It was 3:00 in the morning and I heard her call out. She had fallen and slipped to the floor, more chagrined than hurt, but I couldn’t pick her up. I grabbed the phone. “Craig, please…” Before I could finish, he said, “I’m on my way.”
It was like that. For one year he kept his phone on, chained to his hip, perpetually on call—just in case. I didn’t ask this of him. Craig just quietly stepped up to become our protector.
He had just started a new teaching position trying to bring the dazzling world of chemistry into the minds of bored and distracted high school students. I personally thought he was a rock star, but these kids were clueless. Every day after school he would come by, collapsing into the blue chair, knowing Sophie was ready to sympathetically absorb and bear witness to his frustrations, even though she had no idea what he was talking about. Then he would nap or grade papers and she would nap or read. He was an adopted son and their relationship was sweet and comfortable.
One night my mother became very sick, and diarrhea covered her entire body. “Craig”…”I’ll be right there.” We scooped her out of bed onto the bedside commode, slipped her little nightie over her frail, naked body, and as he held her up, I got a basin of soapy water and began to gently clean her, throwing shitty towels over my shoulder onto the bathroom floor while they shamelessly flirted with each other. “Sophie, look… we’re dancing!” She flashed him her toothless grin and swayed her hips while he hummed some unrecognizable tune. He was at once tender and irreverent. He made her laugh, so she was not ashamed.
Once when he was visiting we walked into her room to check on her. She had gotten onto the commode by herself and was bent over with her face planted into the bedside table.
“MOM,” I shouted. “Are you okay?”
“My face hurts,” she whispered.
“Of course it hurts, mom, it’s smashed into the table.”
“Oh dear,” she moaned, not moving.
We lifted her back into bed. Her face became white and lifeless; she seemed to be barely breathing. Oh, my God, she’s dying, I thought. Everything I knew as a nurse was gone. I was just a panicked, freaked out daughter, who was not ready for this moment. I looked over at Craig and he was putting his finger under her nose. “What in God’s name are you doing?” I shouted. “I saw this in a movie once,” he said seriously. “I’m checking to see if she is breathing,” I was incredulous. I mean this guy is a PhD physicist!
At that moment, Sophie opened her eyes and looked first at me and then at him. “What are you two idiots doing? Do you think I am dying? Well, I’m not! I’m fine, so leave me alone. I am tired and want to go to sleep!”
Desperately relieved, and feeling ridiculous, we slunk out of her room. And she was fine. Bright and chipper the next morning. “Good morning,” came her quivery little voice from under the covers. “Coffee ready? Looks like a beautiful day!”
Every home I go into as a hospice nurse now, I whisper a little prayer.
May every caregiver have a Saint Craig in their pocket!