Here If You Need Me is a memoir written by Kate Braestrup. Most of the story takes place in Maine, where Kate moved with her husband and built a family with him.
Kate is fascinated by death. Early in the book, we see her reading a book about death. At one point, inspired by a story that she reads, she calls out to her husband that she wants her body to be used as nutrition for trees when she dies. She and her husband agree about remaining connected to the cycle of life, rather than hiding from it. When her husband dies, Kate decides that she wants to bathe and dress his body herself, a practice common in some faith traditions. Of bathing his body, she writes:
Semper fidelis,” I told him, washing him tenderly around the mouth and jaw and closed eyes, then smoothing his hair with my hand.
Despite having no religious background, Kate goes to divinity school to become a chaplain while parenting her four children. She writes, “I’m here because Drew isn’t.” Once she graduates, she finds a job with the Maine warden service. Her job involves providing religious support for people in time of conflict caused by a missing/hurt loved one. She describes it such:
It is a ministry of presence. It is showing up with a loving heart. And it is really, really cool.
She takes us on many of her journeys. We learn about her family, about the different searches that she is part of, the wardens that she works with, and the family members that she meets. One of the parts that touched me most, and brought tears to my eyes was:
Every time I drive south, I pass over the bridge where he died, the bridge that is now named after him. “Hello, Dad!” the children holler, their voices following the river as it travels downstream.
I think that this book is beatifully written. Here are some of my favorite quotes.
My children grew accustomed to having a mother who leaked tears, although it bothered them when I actually sobbed.
Go ahead. Arrange and rearrange the stones on top of your beloved’s grave. Keep arranging those stones for as long as it hurts to do it, then stop, just before you really want to. Put the last stone on and walk away. Then light your candles to the living. Say your prayers for the living.
Lessons that she shares:
Hell is when you die, and no one cares.
A miracle is not defined by an event. A miracle is defined by gratitude.
Fish scales are used to make cosmetics shine, I remembered, irrelevantly. Cochineal pigment, which makes lipstick red, is made from bug blood. The things we smear on ourselves without knowing.
“Bears take the heads off and play with them,” Robertson explained laconically. “It’s like a ball for them, a plaything with a treat inside. They roll ’em around, swat ’em, and eventually break ’em open. We find heads miles away from everything else.”
I love these conceptualizations:
God does not spill milk. God did not bash the truck into your father’s car. Nowhere in scripture does it say, ‘God is car accident’ or ‘God is death’. God is justice and kindness, mercy, and always —always love. So if you want to know where God is in this or in anything, look for love.
If you are living in love, you are in heaven no matter where you are. May heaven hold you. May you always, always, live in love.
I loved this book. I enjoyed spending time with Kate Braestrup as she invited us into her life through the story that she weaves. They skills that she portrays in this book are resilience, open-heartedness, caring, compassion and love. The book is well written. I get a sense of honesty from it and feel like readers can get to know Kate’s life as a chaplain. We see her change from mother and wife, to chaplain and mother, to chaplain, mother and wife. She keeps me interested in what happens next at every step of the way.
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