Kate Braestrup is one of the first chaplains ever appointed to the Maine Warden Service. Yes, Game and Wildlife Wardens. This memoir of a woman with a most unusual job serving the spiritual needs of those involved in search-and-rescues in Maine’s wilderness areas is fascinating to read.
Here If You Need Me: A True Story is an uplifting story about how Kate Braestrup dealt with the death of her husband, pursued his dream of becoming a minister, and eventually, found faith. Braestrup writes about her search for spiritual ground and you don’t have to share her religion to be moved by her funny and tender tales.
Braestrup’s husband, Drew, had been a Maine State Trooper and was killed instantly in a traffic acccident. She writes about the emotional aftermath.
“We discovered that you can carry on a conversation and cry at the same time. You can cry while vacuuming the living room. You can cry while ordering pizza over the telephone, although the conversation is longer and more confused than it otherwise would be and you sometimes get a topping you dislike.”
After grief, there is mourning. And after mourning, there is compassion. While Kate Braestrup did not grow up within a religious community, her circumstances provided the impetus to go to Bangor Theological Seminary. There she discovered many other students who were called after the loss of a loved one or a traumatic lifechanging event. She gets her degree and a clerical collar but considers the role of nature in faith preeminent.
“That’s where I still feel most religious, when I’m out in the woods” (p. 186). Under the open skies at night when the search crews have halted, this chaplain’s prayers go up to the heavens like balloons of hope.
Sometimes the crews find what they were searching for and a young child is returned to parents, a lost hiker is discovered, a missing husband is found philandering at an out of town motel. Sometimes the crews find people hurt or injured. Sometimes dead. Sometimes they find nothing. The chaplain is there to help with the spiritual needs in such emergencies.
Braestrup’s God has a sense of humor, despite the tragic events the Maine Game Wardens encounters. No, her job doesn’t involve blessing Moose. But she brings light, truth and compassion to very dark moments.
For those who have experienced such tragedies, there is life before and life after. Braestrup herself struggled to integrate her life before and after her husband Drew’s death.
“I can’t make those two realities — what I’ve lost and what I’ve found — fit together in some tidy pattern of divine causality. I just have to hold them on the one hand and on the other, just like that” (p. 202).
Here if You Need Me (2007, Back Bay Books) is the first of three books Kate Breastrup has written. Marriage and Other Acts of Charity and Beginner’s Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life are her more recent titles.