By Jenny Pope
October 18, 2007 was an average day for Cheri Griffin until she received a phone call that would change her life forever. It was the phone call of her nightmares.
“It was the hospital,” Cheri said. “They told me Clifton had been in an automobile accident and it wasn’t good. He wasn’t expected to make it through the night.”
Clifton, Cheri’s husband of 12 years, had been driving down a dirt road at 45 mph, “gassing out” with his co-worker Carl, when he hit some gravel, overcorrected and flipped. He wasn’t wearing his seatbelt.
“He had to have a craniotomy,” she said. “He had a collapsed lung, his head was busted open on the right side and his right eye [fell out.]”
“The doctors said he was Humpty Dumpty put on the wall… they didn’t think they could put him back together again. That was how they explained it.”
Armed with her twin sons William and Taylor, 11, and toddler Blaine, Cheri camped out at the hospital for three weeks with family and friends. Every day the doctors told her she had no hope. One doctor even compared Clifton to a cat or dog, saying “he’d walk but never talk.” But Cheri didn’t believe him.
“There was a time when my sister said to me, ‘You’ve got to make a decision,’” Cheri said. “With the shock of it all, I never thought about him dying.”
Cheri decided to put Clifton on a feeding tube.
“Whenever they did the feeding tube that day, it was like he was awake. He was there,” she remembered. “I said, ‘Clifton, can you point your finger?’ And he did it.
“There were different points throughout where they gave us no hope … but every day he would do something that would give us hope.”
Clifton’s slow recovery has been a long road, Cheri said. The once 6 foot 4, 250 lb. high school football player is now learning to feed himself again, count to 100 and recite his ABCs.
“I can spell words and he’ll tell me what I’m spelling,” Cheri said. “The other day he said, ‘Thank you Cheri.’ It was so clear. I was so excited I could understand what he said.”
That was what she had been praying for, she explained.
Though she’s received an overwhelming amount of support from her family and church, LifeBridge in Longview, Cheri decided to turn to someone on the outside to help talk through some of the challenges she and her boys were now facing without their dad. She turned to Buckner.
Beth Darrow-Myers, a licensed therapist at Buckner Children and Family Services in Longview, spends 45 minutes with William and Taylor every week.
“We talk about their dad,” she said. “They were all big hunters and fisherman. They spent a lot of time outdoors together. So we try to remember the good things about dad and talk about those memories.”
Since their dad’s accident, the twins have had some trouble with school. They used to think counseling was “dumb,” but now “they love coming,” Cheri said. “They don’t want to miss.”
Beth also spends about 15 minutes in each session speaking directly with Cheri, who now has the full-time responsibility of caring for all three boys and her husband.
“She’s there for me,” Cheri said. “She brings me in and says, ‘Let’s talk.’ It’s nice having somebody on the outside to talk to.”
About three months before Clifton’s accident, he approached Cheri about creating a living will.
“He told me, ‘I just want to make sure you and the boys are taken care of,’” she said. “I was so mad about it then. We had never talked like that, about any of that, before. And then three months later, here we went. So that is something I‘ve had to deal with.”
Cheri continues to stand by Clifton’s side, visiting him everyday and fervently praying for his full recovery. She hopes to move him out of the nursing home where he now resides and into a rehab facility in Tyler before the fall.
“They told me he would be a vegetable,” she said. “But I never believed it. I don’t know if it’s just that I didn’t want to believe it or I didn’t believe it. But I just couldn’t imagine not having Clifton with us.
“The doctor told me we would need a miracle,” she continued. “So I told him, ‘We’re in the miracle receiving business.’ He just looked at me and smiled.”
Since Clifton’s accident, Cheri has been overwhelmed with the support of family and friends in her community. Neighbors and Clifton’s co-workers have helped Cheri raise money to pay for medical expenses and bills. And at Christmas, she received dozens of Christmas cards and phone calls from people she had never even met.
“I never imagined the outpouring of love and support that we have received,” she said.
“[Clifton’s recovery] is a miracle. It’s been a rough time, but then again, you can’t get down about it. We’re so blessed. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s been an awesome journey. Every day you wake up and you seek the Lord and He answers your prayers.
“He shows us everyday that He’s with us.”
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