go with you. PAT301-422-2972 


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