When an out-of-control vehicle took the life of Drew, her Maine state trooper husband, Kate Braestrup's life also headed in a wildly different direction. At the time of his death, Drew was planning to attend seminary to become a Unitarian minister. After Drew's death, a grieving Kate reflected that, like so many other plans and dreams shared by married couples, "when we discussed his plan for the future…we had actually been discussing our plan." And so Kate, who had long struggled with an ambivalence toward organized religion, enrolled in divinity school, saying "'I'm here because Drew isn't.'"
Proving that God does indeed work in mysterious ways, following her ordination this wilderness novice homebody received a calling to serve as chaplain to the Maine Warden Service, ministering to those men and women who respond to the call of a child lost in the north woods, who investigate poaching allegations, who work with dive teams and dogs and ATVs and snowmobiles to rescue lost hikers or recover snowmobilers who have gone through thin ice. What's more, loquacious Braestrup found that her calling required her, more than anything, to just stay and listen, to just be there for whomever needed her: "to just show up, shut my mouth, and be."
Although Braestrup acknowledges that her inspiring "plucky widow" story has made her a regional media darling, many of the stories she shares in HERE IF YOU NEED ME are anything but uplifting. From the agonizing yet cathartic process of caring for her dead husband's body to the discovery of a suicidal young mother's body to the retrieval of a drowned child, she acknowledges the grim, often harrowing work conducted by the Maine game wardens, and by extension, by Braestrup herself.
Not surprisingly, Braestrup finds --- and conveys --- comfort and peace through her conception of the divine. As a Unitarian, she understands God as love, as the generous quiet spirit that enables people like the game wardens whose stories she shares to search tirelessly through dark woods for a possible survivor, that encourages people to show up on the doorstep of a grieving family bearing baked goods, that allows Braestrup and her four children to survive and thrive in the wake of great loss.
Although Braestrup's book is ostensibly a memoir, most of the individual chapters read more like well-crafted essays, meditations on aspects of recovery, questions of faith and everyday expressions of bravery. Relying on the perspective afforded by her unusual background, Braestrup addresses some of the big questions here: What is a miracle? What happens after we die? What is the role of forgiveness? These are, of course, questions that have been explored countless times by countless others. There in the Maine woods, though, surrounded by courageous people who might not even believe in any sort of God, Braestrup uncovers unexpected truths, exploring these age-old questions in new ways and finding answers in the most surprising places, situations, and most of all, people.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on November 3, 2011