In her previous memoir, the award-winning Here If You Need Me, Kate Braestrup established herself as a warm, witty and deeply moving writer, revealing how the devastating loss of her husband led her to open her heart in new directions. Following his unfulfilled dream, she threw herself into ministerial training and became a member of the clergy—and a living example of the advice she gives in her new book: “If your heart breaks, let it break open. Love more.”
Fans of her richly enlightening first-person narrative will surely love Marriage and Other Acts of Charity, which continues the story of her life as the backdrop for her observations and meditations as a wife, mother and woman of the cloth. And what a story it is! Braestrup’s memoir reads like a work of fiction: at 17 she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, only to find out after two emotionally torturous years that she didn’t have the disease; in fact, she wasn’t sick at all. And the tales of her ministry with the men who work outdoors in the Maine Warden Service, often in grim circumstances—such as searching for the bodies of a pilot and his 14-year-old daughter—are full of understated pathos.
As Braestrup navigates the uncharted waters of a later-in-life romance and a new marriage, she is also witness to the heartbreak and turmoil that love brings to the fragile human heart, especially when so many “happily-ever-afters” end prematurely in divorce. And, as chaplain, she must also comfort those who are suffering the anguish of irrevocable loss—when death takes a loved one. “Life is short,” she recognizes, “and pain engraves its memories in your flesh.” Still, she believes that “every soul is called to love and serve,” and her advice remains straightforward and simple—love more. “Start with your siblings, or your spouse, or your parents, but don’t stop there. Love whoever needs what you have; love the ones who have been placed in your path.” In Marriage and Other Acts of Charity, with grace and style, Braestrup leads the way.
Linda Stankard is a Realtor in Rockland County, New York.