Freelance Writer
The Nixons Life Changed ‘In the Blink of an Eye’
09.02.13 | No Comments

Then Senator Mitt Romney visited the Nixon family on Christmas shortly after the accident.

The Nixon family marks April 4 as the anniversary of an event that would forever changed their lives. On that evening 18 years ago, Sheryl and Mark Nixon’s sons, Rob and Reed, were severely injured in a car accident.

Reed, driving a minivan from a church function in Marlborough back to their home in Northborough, carried passengers that included his brothers Rob and Kent, his sister Natalie, and two friends. Quickly turning a corner with a van that had faulty rear brakes, that minivan collided with a telephone pole, then a curb, and flipped on its head into the wooded area.

Still, for a family you might not expect to think this way, their message is, “You can choose to be happy.” It’s their mantra, and if you spend any time with them, you quickly realize it isn’t a message that is casually thrown around; they live it.

Reed, now 37, is paralyzed from the neck down, needing 24-hour care. Rob, 35, has some movement in his upper body. He’s able to perform a lot of tasks, he’s a successful accountant and he’s married, living in Irvine, CA.

While the circumstances physically crippled two intelligent, thriving young boys, it did not cripple their will to live, and brought a family even closer than it had been. Now, this family inspires others to see the beauty in their own lives.

It was, of course, an evolution.

“I think it happened for Mark more early on,” said Sheryl of grasping the reality after the accident. “For me, it wasn’t for weeks before I think I actually started seeing what was going to happen.”

Sheryl said that the defining point for her, and perhaps for her sons, came during a meeting at the Roxbury VA hospital, where both underwent rehabilitation after their initial stay at UMass. Doctors and nurses held separate meetings to discuss Rob’s and Reed’s condition. When Mark and Sheryl heard Rob’s assessment, realizing he would be able to dress himself, feed himself, and even drive, they thought, “OK, we can deal with this.”

Reed’s assessment threw a blow that they could have never expected.

“When they held that second meeting with Reed, oh my God,” said Sheryl. “We just couldn’t imagine how life was going to be, because they said they didn’t anticipate him ever regaining movement in his body.”

Reed would need 24-hour care, for help with virtually everything, and would “always need someone within earshot.”

“Mark and I were both crying,” said Sheryl. “I felt beside myself. The head nurse said I could go into her private office, and i went in and cried and wailed for five minutes and I realized, this is only going to make me worse.

“I haven’t cried like that again, I don’t think, because it is what it is. And no matter how sorry we felt for ourselves or how sad we are for our sons, it doesn’t change the facts. We needed to unify as a family and pull together our faith and trust in God and do whatever it was that was necessary to pull it together and make it the best it could be for Reed and Rob.”

The rear quarter of the Nixon home is a spacious, bright addition defined by a large family space lined with windows to allow natural light to pour into the room. With high ceilings, soothing shades of painted walls, a large digital clock on the wall, overstuffed recliners and couches, and a large flat screen, off this room are two bedrooms and a bathroom.

All of it was equipped to satisfy the physical, and emotional, needs of Reed and Rob when they came home from the hospital. Reed and a personal assistant, Cindy, as well as Sheryl, spend a majority of their time in that area of the house.

Reed is engaging, upbeat, and speaks candidly about his situation, and the past, never shying away from tough questions or reality.

“It was a sad time,” said Reed, “but as I’ve looked back on that time, I really feel that the way that they look at spinal cord injuries …. they are always looking at the rehab phase and not as living life and enjoying life. I know they were trying to paint a picture of the future, but no matter what the situation, life can always be enjoyable. There are friends to have and love to share with people. Even though you’re not always happy with your situation, it’s not going to change and you can still enjoy and have a happy life.”

Doctors predicted that Reed, initially, would live three to five years. Then, they said it would be five to seven.

“Tomorrow, it will be 18 years,” said Sheryl, beaming at and clutching Reed.

“I still am hopeful and I hear of progression that has been made in the medical and electronics fields,” said Reed. “My health has improved. It may not be prevalent to someone in the medical field, but I lived more life and did more thnings than anyone expected or anticipated. You can never say one thing will be certain. New things happen and we learn new things and education changes and grows.”

