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, July 29, 2010

Errol Laughing 2009

Pure Joy

Owen's Ceremony For Errol

We’ve never had a day like this at the beach before. The wind is blowing strong - out to sea - and has wiped the humidity from the air. We ride our bikes down the bike path along the canal and collect fallen bark husks from palmetto trees. The sun has bleached the outsides of the tawny husks, but the smooth concave insides – hollowed out like tiny canoes - are a cool dark brown.

Owen has the idea that that each member of the family will write a message to Errol on a piece of bark and then send their greeting out into the ocean. We have no idea where the messages will go, or if they will even float.

We sit on the porch, where we spent so many hours holding Errol, with pictures of Errol, a handful of magic markers, and the palmetto husks. We think of Errol and pen salutations, poetry, drawings.

I write: “Errol Is Pure Joy” and draw red hearts all over his bark.

After everyone is done we put our greetings in a basket and carry them out to Granddad’s boat. We push away from the dock and the wind kicks up. Owen sits on my lap, his mother beside us, and then Owen alternates sitting in Cary's lap, then mine, chirping nervously all the way on this lonesome journey. Grandma, Granddad, Cary’s siblings Jay, and Hope, and the three of us sail down the canal and into the wide river as the strong winds, choppy waves, and the outgoing tide pushes us out towards the sea. “Errol would have loved this!” Cary says.

The waves have never been higher on the creek, the wind never stronger. Gulls fly above, peering down into he basket to see if we have treats for them. My salty tears flow as I read the wishes his family is sending Errol.

It hasn’t been the same around here since you have gone.

You brought us such joy!

I remember your smile

Surrounded by a rainbow of hearts.

Owen simply writes:
Errol Errol Errol Owen Owen Owen

We sail down to the end of the island where Errol’s’ cousins, aunt, and uncle wait on the shore, waving to us. We anchor in the rough water and lift the basket of bark up to Owen. He starts with his own message and gently launches it into the tide. It bobs along in the waves and makes for the open ocean.

Errol Errol Errol Owen Owen Owen

Then Owen sends his uncle’s poem out to Errol, to the sea, to the universe…and then I follow with my own.

Cary sends her love out and then Owen follows with all the other messages that float and bob in a straight line out to the open ocean beyond.

Will someone catch one of these boats one day? Will the messages be wiped clean by the sun and the sea? Will they be blown back to us? It’s all a mystery.

A gull hovers above us and grandma sings a song to Errol; one that she’s sung hundreds of times at home and in the hospital:

“Hey Mr. Errol, Errol, Errol.
Hey Mr. Errol, how do you do?
Errol, Errol, we love you.
Errol, Errol, we love you!”

But there is no laughter or giggling response, just the sound of our sobs, the waves slapping the boat, and the incessant ping, ping, ping of the wind blowing the mast of a catamaran on the shore. Ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping.

Owen wants to sing another song to Errol, and we join him:
“Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly.
Somewhere over the rainbow, why oh why can’t I…”

Errol’s two cousins wade out into the murky water and Owen, Cary, and I jump off the boat to join them. I dive under the water and Owen and Cary join me under the surface, baptized in the mystery of the day.

Errol Errol Errol Owen Owen Owen

And then Cary, Owen, and I wade out of the ocean, up onto the shore, and dripping wet, walk home, alone - with no one to push - all the way back to an empty house.

Friday, July 09, 2010


And it’s all a mystery to me: why one person lives, and another dies. Why? Why? Why?

And we are at the beach – our first year without Errol - boating up a tidal creek and there is a cumulus cloud as high as Mount Everest, looming 30,000 feet above us. And the wind is slack, and the water looks like it has been wrapped in cellophane, and the dense green forest stretches down to the water. And we slow to watch the porpoises play in our wake and a gull flies overhead, calling down to us, and I think Errol accepted this mystery and enjoyed it as well as anyone. But that doesn’t make the space in my arms, where he should be, any less empty. And tears flood our little boat as we sail home into the orange sun.

We wipe the tears from our eyes, but it’s no clearer than the day Errol was born, or the day he died. It remains a mystery.