Is that how one says it? As simply as that. "Craig is dead. Craig Henderson of DeMolay is dead." "The soup is hot; the soup is cold." "Craig is living; Craig is dead."
This post isn’t about food. It’s about my friend Craig Henderson, who died two weeks ago today. He was 49 years old.
He was one of the best friends I have ever had. Craig was a big man – with a bigger heart. I miss him, and I needed a way to vent my thoughts in the way Bob Siebold did with his beautiful eulogy. Bob couldn’t read it himself. I am sure that I couldn’t have either.
To understand how close Craig and I were, you need to have at least a basic understanding of the Order of DeMolay; the Masonic youth group to which both of us have dedicated most of our lives. One of DeMolay’s purposes is to make young men better young men. It certainly succeeded for me, and I think for Craig. It is a fraternity in the best sense of the word, and the friendships formed in this organization go beyond time and distance. One of my first DeMolay friends, Curtis Crump, once put DeMolay brotherhood this way: if you needed a kidney I would not only donate it, I would rip it out of my back and hand it to the surgeon to give to you.
That pretty much sums it up.
I knew Craig for a while before we became friends. He was on the cusp of the transition of going from an active DeMolay to an Advisor. I knew who he was. I liked him. But I didn’t really know him.
Our friendship was forged when the two of us were assigned to be DeMolay security advisors for a State Convention. Being a DeMolay security advisor entails, among other things, camping out outside of the girl’s dorm to make sure that the boys don’t get in to play with the girls. Who better to put in charge of the henhouse than a couple of very skilled foxes.
With years of experience I brought along a couple of lounge chairs. We set up them up on the asphalt sidewalk outside of the girl’s dorm. As the night wore on we began to talk about things, deeper and more personal. Craig induced me to chew tobacco - the second and last time I ever tried that. We spoke of our life and our loves our hopes and our dreams.
But what I think really cemented our friendship was that moment when both of us were starting to fall asleep and Craig whacked me in the arm and said "Scott I think that car is coming right for us." Some idiot had decided that the sidewalk was a side road. We managed to get the chairs out of the way and dodge certain injury.
From then on we were besties. We began to make plans that at any DeMolay event we’d be roommates, and talked each time into the wee hours of the night, usually enjoying the contents of my cough medicine bottle. (What, you didn't know that Robitussin came in single malt flavor.)
The more time that passed, the closer Craig and I became. That meant becoming closer to Elaine as well. They came as a pair - pretty close to a perfect couple, despite what the Agent of Lucifer - I mean Elaine's Mother - thought.
I was spending a lot of time down Craig’s way at that time. I had adopted and was adopted by a wonderful family down there. Friendships that will last a lifetime. Kerri is still a bestie. And her sister Amy is too, even though, well . . . we dated for a couple years. So I was down there quite a bit and got to spend some social time with Craig and Elaine getting to know them even better.
There are so many memories it’s hard to pick a few, but some stand out. The time I was elected Chapter Sweetheart by my DeMolay chapter and was crowned by Kimmy Woodruff (that’s another story). Craig volunteered to escort me in on his arm with all of the other girls at Convention that year. What a hoot.
There was the time Craig and Elaine bought their first house together and I took it upon myself to distract Elaine’s mother – affectionately known to all as the Angel of Death – so that Craig and Elaine could seriously consider what was going where and take some measurements. I never knew I could speak so long about window treatments.
Even in the worst of times they were the best of times. Such as the time that Amy dumped me. Twice. It was to Craig and Elaine that I went for comfort, and to get my life set back on track.
But of all these times, perhaps the most special was when Craig asked me to stand up for him at his wedding. His wedding to Elaine was one of the highlights of my life. And one of the most painful moments. And not just because I saw Amy for the first time since , well you get it
The night before the wedding after we had been out celebrating Craig’s impending nuptials, we returned to the hotel the groomsmen stayed at. Craig decided to show me some of his WWF moves. He expected me to roll out of the way. I wasn’t rolling anywhere. Have I mentioned that Craig was a big guy? It wasn’t until the next morning when I put on my tuxedo shirt that I realized he had cracked two of my ribs.
But, life moved on. I had my fire, and because of that I had a change in careers. Trish came into my life, and I moved on towards marriage. All these changes meant a move for me away from my active participation in DeMolay. My chapter had closed up shop, and my boys had grown up and moved on to their own lives. I saw Craig and Elaine less and less.
