Keisha + Cole’s inspiring story continues…
We talk to and about Clifton every day. And most of the time we laugh. Clifton was such a funny guy, a prankster, and just an interesting dude. “Every time we go into the movie theater I remember Dad and I went to the movies a lot. And we watched Phineas and Ferb together. His favorite song on there was Phineas and Ferbots.” Cole loves to hear stories about his father and we are fortunate to have friends and family who are willing to share. Cole not only is able to remember his dad, but also to connect to the part of Clifton that transcended his role as a father. He gets to know his father through the eyes of Clifton’s friends and loved ones, which creates this beautiful mosaic of a man who was layered, intense, and wickedly smart.
Clifton’s pictures are all over our house. “I can never forget what he looked like because I have a bunch of pictures and we have a family portrait in my room.” We keep special items, such as Clifton’s favorite Chuck Taylor All-Stars, in Cole’s room – “Mom I think they fit!” Not yet, big man, not yet.
We celebrate Clifton’s birthday by making or buying a dessert of Cole’s choosing (this year it was key lime pie), lighting candles to designate how old he would be, and playing a game of chess – Clifton loved chess and taught Cole to play so we have a match on the chess board Cole and I gifted to his father. “Yes, you were beaten by a 9 year-old. How do ya like them apples?”
On Father’s Day we look at pictures and tell Daddy and Cole stories. There are hundreds and they are all hilarious.
When Clifton was still alive, he and I would toast each other on Cole’s birthday; it was a special way of thanking the other parent for one more year of parenthood and for contributing to the creation of this beautiful baby boy. He would always say “Congratulations, Mommy”. I continue that tradition. Congratulations, Daddy – our baby is 10 years old.
Cole and I decide on a special way to spend the day together each January 4th. Although it was a day that brought tragedy to our family, we try to focus on how far we have come and how Daddy is looking down from heaven and smiling because we have been able to cope. “We are doing good, Mom! So is Sally (our cat).”
In 2009 I had a tattoo inked on the inside of my left wrist, across the lifeline, which spells out the word mother in a sacred language. It honors the man who blessed me with Cole. I am eternally grateful to Clifton and proud to be the mother of his only child.
2. What do you think Clifton would be most proud of now about Cole?
Clifton was proud of Cole just for being. J He was a devoted father.
Cole spoke at Clifton’s funeral. He talked about the lessons his father taught him and how much he loved him. Our brave boy stood at the microphone to calmly and articulately honor his father. It was AMAZING.
Cole looks like his father, has similar handwriting which I think is just so cool, walks like his father, and has a profound sensitivity about life and other people that echoes his dad. Clif would be proud to see that Cole works hard to keep his memory alive and to remind everyone around him that Clifton may be gone but he is not forgotten.
Clif would also be proud of how strong Cole has been, how he has overcome this challenge, and the fine young man he is growing into. Cole is a bright, inquisitive child and has used his brilliance to make sense of his father’s death and come out smiling on the other side. “He would be proud of me being exposed to new things. He would be proud of me not being scared to get on the Manta and the Kraken at Sea World.”
3. What advice do you have to parents who are helping their children cope with the loss of a loved one?
Be creative in seeking support. Children deal with grief in many different ways and, even if you have multiple children, one may respond to traditional therapy in a clinical setting whereas the other may prefer a more social environment like the one Kate’s Club provides. Try different options to see which one fits.
Advocate for your child. As parents we are fortunate to have the most intimate knowledge of our children and can keep pace with their emotional development and healing. Speak up to the people who need to be aware of what is happening, whether that is a coach, teacher, pastor, or relative. I continually emphasize that, although Cole manages his pain exceptionally well, sometimes he has bad days. Grief is irrational so an innocent experience may trigger a memory and suddenly your child is struggling with emotions they do not comprehend. Fractions, recess, making the bed, or a lecture from parents may be too much to handle. When that monster we call grief rears its ugly head and undesirable behavior erupts, take a deep breath, be gentle, and meet your child where he is, which may be a place of sheer misery. Not everyone is sensitive to the needs of a grieving child so as parents we have to be vigilant about demonstrating the best way to deal with these situations when they arise.
Take care of yourself. My grief was staggering, but I was ill-equipped for the experience of seeing my son in pain. It rips at you. I felt helpless because, as a mother, it is my job to protect my son and shield him from hurt. But I could not shield him from his father’s death. He was going to grieve, he was going to lash out, he was going to hurt, and all I could do was soothe him. I could not take it away. Parents may consider seeking resources to help them help their children. This is no easy task and it may take years for our family to fully heal. Kate’s Club is a warm, welcoming place and although the focus is on supporting children through the grief process, I have benefited greatly from sharing in the perspective of other parents who have suffered a similar loss.
“Expose your child to new things. His/her lost relative would have wanted him/her to explore things that are foreign so if you can, bring them on a cruise, travel with them, or bring them to summer camps to see what it is like to sleep in an un-air-conditioned cabin with a bunch of bugs. It kind of makes me more laid-back and feel like things are going to be all right. I don’t sit around being sad all the time because that is not what my Dad would want me to do.”
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