Shortly after agreeing to become an au pair with the family of Dr. Terri Halperin and Dr. Michael Davidson, Christina Kraag learned that Michael had been fatally shot while working at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Christina reached out to Terri to offer condolences, and what followed is a unique and truly heartwarming story of friendship and healing in the wake of a brutal tragedy. What an honor it is to share their story.
Michael and Terri were both surgeons working full-time with three kids at home and one on the way when they decided to find an au pair. They wanted help for Terri’s mom, the family’s primary child care provider. Terri reached out to Au Pair in America on the recommendation of a coworker.
Michael and Terri interviewed au pair candidates over Christmas vacation and found Christina around New Year’s. Despite being just 18 years old, she had perfect English and appeared mature and composed. Terri and her husband agreed that they liked her a lot, and Christina agreed to join the family beginning in February.
Just a few weeks later, Michael was killed at work. He was a prominent cardiac surgeon and his murder received national coverage. Terri was, understandably, overwhelmed and barely functioning. A week later Christina emailed condolences, and Terri responded that she understood if Christina didn’t want to come anymore.
“Traveling to a foreign land and entering a house with 4 small children at the age of 18 would be daunting in and of itself,” Terri explains. “Now these children had just lost their father and their mother was scrambling to make it through each day. Christina answered that she had talked to the au pair coordinator and that she still wanted to come. That answer made me cry, and when I think about it, it still does. What an incredible character this young woman has.”
In April, Terri delivered her fourth child. “It was difficult to be pregnant with three small children, but having a newborn in the house without my husband brought me to my knees. Although Christina was not able to look after the baby initially, she did whatever she could to ease my burden in other ways. She took the children to the playground. She showered them with attention when they were missing mine. She was more mature than any 18-year-old I have ever met.”
Terri’s mom continues to care for her grandchildren, and she and Christina overlap times. According to Terri, they are good friends and work well together. Terri describes Christina as nothing short of amazing: loving, caring, responsible and funny—strict when needed but fun and carefree otherwise.
Terri also appreciates Christina’s presence for giving her the sense of Mike looking out for the family, since he helped find her. “She has listened to the girls talk about memories of their dad. She has seen my three-year-old son walk around the house saying, ‘I miss Daddy.’ She has watched me cry and scream and survive. She has done it all with a smile on her face and has never complained. My children love her and I do too. She has decided to extend her stay with us for another six months. I could not be happier… She saved us this year.”
Before becoming an au pair, Christina interned at a day care. She also thinks her experience tutoring and coaching gymnastics was good preparation for caring for Terri’s kids. As to why she was so well-suited to help a family at a time of profound loss, she is not sure.
Christina acknowledges that she joined a family that was in mourning and dealing with a lot of grief, but counters, “I know Terri says such nice things about me, but you have to know that the children are great and open, and Terri is the best host mom. She is accommodating, flexible and fair and supports my discipline with the kids. We are a good match.”
Without a doubt, Terri’s thoughtfulness, kindness, and strength are impressive. Through tears, she talks about experiences that might have crippled many in her situation, yet she carries on with spirit and gratitude. “Don’t sugar coat it, my husband was murdered at work… It has been really hard and overwhelming, but we will always be so thankful to Christina. She’ll be a part of our family forever.”
Terri even extends her thanks to Christina’s family, “How brave of her parents to support her doing this. Even if she was terrible, I’d still appreciate what she did for our family… but she’s been incredible.”
When asked if she would do it again, Christina doesn’t hesitate to say yes. She explains, “I have become more mature and independent and learned what it means to be responsible.” She would have stayed another year but could only extend six months since she has school coming up. She’s still considering her options as far as school and career and is interested in medicine, psychology and architecture.
Terri and Christina both expressed intentions to stay close and keep in touch with social media, calls, Skype and trips in the future. Christina’s favorite memory as an au pair is of a family trip touring Boston with Terri & the kids last summer. She will return home to Germany in August.
It was our privilege to facilitate Christina’s placement with Terri’s family. Our respect for their accomplishments together cannot be understated. We were so moved by their trust and compassion for each other in extremely difficult circumstances. For these reasons, Au Pair in America presented Christina and Terri’s family with a Special Recognition award which includes a round-trip airline ticket for Christina to visit her adoring host family in the future.