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When Sheryl broke her ankle and leg slipping off a ladder in 2005, she ended up bedridden for six months. Not only did it open up a lot of mental space to re-examine the traumatic car accident that injured her sons severely years ago, it gave her time to sift through all of the journaling she had compiled during that time. She combed through the journals, as well as some songs (Sheryl is a professional singer and songwriter), and transcribed the cassettes Mark had recorded while driving to and from the hospitals.

“I’ve always kept a journal since I was young,” said Sheryl, “so it was already a habit that I had. Once the accident happened, I continued writing and had a lot of time sitting at the hospital with the boys.”

The result is a poignant recollection of the accident, and the subsequent acceptance and hope erupted from it. In the Blink of an Eye: The Reed and Rob Nixon Story painstakingly details the unfolding of the events that started with the accident, through the realization of her sons’ condition, through rehabilitation, to a profound acceptance—not only by her, but the sons who would never walk again.

Her song lyrics are peppered throughout the book to emphasize emotion, and provide a soulful transition between paragraphs. Sheryl also suffers from depression, as well as fibromyalgia, which she developed in 1989 after she was hit square in the face with a baseball. That, too, is briefly addressed in the book.

Deeply spiritual, she and the family often reference their faith as the anchor that helped keep them together, and heal. The outpouring of support, too, was remarkable, and included neighbors and friends donating airline miles, providing rides, holding fundraisers and a group of contractors who built the Nixons’ 1,100-foot addition. Sheryl said she was shocked at the reaction, particularly since the family had only lived in Northborough for a year and a half at that point.

“Because we had four kids in the schools around here, they were well known,” said Sheryl, “but we had been here for such a short time. When we went to move here, people said, ‘Oh, people in New England are so cold.’ Well, after only being here a year and a half, this town treated us like we were lifelong residents. Rob and Reed were on the cross country and track teams, and they had a lot of friends at school. This town was absolutely a miracle … this town and the surrounding towns.”

While she was working on transcribing and organizing these journals, never did Sheryl think it would materialize into a book. Originally, it was going to serve as a family history.

“No one was more shocked about writing a book than I was,” said Sheryl, who, sometimes self-deprecating, will remark, “I’ve always just been a homemaker and mother.” Reed, quick to counter his mom’s comments, will add, “Mom, that’s just not true. You’re an accomplished writer and musician. You’re very creative.”

The book, while it brings the reader through the tragedy, projects a strong message of hope and peace. Rob and Reed’s attitude, almost from the beginning, is what inspired Sheryl to publish the book for others, she said.

“Life goes on and you can choose to be happy,” said Sheryl. “People don’t realize that it’s a choice. Sometimes, they get stuck in those horrible feelings and are never able to pull out of it, so there is a negativity around it. Rob and Reed have shown from the very beginning that they chose to be happy, and wanted to be happy.

“At first, how can you look at the situation with Rob and Reed and think there were any blessings there? Well, they were alive, and their brains weren’t damaged. You have to step aside from the awfulness of the situation and think what is something I can be thankful for? The more you try to be thankful, the more your attitude is uplifted.”

It hasn’t always been easy, particularly when you’re “in the midst of it,” added Reed. When the information comes in fast and furious, life can be confusing and frustrating.

“When things calm down and you can focus, and realize this is going to be longer,” he said, “there are things you can do, and it won’t be the end all. There are lots of things you can do out there, whether you’re able-bodied or not.”

Sheryl Nixon will lead a discussion and sign copies of In the Blink of an Eye: The Reed and Rob Nixon Story on Saturday, April 13, at 10 a.m. at the Northborough Free Library. Reed will possibly join his mom for the event. Space is limited, and you can reserve your spot here.

Editor’s note: for excerpts of the Northborough Patch interview with Sheryl and Reed Nixon, click on the attached video. A full-length version of this interview will be also be soon be available on Patch.

