by ANN M. COLFORD & r & & r & Here If You Need Me & r & by Kate Braestrup & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & eath is a sacred but messy business. Those whose work brings them in frequent and intimate contact with the physical details of death -- cops, medical workers, clergy -- know this.

Author Kate Braestrup's work as a minister and chaplain to the Maine Warden Service (the law enforcement arm of the state's Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife) often puts her at the scene of search-and-rescue missions where the outcome could be either tragedy or joy. Her memoir begins with a search scene and the focus remains on her work, rather than on her personal story -- the one she self-deprecatingly calls, "The Tale of the Plucky Widow."

In 1996, Braestrup's husband, a Maine state trooper, was killed in an automobile accident, leaving her widowed with four young children. He had dreamed of a second career as a minister and chaplain; within a year of his death, Braestrup enrolled in seminary, the first step on the path that led her to become a chaplain.

As Braestrup herself admits, the widow's story has a "great hook," and it's garnered lots of attention. Fortunately, she deals with the tragedy of her own story the same way she deals with everything else -- with clear-eyed honesty, curiosity, and an appreciation for the absurdities of human life.

Braestrup was a writer first, long before her shift into ministry, and she brings a writer's curiosity to her journey -- first to her husband's funerary procedures, but later to the technicalities of law enforcement, search and rescue, and the habits of spruce grouse and old Yankee poachers.

Perhaps the biggest question she faces in her work is "Where is God in this?" It's the same question she faced after her husband's death. Her answer: "Look for love." And she finds that love in the tender actions of the wardens and in the communities that gather to support those touched by tragedy.

Braestrup brings humor and compassion to the experience of grief, along with a dead-on intuition about how to tell a story, and those gifts make Here If You Need Me a wonder and a joy to read.

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