You would think that Michele Sherman would have a greater sense of optimism after having survived a horrific car accident. Top-notch doctors and dedicated nurses cared for her in an attempt to save her life. Surely, such selfless acts would have aroused in Michele a belief in the inherent good in people. During Michele’s arduous physical rehabilitation, she had to relearn simple tasks that most of us take for granted. Certainly, this experience would have taught her to appreciate the truly important things in life. However, this was not the case because these profound realizations were an innate part of Michele Sherman long before that traumatic Easter Sunday in 2000.
With traffic backed up for hours, EMTs spent forty-five minutes extricating her battered body from her mangled minivan. Michele spent four months in an ICU including two months in a chemically induced coma teetering between life and death. While credit should be given to all of those who worked to save her life; having met Michele, one can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t her own strength and optimism that ultimately saved her.
Michele’s positive perspective on life had always served her well as she enjoyed a happy life with her husband Randy, and two daughters Samantha and Rachel. Close friends often surrounded Michele including those that were a part of what she called her “second family” — her neighbors in the Kings Crossing development in Belle Mead, NJ. However, what was simply for Michele a natural and affirming outlook on life, was exactly what she would need to save her life.
I recently talked candidly with Michele where she reflected on her experience some fourteen years later. She shared with me her philosophy that all situations turn out for the best even when the results can sometimes be painful. This was not Michele’s first introduction to tragedy. In 1996, she gave birth prematurely to triplets, losing one of them just thirty days later. Throughout this difficult time, her sister-in-law Brenda reminded her that, “this day too shall pass…” A philosophy that resonated with Michele and solidified her belief that tomorrow will be a better day. After what Michele had been through, as she puts it, “What’s the worst that could happen…?” Michele’s words, backed with life experiences, were not simply trite affirmations.
However, it is difficult to believe that this life tragedy did not in any way, transmute her optimism into anger or resentment. In several ways, this question continued to be asked until she acquiesced and answered. “No, not really, I am still the same inside.”
During those first few months of uncertainty, Michele was sedated, which perhaps sheltered her from her harrowing situation. However, when Michele finally awoke from her chemically induced slumber, she would be hit hard by the enormity of her situation. Michele described the heart wrenching pain of seeing her young children for the first time and having to look at the fear in her daughter’s eyes. Four-year-old Rachel was too scared to get close to her own mother. She talked of the thought of missing her first Halloween with the girls. She was desperate to be with them so she convinced the doctors to let her go home for the day. Her husband Randy pushed her in her wheelchair for a short trip through her neighborhood. They were all dressed as characters from the Wizard of Oz and as Michele talked of this beautiful experience, Dorothy’s famous words, “There’s no place like home“ became poignantly apparent.
Unfortunately, Michele had to return to Kessler Rehabilitation Center the next day. It was here she experienced the most painful part of her journey. It was not the pain from her grueling rehabilitation back to normalcy. As she put it, “As horrible as my situation was, I was one of the lucky ones. I would look around the therapy room and watch the teenagers and mothers who would never walk again. The guilt I felt was overwhelming.”
This painful memory quickly shifted the conversation to all the wonderful things that came of this experience. As she rattled of a litany of amazing events, she finally paused and struggled to hold back her tears. Her damaged voice crackled as she described the amazing love and support she felt from her family. Moved by the unrelenting and selfless giving from the community in the form of blood drives, homemade dinners, and so much more, Michele and her husband Randy gave back to the community. Michele volunteered for the Red Cross while Randy is a volunteer EMT for Montgomery Township.
She then shared the story of returning home from the hospital after her seven-month ordeal. She recalled looking out the window of the car as she and her family drove through her neighborhood. They spotted purple balloons, decorations, and homemade signs as they passed through the tree-lined streets. They all wondered if there was some kind of block party in the neighborhood. Finally, it hit them. Randy stopped the car and backed up. As Michele read each sign that welcomed her home, tears welled up and she realized that what she had always believed was true. That no matter how difficult and hard life becomes, that with the love and support of friends and family and a heart full optimism, tomorrow will be a better day.