This story originally ran in Northborough Patch, May 7, 2013

Bad for Business on Blake?
09.02.13 | No Comments
Category: News

The Downtown Improvement Project, an upgrade to the center/Main Street area of Northborough in collaboration with the state, began last year and its intent was to create more navigational ease for downtown drivers.

While for many, the new lanes and lights do provide that, some aren’t as thrilled with the project: namely those with businesses along Blake Street.

Tucked behind buildings on a narrow, short inlet that curves behind the former town hall (now Zem Han) and CVS, these businesses have struggled with visibility to passerby. Now, they say a combination of enforced sign laws and the inability to take a left onto Blake Street from West Main Street/Route 20, is hindering it even more.

“The downtown improvement project has really negatively impacted our business,” said Hakan Zirh, owner of Zem Han. “The road construction was creating huge traffic on Main Street and people were taking different roads to avoid the traffic and they wouldn’t come to our restaurant because of traffic. When the road on Main Street was completed, they put the sign that does not allow to make a left turn from Main Street to our parking lot on Blake Street and another sign that does not allow to go to Main Street from our parking lot. This created such a big inconvenience for our customers. This affected our business tremendously.”

Zirh argues that in comparing the numbers of diners in his restaurant to before the road construction to figures during and after construction, business was reduced “by four times.”

Business owners met with Town Administrator John Coderre, Town Planner Kathy Joubert, Building Inspector Fred Lombardo and Town Engineer Fred Litchfield on May 8, when Susan LaDue, owner of the Doggie Den, said “the town staff were generous with their time and comments but would not budge on the changes that we requested: a left turn onto Blake from route 20 east; and making Blake two-way. It seemed as though town staff felt that the downtown beautification was nearing its end and they were loathe to re-open anything or add anything new.”

“Follow-up work has been done by the town engineer regarding the Blake Street/West Main Street intersection, turning movements, and additional signage for the area,” said Joubert, who added that Litchfield was working on a memo to Coderre and business owners.

Joubert, addressing the long-running issue with the overuse of temporary signs in town, added, “There appear to be fewer of them, especially in the center of town area. It seems to go in waves throughout the year. Sometimes, there appear to be many that have been erected without a sign permit and then at times, they are down or gone. We receive far fewer complaints from residents then.”

According to LaDue, Zirh, at the May 8 meeting, also explained how the Blake Street flow was harming his business, and “the implication seemed to be that ‘if you want visibility on Main St. you should rent premises on Main Street.'”

“I repeatedly asked what the process was to request a change in traffic flow on a town street and no one had an answer for me,” said LaDue. “Coderre promised to get back to me on whom we can contact to change the flow on Blake Street.”

Blake Street businesses were told that they shouldn’t expect any obstruction or slowdown in traffic due to the improvements that have been ongoing, said LaDue. They were “dismayed,” she said, that “there have been several choke points set up so far this summer, making it difficult for cars to get through town.”

Tony Kwan, who owns the building that houses Zem Han, paid for a permanent sign that displays not only Zem Han, but the other businesses along Blake Street. Also, LaDue said that Joubert has “promised signs at the corners of Church and Main and Hudson and Main” that indicate where drivers should turn for Blake Street businesses.

“It’s not any different than it was before,” said Paul Delles, owner of Mama’s Pizza on Blake Street. “The town moved on a $4 million dollar project and they didn’t see what they could have done to help businesses out on Blake Street.”

Delles argues that while the no left turn is enforced for drivers wishing to turn onto Blake Street, it is not the case for the nearby CVS or Gulf Station.

“Where are the priorities, where are the rules?” said Delles. “It’s a joke. It’s a maze to get to Mama’s.”

A meeting to discuss temporary sign bylaws is scheduled with the Planning Board for Sept. 3. “Over the years, this particular section of the sign bylaw has presented challenges to business owners, residents and town boards,” says the announcement. “We would like to hear your thoughts and suggestions pertaining to the bylaw as we begin to consider changes to the zoning bylaw for the 2014 Annual Town Meeting to be held in April.”

This story originally ran on Northborough Patch, July, 2013