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.

Friday, December 31, 2010


Outside our cozy house the earth is white. Mercifully, this long cold year is finally coming to an end. Perhaps in the new year something will grow from the hard lessons we have unhappily planted in the ground.

Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Thursday, December 30, 2010


As we get closer to December 23, our trip to Guatemala for Cary’s brother Roy’s wedding is a warm respite from our swelling grief. The historic town of Antigua sits in a valley between three volcanoes, and one morning, Owen and I sit on the roof of our hotel and watch ash billow from a volcano. The day after Owen’s Uncle’s wedding, the family leaves the comforts of Antigua to climb the 8,373 foot volcano, Pacaya. As we hike above the tree line, steam rises out of vents in the earth, and during a rest break we have to stand because the ground is too hot to sit on. After our break, we continue up, sloshing through volcanic ash, over pumice and rock, making our way, higher and higher. When we stop at a deep steaming fissure, the stick Owen throws into the searing crevice bursts into flame before it reaches the bottom.

One night, back home, the rush of Christmas passed, Owen dreams about Errol. He wakes in a golden mood, and the story of his dream spills from his mouth.
I was in Guatemala. These monkeys were throwing coconuts down to us. My brother was giggling. He really liked the monkeys chittering. We all liked what the monkeys did because most of the time it was funny.

The next day, at art therapy, Owen builds a sand volcano that buries all his figurines. At the end of the session, as Owen squirms between us, his therapist reports, “Owen is really working with an intense volcano metaphor!”
“The metaphor is intense,” I agree, “but Owen really did climb a volcano last week.” His therapist looks impressed. “Well, the volcano keeps erupting and Owen keeps trying to save everybody. And Owen is also scared about what might happen to him. He wants to be invincible.” We both look at Owen, who seems to have grown a foot taller over Christmas. “Remember what invincible means, Owen?” she asks.

Owen looks past us, into the thinning winter light, searching and searching.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I can barely remember Christmas day last year, just a day and a half after Errol died. The Christmas presents my mother had bought him were quickly wrapped and stowed in drawers where they remain.

This year, we receive our first white Christmas in memory. We drive through the fine snow to my parents’ house where Owen’s jolly cousins great us, and we march into the living room in chronological order singing, We Wish You A Merry Christmas. After the gifts are opened, my mother brings us Errol’s Christmas stocking, in which each family member has written down a gift Errol gave them: “his smile,” “his courage,” “his laughter.” The children gather around their grandmother, hoping to hear their own memories read aloud. The delicate flakes drift down from the luminous sky and cover the house like a blanket.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Silent Night

On Christmas Eve last year our abridged family awoke without Errol for the first time since his birth; the way we will awake every day for the rest of our reduced lives.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I watch the Chilean miner rescue play out in real time. I’m thinking of all the people worldwide who are buoyed by the happy ending, living vicariously through the Chilean miners. My mind veers off into a fantasy and I think that if the rescuers save these miners we can go back and save our own beloved Errol. I think…

They will save the miners.

The doctors will save Errol.

We will be happy.

Everyone will be happy.

But as I watch the rescue capsule emerge from the Chilean mine with the first saved miner, the crowd erupting into cheers, his family shedding tears of joy, I am all alone, sorrowfully gazing into the screen, looking for Errol.

Our kitten goes missing and we look desperately for her, the loss of Errol amplifying our rescue efforts. Two days later I find our shell-shocked cat trapped behind a basement wall, pry her out, and bring her upstairs to the light and heat of the house. But I am distraught. It was so easy. Why does the cat get to survive and not Errol? Why couldn’t we save Errol too?

One morning, out at breakfast with Owen, a smiling woman ambles over to our table. “Errol got me through the ICU.” She quavers, looking up at Owen, her eyes glistening, “I kept thinking about that sweet little boy and he helped me make it.” All this time I thought we were the ones to save Errol, but it was Errol who was guiding us out of the darkness with his joyous smile and his ringing laughter.