There’s something really special about the holiday season. It’s a time for family and friends, for laughter, good food and making memories. But it’s the nature of life that things can change forever in an instant. And for the Reed family the festive season was irrevocably altered on December 23, 2003 when their cherished son and brother, Nick, was killed by a train.
In memoriam of Nick, with the nine-year anniversary of his death approaching, Operation Lifesaver spoke to his father, Harvey, about what life is like without his son. Nick’s story serves as an important reminder of the life-threatening dangers that exist around the tracks.
The heart of an artist
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Nick, on the Friday before his death on December 23, 2003.[/caption]
Nicholas Reed was a quiet boy. He was naturally artistic, picking up a crayon and drawing a masterpiece – finding a way to express himself despite his shyness. As he grew older, this love for art remained, evolving into an interest in Japanimation. His dream was to visit Japan and he aspired to attend post-secondary education in visual arts. By December 2003, Nicolas was 15 – and going by Nick now, a natural evolution that comes from entering the teenage years.
But Nick was unlike most teenagers. On the evening of December 22, 2003, Nick did what he did every night before going to bed: he went to each of his parents individually, told them he loved them and kissed them goodnight - an unabashed, heartfelt show of affection, free of typical teenage reluctance.
In one night, everything changes
The next day went as any normal day does. Nick’s parents, Harvey and Angie, went off to work, and Nick and his younger brother, Jordan, went out to enjoy their Christmas holidays. Angie arrived home from work and went about her usual evening activities. With Christmas only two days away, some of the family’s presents were wrapped, and some were not. Typical of a Canadian winter, the evening had grown dark early, but it was mild for December in Kingston, Ontario and a light mist of rain was falling.
There was a knock at the door. Angie answered to find one of Nick’s friends. Asking her to come quick, saying that Nick had been hurt and was down by the nearby train tracks. She ran from the house, her heart in her throat, following Nick’s friend through the park, into the woods and down by the railway bridge. And there she found him, lifeless by the north side of the track.
For Harvey, that evening unfolds in slow motion, vivid in his mind even now. When he arrived home, Angie was out and Jordan told him that something had happened to Nick down by the tracks. Like Angie, he ran to find Nick. On the way, he encountered a police officer and received the news that no parent wants to hear. Nick was dead. He would not be opening his Christmas presents this year. He would never turn 16 or go to Japan. He was gone.
A teenage hangout
Looking through Nick’s school notes and agenda after his death, Harvey realized that Nick and his friends had made the woods near the tracks an after school hangout. A place where teenagers go, as teenagers do, to get away from adults, to talk and laugh, and get to know each other. On that evening, a train came around the corner on one of the two sets of tracks. In the darkness and with the rain obscuring his vision, Nick could not tell which track the train was on. In his confusion, he found himself directly in its path. He was hit and killed.
Christmas will never be the same
The night that Nick died, some of the Reed family’s Christmas traditions died along with him. 2002 was the last year they took a family portrait, a tradition Harvey and Angie had started in 1984, putting their camera on a tripod and capturing everyone smiling and together. This year, and every year since Nick’s death, the Reeds follow a new tradition. They decorate a spruce tree in their backyard on December 23, the anniversary of his death.
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The Reed family, Christmas 2002.[/caption]
“The tree faces the park where Nick and his brother Jordan played as children. Friends drop by and place decorations on the tree. Then we light up the tree and celebrate the life of an amazing boy who brought so much joy and love to our lives and the lives of those he touched. As the years go by, we remember and celebrate his life with a little more laughter and a few less tears. Love lives on,” says Harvey.
As Harvey reflects on the last day of his son’s life, he’s struck by the realization that another family’s Christmas was forever changed that day too.
“It impacts a lot of people. People’s lives were changed that day - not just ours. The engineer that was driving the train the night Nick was killed - I think of him often. I don't know him and probably never will, but I wonder how he's doing now. It makes me feel pretty bad sometimes.”
Today Harvey finds it soothing to talk about Nick. It's evident that Nick was part of a loving family unit - one that will never be the same without him.
"I never could have imagined that my son would be killed by a train. Tell your kids about rail safety. Make sure they stay away from the tracks. It's just so important. The hardest part is living without him. But it was a gift to know him and I hold on to the memory that the last words we said to each were 'I love you'".