Here If You Need Me: a True Story
by Kate Braestrup

Little, Brown and Company, 2007. ISBN 0316066303.
Reviewed by Judy Fettman
Posted on 09/12/2007

Nonfiction: Memoir

Knowing that I am very active in my Unitarian church, my therapist mentioned one day that she had heard a female Unitarian chaplain, Kate Braestrup, interviewed recently on NPR. Kate, a middle-aged mother of four small children at the time, was left a widow in 1996 when her husband, Drew, was killed in a car accident. Drew had planned to go to seminary when he retired from the Maine Warden Service fifteen years later and begin a second career as a Unitarian minister. As Kate grieved for her husband that first year and grappled with the meaning of his death for her and her children, she decided to fulfill Drew's dream herself. So she went to seminary and was ordained a minister in the Unitarian church. In one of life's unexplainable synchronicities, the Maine Warden Service had recently established a chaplaincy position that was held briefly by another minister who resigned, leaving the position to be filled by Kate.

One would wonder why a fish and game service would have need of a chaplain. In Maine, it is not only the local police and state troopers who respond to missing persons reports. In fact, the game wardens often are the first responders to a report of a child lost in the woods, an ice fisherman who didn't return home one night, or a snowmobile accident. Kate makes her vocation as a chaplain for the Maine Warden Service and is called upon in search and rescue missions as a warm presence waiting with anxious parents or accompanying a warden to the home of a distraught wife who must be told that her husband's snowmobile has fallen through the ice and he has drowned.

In reflecting on her role, Kate writes, "If anyone needs proof that God has a sense of humor, here it is: I am a middle-aged mother of four who works primarily with young, very fit men. And I, a famously loquacious person, have a job that requires me mostly to just show up, shut up, and be."

Interweaving stories of rescue missions with memories of and reflections on her own husband's death, conversations about death with both her children and the wardens, and with an invincible sense of humor, Kate has written a lovely, tender, sometimes sad, often very funny memoir about finding meaning not only in life but in death.

Although the circumstances are much different, I, too, have been struggling with building a meaningful life after losing a husband. And having myself found comfort, a new home, friendship, and understanding in my own Unitarian congregation, I can readily identify with Kate's journey from loss and grief to a new, positive, meaningful life.

Kate Braestrup is the author of a novel, Onion, and has written for Mademoiselle, Ms., City Paper, Hope, and Law and Order. She lives in Maine with her husband, Simon van der Ven, and their six children.

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