That doesn’t mean that we didn’t still have wonderful times together. While I wasn’t able to reciprocate by asking Craig to be in my wedding – we basically eloped - when we did ultimately throw a big party to celebrate our marriage. Craig and Elaine were down there the night before. Craig and my other good friend Brian spent the drizzly July 4 evening before the party consuming an entire bottle of single malt scotch, while discussing why I could no longer hit woods in my golf game. Craig went to his car and offered me his 1 iron and we proceeded to knock balls around the yard. Until we started knocking them off of the neighbor’s house. The girls came out and put a halt to that. I still have that 1.
I was there shortly after their son Tyler was born. I remember changing his diaper, but time passed quickly. There just was no free time, and what there was, was occupied.
There was one special occasion that came up during that period. The guys in DeMolay decided to throw Craig a testimonial dinner down in Westchester County. I was a secret guest. I showed up there wearing my wedding kilt to celebrate Craig’s Scottish heritage. If you need any more indication of how much I love them, I spent several hours trapped in a hotel room with his mother in law, the Dementor, see, The Angel of Death, above. I was marched in and proceeded to turn his testimonial dinner into a lovely roast. I did so in a way most inappropriate for the DeMolay circumstances, but everybody was cracking up. My final line of my presentation was to tell one and all that Craig was the best lover I have ever had.
But life for us moved on. I had two children of my own. And my focus in life changed accordingly. Craig and Elaine had their second son Bradley. And therein lies what I think is the biggest sin I have ever committed. Bradley was born prematurely and in his short life fought valiantly against a congenitally defective heart. I never met Bradley. I knew about him. We talked about him. But I never met him.
It wasn’t until he was in his final stay in the hospital that I totally reconnected with Craig and Elaine. I dealt with the situation in my usual way with humor. Sometimes very black. Sometimes very off-color. But always humor. But when Bradley lost his fight for life, there was no choice for me. I picked up a bag and drove down there.
I showed up to their doorstep basically saying "I’ll be happy to sleep in the back of my van, but I’m gonna be here for you". So yeah, I lied to you at the beginning. This is about food. I’m a cook and that’s what I did. I made sure that everybody was fed. I gave Tyler an appreciation for homemade pizza. I made sure there was food out for everybody who came to visit. I answered the phone and did everything I could to make sure that Craig and Elaine weren't bothered
I did what I do best.
I got two nicknames from that horrible visit down there. The first was Serge, because I took to answering the phone in my best Hank Azaria/Agador voice from The Birdcage. But the one that stuck, the one that I still have is Dobby. Dobby the house elf from Harry Potter, because that’s what I was. And when the time came for me to leave we made a couple of promises to each other. One is that we would never be as out of touch and as we had been in the previous years. The other was that I’d never have to be Dobby again. One of those was kept
We did make an extra effort to see each other in the intervening years. There were trips down there when we came down for New Year’s and other celebrations. There was the trip they made up here when we took Tyler to Niagara Falls and got totally soaking wet. Alyssa came along, that beautiful jewel of a child in a way unexpected. Not a replacement but her own person. We came down to visit her. Tyler grew up and became active in DeMolay on the state level and moved up through the State Offices. That meant that once in a while Craig was up here visiting our local DeMolay chapters, and I got spend some time. We were, after all, best friends. Any time was quality time.
I’m not certain how it started. Whether it was a cut or carbuncle on his foot but Craig had a wound that went septic. You can look it up - necrotizing fasciitis. Craig was a diabetic which made everything worse. It spread and ultimately he had some toes and part of his foot amputated in order to try to stop the disease. He had to take some time off of work, but he was recovering.
We were down visiting my sister in Connecticut and made a surprise visit on the way back to say hi to Craig. I rang the doorbell and Craig opened to see who it was - and slammed it my face. And then I got that beautiful bearhug and that wonderful laugh. Tyler was there. Alyssa was at school, but it was wonderful none the less. Craig scared the hell out of Elaine by calling her and telling her to come home. She thought something was wrong with him. In a way it was - I was there with Trish and the girls.
Craig seemed to be recovering. He went back to work, became active in his role in DeMolay. and watched Tyler become State Master Counselor. But this past August I knew that something was wrong. He wasn’t there to see Tyler go out of office. A short time later he was admitted to the hospital in Hudson. It was clear they were going to amputate a foot. That infection had never gone away it was lying and waiting. It affected one of his heart valves and and his kidneys were failing. Extraordinary measures needed to be taken.
