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.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Moravians at the gate

Old Salem is an 18th century Moravian settlement a ten-minute walk from our house. Much like Colonial Williamsburg and the state of West Virginia, the streets and homes of historic Old Salem are populated by pilgrims in colonial garb. As you enter their world, the ersatz colonists call you “sister” and “brother” to make you feel like you are either back in the eighteenth century or in a Southern Baptist church. And unlike the Moravians of yore, these old-school interlopers get to go home at the end of the day and watch their satellite TVs and flush their toilets. Despite the fact that they had no toaster ovens or microwaves, the Moravians had a pretty good life.

On our tour, we watched a gunsmith work on a rifle that he said would take 125 man-hours to complete. I’ve never spent 125 hours on making anything (unless you count Susie Mandelbaum!) Not only did the gunsmith make the gun by hand, he made the tools that made the gun. “Yeah,” I asked him, “But did you make the tools that made the tools that made the gun?” Slacker! Living in a world of specialization, I image how wonderful it must have been to make something from start to finish, to see it come to life, to engrave your name into it, to use it to shoot a cow.

For all their faults, The Moravians lived life at a very human pace. As we walked through this advertisement for stress-relief, I could feel time slow down (maybe it was the taco I had for dinner). I breathed easily and drank in the pace of this beautiful place.

Errol is retarded, or as people say around here, “a little slow.” Most of us value speed, and when it comes to intelligence, slow is definitely bad. But I think, most of the time, slow is better than fast:

But when you think about it, which would you rather have?

Fast food: slow food
Fast conversation: slow conversation
Fast nap: slow nap

OK, stupid question.

Remember, at the finish line of life is death, so there’s really no rush. We could all use a little more slow in our lives, and Errol helps us quiet our frenetic days. After all, Errol doesn’t have a to do list, he doesn’t have goals to achieve each day, he doesn’t rush from task to task. He enjoys it when I hold him by his legs and run around the house chasing the dogs, “he, he, heh!!!!” He loves it when we take half an hour to eat applesauce. “he, he, heh!!!!” He loves it when we take a long slow bath, “he, he, heh!!!!” Errol enjoys where his is so much that he is in no rush to leave.

Apart from his wheelchair (had those Moravians never heard of handicapped ramps?) Errol fit right into the 18th century. We had a beautiful day at Old Salem, and if we are patient enough, Errol will help keep the best parts of the past and the present right here with us.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Back to School

Errol loves school. Today was the first day back to school after the winter holiday and Errol was happy as a clam.

We pulled into the parking lot (late, of course), got the wheelchair out of the back of the car, peeled our little scholar out of his car seat, and then settled him into his wheelchair. As soon as Errol looked around and realized where he was, the professor broke into a huge grin and laughed and laughed. Errol loves school, and no wonder - today he got to sing, eat yogurt, go to the motor lab to play on cool swings and tumble mats, see his brother, drink infant formula mixed with hydra-aid (try it with a shot of vodka), take a power nap, and play with his wonderful teachers.

Errol fell right to sleep tonight, exhausted from his big wonderful day. He’ll probably dream about school tonight (what does Errol dream about?) and greet his school with another round of laughter tomorrow morning.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Hanukkah Wishes

We celebrate Hanukkah, we’re not Jewish (it’s complicated. Don't even ask about Ramadan!)

Owen gave us a list of his Hanukkah wishes this year.
I wish Transformers were real (they’re not?)
I wish I could eat my bottom (who doesn’t? He really said this.)
I wish Errol could walk and talk (we do, too!)

Owen loves his brother, and he’d love it if Errol could get up and play with him.
But his wish isn’t just selfish, Owen knows how great it is to run, jump, scream and sing (and it really is, try it some time, really, try it), and he wishes that Errol could do all the things he can. We do too.

There is hope. Always hope. One day…

Friday, January 02, 2009


Errol has a good day pretty much every day, which is good, except that every day is pretty much the same. Here are your socks, Errol: smile. Here is your wheelchair, Errol: smile. Dick Cheney is coming for dinner, Errol: smile. If variety is the spice of life, Errol’s happy life has been pretty bland.

We went to the zoo. It was a sunny and warm late December day. The chimpanzees howled at each other as they bounced off the trees. The patas monkeys pranced around their faux patas monkey habitat like little princes. Even the elephants seemed happy (though how would you really know?) The polar bear, on the other hand, was pissed. It was finally getting cold and then, bam, 70 degrees. Then again, it might not have been the weather. Mr. Bear is usually pretty sour (wouldn’t you be, after all?) Poor fellow, stuck behind glass, day after day, no paid vacation, no benefits, and all those round Americans, waltzing right past him, like hors d'oeuvres in tennis shoes, that he will never ever eat.

So far, big events like Christmas haven’t really registered with Errol. As we left for the zoo, I felt a little guilty about taking Errol on a trip far from home when he would probably be just as happy sitting in the car in the driveway. But still, I haven’t given up on special moments, and so the trips, birthday parties, and Hanukah presents (he’s not even Jewish) continue, with the hope that one day they will sink in and slowly but surely give his life a bit of an arc.

Today was a departure from past trips to the zoo, beach, museum, fair, gun show, gem and rock convention, tribal meeting, debutante ball, Racquetball Hall of fame. As soon as we got to the zoo, we headed straight for the seal-viewing tank (we watch the seals, not the other way around. I think) I held little Errol inches from the thick glass, and every time a seal would glide past us, Errol would wiggle in my arms as he let out his little belly laugh, “heh, heh, heh!!!” Something about these graceful beasts gliding through the water, tickled little Errol, and tourqued the arc of his day.

Errol smiled, Errol laughed, Errol watched his hand, Errol did all the normal things he does, but when you added them up, this was not just a normal day: it was bigger, grander, more special than usual. Maybe it was the seals, maybe it was the surprise weather, maybe Errol’s memory is starting to take hold, or maybe Errol’s just getting older. Whatever it was, today was a special day for all of us (except for that hot and hungry polar bear).