It was a day like any other day—and then everything changed. I got a phone call that my staff was taking Clifford to see his physician; he had been unable to get out of bed that morning and was very sick. Within a few hours Clifford was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia and congestive heart failure. We were all stunned, and with good reason: Clifford was not just one of our residents at the nursing home—he was THE resident at the nursing home. Allow me to explain.
Clifford came to live at Corn Home for the Aged in 1974. When Corn Heritage Village was built in 1988, Clifford moved in as one of its first residents. He had mental retardation and was loved by everyone he met.
Most of our children grew up loving Clifford. He was our official greeter and would sit at the front doors and deliver a hearty “Hellooo!” and “How are you?” He was a permanent fixture at Corn Heritage Village and was often seen helping Mark, the maintenance supervisor, change light bulbs or do small tasks that needed attention. Clifford loved van rides and shopping; he had the biggest smile as he sat in the van headed out for who knows where, but especially loved the yearly trip to the circus. He also rode copilot with Administrator Martin Hall in his new convertible.
Clifford was the king of his world. He touched more people than some of us will ever know.
It was 24 years that Clifford lived at Corn Heritage Village and he never spent a night in the hospital, so when I got that call I was devastated. In the 12 hours that followed, we nearly lost him. He rallied on day two and I left meetings in Oklahoma City to come see him. Clifford smiled and greeted me with his “Hellooo, how are you?”
I asked if he was sick and he stated that he was not sick and wanted to go home. I explained that he had to stay in the hospital until he was well. We conversed for awhile, him asking his normal questions of me: “How the horses?” “When I going home?” Clifford’s vocabulary was limited but we as his family knew what he was saying.
In the days to follow, the hospital staff was amazed at the solid stream of people that was in and out of Clifford’s room. He never spent a second alone. Often the hospital nurses would ask, “Are you family?” The answer was always the same: “We are from the nursing home, and yes, we are his ‘family.’”
Since Clifford’s sister lived out of state and was desperately trying to get to him, my staff promised that he would not be alone. I was amazed at their dedication as they would get off work, shower and then go to the hospital to stay with Clifford. Those who could not get there called and we put the phone to his ear so he could hear them.
Clifford, 74, held on in that hospital until February 12, 2012, with his “family” at his side.
Death is always a part of life, but often takes us by surprise. If you wonder why my staff gave to Clifford long past his last breath, it was because he taught us how to love, and how to ask “How are you?”
If we could be so sacrificial as our beloved Clifford! He didn’t just spend the last 24 years of his life in a nursing home—he spent 24 years teaching us how to love others. What a great lesson learned from an unlikely teacher.
RIP Clifford. We all love you.
Your Corn Heritage Village family