One of the first recommendations I received from another librarian this year was “Here If You Need Me” by Kate Braestrup. Amy Lappin, deputy director of Lebanon Libraries wrote to me, “It is hard to say why I love this book so much … I think the key to a terrific memoir is someone with a real story to tell, and Kate definitely has a story to tell.” Soon after this, my grandmother-in-law mailed me a printed list of books she recommended for my year of reading suggested titles. On this list was, again, “Here If You Need Me.” The twice recommendation from two people of different generations and different life experiences, made me purchase a paperback copy. I’m thankful I did.
“Here If You Need Me” by Kate Braestrup is a memoir told by the Chaplin for the Maine Warden Service. To say what this book is about reminds me of Amy’s note to me; it’s difficult to say what it is about it that makes it really hit home. In thinking about the elements of the book (berevement, religion and spirituality, game wardens, single mom), I question why I ever picked it up. I enjoyed the book thoroughly, though, and would recommend it widely.
Kate serves as Chaplin for the Maine Warden Service, a position in which she works closely alongside Maine Game Wardens. In large part the book details the strength, salt-of-the-earth nature of the wardens. Her descriptions of them put their humanity, and even greater humility on display. “Sometimes I think I live and work in a parallel universe. That is, I know that I live in a crass and boorish culture … and still the world I move through is rich and beautiful and the people I work with, especially the wardens of Maine, are decent, discerning, and good.”
I could see and hear my own Maine family members in Kate’s descriptions of the wardens’ rough, yet slow tone of voices and the patient compassion they show for those involved in a tragic wilderness event.
Kate’s memoir is an intimate look at bereavement, both her own and the grief of game wardens and the families who learn of a loss following a Search And Rescue (SAR) conducted by the Maine Warden service.
As chaplin, Kate is with families as SAR missions are underway. In the first chapter, she recalls being with the parents of a young girl who was missing. As a reader, you can feel the mother’s fingernails driving into Kate’s palm as she held her hand in anticipation.
Kate’s family is a constant presence in her writing. Her children, Zachary, Peter, Ellie, and Woolie bring laughter with their adolescent shenanegains, and create quiet, heartwarming moments. Kate recalls the soft, warm cheek of Woolie pressed against her before Kate leaves on a Search and Rescue call for the young 6-year-old girl, close in age to Woolie, who was missing.
Kate recounts her experiences with religion at different times throughout her life, often with humor. As a teenager, she had a friend Pamela that dragged her to her born-again church where the minister “howled the Good News” like Elvis singing “Hound Dog.” As a parent, Kate shares how one of her daughters named her doll Jesus. “Jesus was quite a pretty doll until her infant caregiver inadvertently puked on her head. Jesus came out of the washing machine looking like Don King.” And while in school at the Bangor Theological Seminary, Kate recalls, “we proceeded so slowly and in such small batches through the course of study that I once suggested to a startled dean that we call the seminary an ovulary.”
In her writing about religion, Kate shows her acceptance of others’ differing beliefs. She writes about being asked to lead a prayer at the annual Game Wardens Banquet saying, “I did not grow up praying and therefore perhaps approach these moments with uncommon awkwardness and awe. To ask a roomful of people to ‘join, as you will, in a spirit of prayer’ strikes me as an invitation into an almost painful intimacy.” Instead, she simply began with “Join me as you will.”
Kate’s approach to living feels right to me. She demonstrates respect for herself and others. She is grateful for the simple wonders in life. Her memoir is a reminder that we can slow down and be there for others when they need us the most.
I would recommend this book to just about anyone, including – maybe especially – to those who are grieving from the loss of a loved one. As Kate explores her own grief, we are taught that we can live through hurt, but we do not need to give the rest of our lives to the dead by mourning and living a life of emotional pain for our remaining years; rather, we can continue to live and trust our hearts with those who are also living.
Kate Braestrup’s official website
Place a hold and borrow “Here If You Need Me” at the Minot-Sleeper Library
Kate Braestrup on NPR’s The Moth