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, November 29, 2010


As the weather turns colder, reminding us of this time last year, Owen's suffering grows with ours. His grandmother bought him a little notebook with the Eiffel Tour on its cover, and when Cary found it lying on the floor of Owen’s room she opened it to see what it was. On the inside of his book, Owen had written in his sweet seven year old hand, “I Leov Errol pucuz Errol Is SOW FunE.”
I love Errol because Errol is so funny.

When she turned the page over she found scrawled on the back, “I rley wis errol was sdil uliv”
I really wish Errol was still alive.

I don’t know what prompted Owen to write these longings. I don’t know why he took the time to commit his yearnings to paper. Maybe he thought it would make Errol more permanent, or even bring Errol back (at least into his mind while he wrote), or maybe just to let the pain run out through his pencil. I don’t know why Owen writes these reminders, but I continue to find little traces of Errol everywhere Owen goes.

Tonight as we put Owen to bed we found a little exhibit of Errol’s pictures that Owen had curated on the floor of his room. Pictures of Owen holding Errol and pictures of Errol smiling up at us all lined up in a row.

We are building the boat as we sail it through this vast sea of grief.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Cousins' Ceremony

When Errol first died I was more accepting of his death than I am now because I didn’t actually believe he was really, truly dead. It was easy to accept his death if it wasn’t real.

When Cary was in elementary school, each member of her class wrote down their home address and a note and put it in a helium balloon and launched them into the sky. About a month later she got a letter from a woman from the coast, 300 miles away, who had gotten her balloon.

The strings of fifteen colorful helium balloons dangle from the ceiling. We sit in a circle, each holding a picture of Errol we have chosen. We each tell a story about him. Owen beams as he tells everyone about how he and Errol had crowed into Errol’s crib together and then Errol signed to Owen, “I love you!” Errol’s uncles, aunts, grandfather, and cousins all tell stories, but when it is his eloquent grandmother’s turn, she cannot find words. She turns the picture of Errol to face us, pats her heart, and cries and cries.

Then we all sing songs Errol loved - The Wheels On The Bus – the kids leading us in the hand motions – and then The Itsy Bitsy Spider complete with hand gestures just like we did for Errol all those times. It would be so normal to look over and see Errol in his aunt’s lap, and it feels like he is here, but as I look around the room, I can’t see him anywhere..

Then the kids tell us they have a surprise for the parents. They bring out letters they have written in secret, decorated in bright colors, replete with hearts and the word "Errol." They are going to tie their words to the balloons we will launch for Errol.

We walk to the side of the lake and at Owen’s behest, launch our balloons and notes for Errol. At first it looks as if notes are going to keep the balloons from rising very high above the lake, but then suddenly, a draft comes and the shining balloons rise and up, up, up and fly over the mountains and off to the west out towards the sun.

I’ve never seen a balloon come down, never chanced upon the husk of an old helium balloon, but I know they must eventually come down somewhere. They must run out of air and come crashing back to earth. They don’t, as some of the cousins have worried, fly into the stratosphere, up over the edge of the horizon and out through the asteroid belts into outer space until finally they burn up into the sun. I’d like to know where those balloons go and what happens to them on their magnificent journey. I look back up into the sun for one last glance at the balloons, but they are gone.

Monday, November 01, 2010


I remember one of Errol’s very favorite games.
Cary gently slides a large napkin down over Errol’s head until it just covers his eyes. Then she sings to him "Where is Errol?" There is no response. She sings again, a little louder, “Where is Errol?” There is a little vibration under the napkin. She sings once more, asking more emphatically, “Where is Errol?” There is a mild eruption and Errol’s little hand pulls the napkin away to reveal a white-haired boy with a huge grin on his face, chortling with laughter.