Just before his surgery I was able to send him a message through a friend who was closer geographically, Bob Seibold, that we just have to give a new nickname: Eileen. His response was totally Craig: Fuck you, Harris.
The initial surgery went well but didn’t solve the problem. He was transferred to a hospital, a very good hospital, in Albany where they proceeded to move remove more of his legs. There were crises during his time in Albany. I have a job where I have to use vacation before the end of the year, but I’m not able to take it after October 15. I put off taking that vacation because I feared I would be have to be Dobby again. I later found out Elaine thought the same thing. During this time Trish was able to make a visit down there, but Craig was totally out of it and didn’t even know she was there. But Elaine did.
After that though things seem to stabilize. He was no longer constantly in crisis. He was conscious and interactive if not totally himself. So I finally did decide to take that vacation time with the family and we traveled down to Albany.
I got to spend several hours with Craig over two days In a lot of ways he was still himself, joking about tricking out his new ride. He seemed to have accepted the difficult path that was coming for him. He spoke of rehab and prosthetics.
I don’t know what you think about social media but Craig had arranged to send a bouquet of flowers to Elaine for their 23rd anniversary. If it weren’t for social media I wouldn’t have been able to show him a picture of that, or a picture of Tyler and Zach Piston down at Triangle convention.
I showed him a lot of pictures that day, pictures of my daughter diving and we talked like the old friends we were.
Driving home after that last visit I finally put my head into a zone where I could think about things that we needed to do for Craig’s long road ahead. You have to understand that I had put the brakes on a lot of my friends whose well-meaning efforts to do something for Craig would’ve been premature. On the road I was thinking about gathering a crew together to build some wheelchair ramps at his house, and gathering together whatever Masonic contacts I still have and set up some fundraisers to get Craig a Hoveround and maybe a wheelchair van. Anything he needed to get forward in his life.
Ten days later, in the early hours of the morning (not as early as it would’ve been if Craig had had stored in his phone a more recent phone number for me) we got the call from Elaine that my friend was gone.
Didn’t quite hit me at the time. I went into full Dobby mode. I made a bunch of bread dough, loaded up the car, and drove down there to be with Elaine and Tyler and Alyssa. I did what I do best. I even got a chance to make some pizza dough from scratch for Alyssa, and she now loves them as much as Tyler did. I saw many wonderful friends, some that I haven’t seen in 20-25 years as we all shared their grief over the passing of my friend. I did what I needed to do said goodbye.
When Bradley died , I wanted to give him a token just to symbolize the fact that even though I’d never met him he was special to me. At some point I had acquired two Klingon lapel pins - a red trefoil over a black background - one large and one small. Bradley has the smaller one on his lapel. And for the intervening years I proudly wore the matching pin myself.
I won’t be wearing it anymore. I gave it to Craig to let the heavens know that a true warrior was among them.
My friendship with Craig isn't over. I’m sure someday I will see this is the beginning of a new phase. After all Elaine, Tyler, and Alyssa are family, and once again I’m pledging that I’m gonna be there for them. Any time I am needed
I’ve told you before the Craig was a big man. You cannot imagine the hole he is left in my life, and the lives of so many others. I can only go from my own past experience with the loss of a parent at an early age to imagine what this is doing to Elaine and the kids.
I am pretty sure that my time being active with DeMolay is over. Craig is probably the only one who could’ve made it possible for me to come back. What goodwill my wife had for Masonic organizations dissolved a few years ago when I spent two years in second Lieut. Cmdr. Of Buffalo Consistory.
But I’ll be there if I’m needed, if only to remind the guys of the most important thing that Craig and I cared about when it came to DeMolay. It’s not about the Masons. it’s not about the Advisors. It’s not about the Eastern Stars or anybody else. it’s about the boys. And if you lose sight of that you’re just wrecking a really great institution. That’s a message I’ll deliver to some of the guys going through a local chapter Installation tonight, and part of the toast I will give it our annual Chevalier observance on Saturday night.
As for me, well it didn’t really hit me until I came home from being down there. I was in the shower after I arrived and I totally broke down. But we’re all going to get better, and of Craig my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most... human.
Sleep well, Craiggers. We miss you.