Who I am.

I write about the landscape of grief, nature, and the wisdom of fools. The author of four books, my essays, poems, and reviews have been published in over 50 journals, including in the Huffington Post and Colorado Review. I’ve won the River Teeth Nonfiction Book Award, the Chautauqua and Literal Latte’s essay prizes, and my work has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and named a notable by Best American Essays. My account of hiking in Yosemite to deal with my wife’s death, Mountains of Light, was published by the University of Nebraska Press. http://www.markliebenow.com.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Grieving In the Woods

Book: Here If You Need Me, Kate Braestrup

Kate Braestrup writes about her life after husband Drew, a Maine state trooper, was killed by a driver who lost control. This isn’t a memoir of grieving. It’s a memoir of learning to live with grief.

She accepts the cards she’s been dealt, having learned from the loss of a beloved family pet when she was a teenager, that death was part of life. She buried her dog with her own hands and stacked rocks on top to keep animals out. She rebuilt that stack six times until she thought it was right for honoring her friend.

As she makes adjustments and goes on living, taking care of her children as a single parent, she drops grief into her narrative in telling moments, like when she is cooking at the stove and just starts crying, and her children crying as they do chores. There’s a lot of crying and snot. One of the central messages in the book is that people should not give up in the face of tragedy because there is still life to be lived, and every day of life is a gift.

After having talked with Drew about it for a long time, Braestrup finally entered seminary and then began working as a chaplain with the Maine Warden Service, providing presence and comfort to families as they waited for the wardens to find their loved ones lost in the woods. She doesn't speak much about the theology of faith, but focuses on where faith is put into action. She says, this is life. Things happen. God’s love only comes through us, so we need to get busy and help the people who are suffering.

She shares how important the support of her family and community were in helping her cope. The place to be when life breaks apart is here, she says, because you help each other through the rough times.

She tells memorable stories of outdoor life in Maine, mixes fun ones in with the sad, and includes scripture when she thinks of it, letting her thoughts flow without division. Everything is sacred in Braestrup’s world because everything is part of Creation.

What touched me the most were the times when she writes of being with someone who is waiting anxiously for the wardens to return, not knowing if their loved one is alive or dead, and offers a prayer that opens the moment to what is unseen. When she prays where someone has died, she consecrates that place and makes the Holy present.

Braestrup’s book will help people as they are coming out of grief and wondering what they do now with their lives, and it will help those who haven’t lost anyone but want to help someone who is grieving.

Kate simply says, Listen to them. Be present with an open heart.

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