Errol Milner Clifford 2006-2009

Errol Milner Clifford was born with a significant heart defect and a cognitive disability that prevented him from walking or talking. As we grieved the child we had anticipated, Errol’s full-bodied smile and irrepressible laugh turned our sorrow into joy, and taught us that many of the best things in life are unexpected. Inspired by Errol’s delightful spirit, friends, family, and neighbors rallied to support our family’s significant emotional, physical, and financial needs, through countless acts of selfless generosity. When Errol’s courageous heart finally failed him on December 23, 2009 we were left numb with grief. In these dark hours we listen hopefully for the echoes of Errol’s brilliant laugh. This blog is the story (starting from present and working back to Errol's birth) of the life and times of the amazing Errol Clifford.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Space Flight

I was just thinking about the first animals in space. Weren’t you?

First there was Laika, the Communist dog, shot into orbit by the Soviets on November 3, 1957. Little good her fame did her, as she died in space. She was followed by the first Americans in space: two mice, Laska and Benjy, who managed to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, but weren’t recovered (if they had only had AAA). Then there were the All-American monkeys, Able (female) and Baker (male) who not only went to outer space, but made it back. Sadly, they didn’t have much time to celebrate their triumph; Able died a few days after she returned. Did Baker mourn his astronaut colleague, Able? Did he smile as he remembered their hours of weightlessness spent floating around their tiny capsule?

Animals feel pain, but because they can’t predict or even consider their future, they can't suffer. Because they lack the ability to anticipate or imagine the absence of life, the death of a rabbit, for example, even a really cool rabbit, is less tragic than the death of a human (even a celebrity chef). Without self-awareness, there is pain, but there is no suffering, and suffering is one of the things that makes us, for better and for worse, human.

When Errol was a small pup in the hospital, he would hardly cry, even when his nurses were performing the most horrible procedures on him. As his nurse would prepare his tiny arm for an IV, apply the tourniquet to expose his veins, swipe the alcohol swab to sterilize his arm, leg, foot, or forehead (all of the things, that in me, would bring about pain, even before the physical pain), sweet, innocent Errol smiled and smiled (as I cringed for him) until the very moment the needle violated his soft skin. And then, on the other side of the procedure, as soon as the pain eased, Errol would be back to his happy ways, as if nothing bad had ever happened. What would it be like to forget not only all the bad things that happen to us, but also the good? Would we choose to live without memories of broken arms, spats, loneliness, anxiety, but also without a record of hugs and kisses, family vacations, gastronomic delights, beautiful music, a snowy day, joys and loves? In the hospital, we were happy that Errol was free of anxiety, dread, and suffering, but without self-awareness, we had feared there would always be a huge gap between us.

Errol is growing up. Last night we put Errol down to sleep on his tummy, and Owen and I finished reading a book as we waited for Errol to drift off. But Errol had other plans, and soon he was on his side. I watched Errol out of the corner of my eye, and kept reading to Owen. Before we knew it we heard a proud little giggle. We looked over and there was Errol on his back! We congratulated Errol and sang his praises before we put him back on his tummy. He was so proud. We all went to sleep happy! When we went to get Errol this morning he was back on his back, grinning from ear to ear. There is suffering in memory, but there are so many wonderful things that come with it, too. Every day, Errol becomes more like us, and although there is a loss of innocence, we welcome Errol to our tragic and beautiful world.

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