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.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Listening To Errol

Whatever Errol is thinking about must be pretty good because he smiles and laughs all the time. I’d love to be able to get inside Errol's little brain to see what exactly is so damn funny. The easiest way to find out what Errol is thinking would be to ask him, but since Errol’s words are elusive we’ve started teaching him to answer yes and no questions with his hands. Whenever we have a question we present Errol with two large plastic cards, one with a yellow smiley face, another with a picture of Sarah Palin. You can guess which is yes and which is no.

We put the cards down right in front of Errol and ask him simple, yes or no questions like: do you want to eat? Would you like more? Do you support the Bush Doctrine? If the answer is yes (and mostly it is), he touches the smiley face, if the answer is no, he reaches for the Governor.

Like all of us, Errol has desires, tastes, and preferences, and slowly by slowly, he is letting them be known. Do you want bananas? Smiley face. Would you like to take a bath? Smiley face. Would you like to buy some stock in Lehman Brothers? No. (Maybe we need another card for hell no! A picture of Dick Cheney, perhaps?)

We haven’t gotten up to complicated questions about the origin of the universe, free will, and human nature, but knowing what Errol wants for dinner is a start, and with enough time, hopefully the small questions will open into bigger ones. It’s got to be frustrating not to be able to express your most basic desires and wishes, and I think that Errol is enjoying his newfound power. (He refinanced our home the other day!)

We just watched a gorgeous and sublime film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the true story of an editor of Elle magazine, stricken with Locked In Syndrome. The editor wakes from a coma to find that he is paralyzed from head to toe, and can no longer speak. He reacts in horror as he realizes that there is no way he can communicate his thoughts to his caretakers. Eventually he learns to communicate by blinking his one functioning eye: once for yes, twice for no, three times for cream and sugar. Through a painstaking process he is able to write a book, telling his story, one blink at a time. In a beautiful passage, the author writes that with his old life taken from him, he must now live in his memories and imagination alone. I have read that when a person loses a sense, (their sight, for example) they often report that their remaining senses become more acute. Far from being limited and reduced by his immobility, the author’s rich and fertile mind is unbound.

What is Errol thinking that he is unable to share with us?
What thoughts are running through Errol’s sweet little head?
Is there a world of imagination and memory in his brain that we just aren’t patient, smart, enough to get to?
Is something funny, or has he just been smoking something?
Will Errol’s limitations make him stronger in ways we don’t even know?
Will Errol be able to share his inner life with us?
What’s so damn funny, anyway, Little Man?
Whatever the answers are to the big questions, it’s wonderful to have this new way to know our beautiful son.

Oh, it’s not really a picture of Sarah Palin. It’s a big red X. Same difference.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Errol Goes Pro

“Errol had a great day at school today!” his teacher said on Tuesday. Other people noticed the change in Errol, too, and commented on how well he was doing, how active he was, how he should run for vice-president. (If Palin can, why not Errol?) The Congressional Budget Office estimates that every time Errol gets acupressure he gains two month in development (at this rate, he’ll be on the PGA tour by 2011) and I think they are about right. Since he’s started his therapy, Errol has started waving (good), bucking out of his car seat (not so good), is more vocal (very good), and (unfortunately for him) has gained enough muscle strength for me to throw him up in the air (don’t worry, I catch him!) Because of Monday’s acupressure session, by the time his public saw him on Tuesday, Errol was full of vim and vigor and was shooting about 3 under par. And thanks to his generous acupressurist/caddie, Sarah, Errol will get a free acupressure therapy session every week. Come visit Errol and see the change for yourself. And bring your clubs.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Errol Eating

Thanks to the wonderful work of Errol's teachers, Susan and Tamara, Errol can now eat his milk all by himself. This is a huge milestone and we are so grateful to his teachers for all they are doing for our big boy. Next stop, pizza! As you can see, Errol is pretty proud of himself, too.