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.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
The four of us had a great Saturday. Just our little, unusual family. We drove to the mountains to go Christmas tree hunting. We bagged a six-footer. The people of Alleghany County (where Cary and I got married 13 years ago) tend to be sweeter, gentler, more likely to make eye contact than even the flatlanders down in Winston-Salem. The cocky young lumberjacks with their military haircuts, Carhartt work clothes, and tan boots walked up to Errol, patting him on the head or shoulders saying, “hey there little feller”. They probably don’t get a whole lot of not quite normal looking kids in all terrain-wheelchairs prowling the mountains for Frasier firs, but they didn’t seem to mind. They made physical contact with our little boy. Maybe they were taken off guard. Maybe they were drunk on the mountain air. Maybe they figured all the city slickers had wheelchairs these days and didn’t know Errol was disabled. Maybe they didn’t care. Maybe it made them care. It doesn’t really matter. They were kind to our boy.
Most people are; it’s just surprising sometimes who goes out of their way to touch an untouchable.
On a high mountain ridge, looking down on hundreds of trees lined up like soldiers, we picked our tree. Errol cried when they started to saw to cut our tree. The tree was felled anyway. Errol stopped crying. The tree choppers lashed the tree to the top of our car. I asked one of the young men if the tree would stay put for the drive home. He told me to take it easy on the way home. I told him home was 60 miles away, on the interstate. He thought for a second. They put another rope on the tree and tied it tighter. Now the tree and the car were headed wherever they went together. We implored the gods to see us and the cars in our wake home safely. We drove home quickly. We started a new family tradition that sunny day; it was a day we didn’t want to end.
The next day was rainy and cold. We wanted to read the Sunday paper, but felt like we should hold Errol. We felt guilty when we ate pancakes and Errol only got mushed up bananas. We felt guilty that we could remember, talk about, and savor the perfect day before, that fell so quickly from Errol’s mind.
In parenthood, guilt is never ending: we should play more with Owen, he needs be independent; we shouldn’t spoil Owen so much with Christmas presents, he really would love that Tupperware set; we should have given Owen a normal brother he could play with.
So far, the guilt is unending, and like our children, it grows bigger every day.
With Errol the guilt is darker. We worry he won’t walk, he won’t talk, he won’t remember anything. When we are at home on a Sunday afternoon and Errol is lying on his mat we know we should pick him up and work on his speech, or his sitting up, or just play with him; but we’d rather just do something fun like the laundry or the dishes. Life is a balancing act. It’s especially hard to balance heavy things.
We’ll always have that blissful Saturday, I just hope Errol knows it.
We were driving to the mountains to cut down a Christmas tree when Owen told us about his plans for the future.
Owen: Are Ken and Rick married?
Mama: Ken and Rick have lived together a long time, and they love each other, but our state doesn’t allow them to marry.
Daddy: Who will you marry, Owen?
Owen: I don’t know.
Daddy: You could marry your friend, Sophia.
Owen: No, Daddy. Not Sophia.
Mama: What about Noel or Ireland?
Daddy: You could marry Sophie, or what about, Roman?
Owen: Roman! That’s silly, Daddy. I’m not gay!
Daddy: Who would you like to marry, Owen?
Owen: I’m not going to get married. When you and Mama get old and die, I’m going to live here in the house with Errol.