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In January of 2009 Keisha + Cole’s life took an unexpected turn when Clifton Roxbury was killed in a car accident. This mom + son have been at each other’s side as they have each dealt with their own complicated emotions associated with grief. Today we share the first part of Keisha + Cole’s story, and how they celebrate Clifton’s memory with the help of family, friends, + Kate’s Club.
Cole + Clifton
1. Some brief background on the details surrounding Clifton’s death.
Clifton was killed on January 4, 2009 in a single car crash in Atlanta, GA. He was 31 years old. It was shocking, sudden, and devastating. How did a quick trip to the store go so horribly wrong? Police came to my door carrying car keys I instantly recognized. I had to tell Cole about his father’s death and literally cradled my child in my arms because he was so hysterical. Those two memories stay with me to this day.
It was Clifton’s wish to be cremated. Two urns held Clifton’s remains – one rests in his mother’s home in North Carolina and the second urn anchored a shrine Cole and I created for him in our home. On the first anniversary of the crash, Cole, Clif’s Turkish brother Tarik, our friend Jaime, and I scattered Clifton’s ashes across the ocean in Wilmington, NC. That particular beach held special significance for Clifton and me. Clifton was a free spirit who never wanted to be constrained in life so we honored his wishes by releasing him after his death.
2. What most helped Cole in dealing with the loss of his dad? How did you first learn about Kate’s Club?
Initially Cole was reticent to talk about his father or his death. He was very angry and withdrawn. The sheer unfairness of it all overwhelmed him. Slowly he began to open up. “The support that several of my classmates gave me helped.” For the first year, we were partners in pain, and relied heavily on each other. It seemed to help that I was grieving also –I was honest about missing his father, about being angry that he was taken from us, and that sometimes I didn’t want to be around other families with two parents because it made our loss so much more palpable. The first few months, Cole and I spent a lot of time together, looking at pictures, randomly crying, talking about his father, and finding a way to laugh at memories. Clifton’s single biggest accomplishment was being a dad – he ADORED Cole. “I know my dad loved me and didn’t leave me on purpose.”
Honoring Clifton’s Memory
We also kept a shrine in our home. The urn was the focal point, which provided a painful yet necessary reality. There was no denying that Clifton was really gone because the evidence was right in front of us. Helping to build the shrine was cathartic for Cole because he chose the photos that adorned it and also selected items to go into the keepsake box (letters Clifton wrote to Cole when he was a baby, love notes to me, Scrabble scorecards, flower petals from the casket spray). I asked Cole how often he misses his father – “every day.” On the days when his pain throbbed harder, he would go into the room with the shrine and sit in front of the urn. He would also talk to his father, which I encouraged because I talked to him too. “Being able to release his ashes helped me. I knew that his body was free then. I knew that it wasn’t just cramped up in a tiny little urn because I don’t think he liked tight places.”
Immediately after the crash, I searched for counseling resources, but Cole balked at participating in traditional therapy. “I don’t want to sit in a room with a whole bunch of other people talking about my feelings.” My sister suggested a summer camp or some other activity that focused on providing grief support but was not as in-your-face as individual counseling. I came across a link for Camp Good Mourning, sponsored by Kate’s Club. I was drawn in by the mission statement of the organization – to provide grief support to children and teens. What a unique opportunity! Most options are for adults and the kids’ emotional health becomes a lesser priority. The programs not only provided a relaxed environment to share experiences, but also enabled Cole to meet other kids his age who had lost a loved one. We joined a community of families who understood our experience, which was comforting. Although the programs focus on kids, a tangential benefit is the parent groups. We need support too so it was nice to be around other mothers who were supporting their children through loss. I was not alone. Our favorite activities, besides camp, are the ones rooted in remembrance. Keeping Clifton’s memory alive and being able to share his life with others has been a critical part of our healing process.
3. What did not help?
There is no deadline for grief to end; it is a slow, gradual, often tumultuous process and Cole was only 8 years old when his father died. The impatience I saw in some people was disheartening, as if we should just hurry up and get over it. Life could feel desolate as we struggled to cope yet the world moved on. Familiar things became painful because Clifton was missing. “The house wasn’t really complete without Dad. Shortly after the crash, every time his favorite TV shows came on it kind of put me to tears.” We had to begin building new traditions.
Please check back tomorrow for more of Keisha + Cole’s inspiring story…