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What to Say to Someone Who Has Endured Something Traumatic, by Rebecca Koltun

Updated: Apr 3

Prior to my skiing accident in March 2021, which left me paralyzed from the neck down, I had not experienced true hardship or loss. I am confident that, had I had a friend in my situation before my injury, I would have had no clue about what to say or how to behave around them. What do you possibly say to a friend who has experienced something so life-altering?

Naturally, some of my friends hesitated to reach out to me immediately following my accident because they were unsure of what to say. It can be understandably daunting to talk to a friend who has undergone such an immense life change. My situation was completely unrelatable. Our challenges were no longer the same. It felt like an invisible barrier had formed between us, a gap that seemed impossible to bridge.

While It was difficult to reconcile with the idea that I was different from my friends, it was even harder to deal with the lack of communication. Here's a message to those friends who don't know what to say to a friend who has endured a traumatic experience: Any message from you is better than silence. After my accident, a close friend took about eight months to finally reach out. At this point, I had been admitted to four different hospitals. His message, when it finally came, was a simple "What's up, bro?" Initially, I rolled my eyes and thought, What's up? How can I possibly convey what's been happening after enduring the toughest eight months of my life without you? Why didn't you reach out sooner? However, after discussing this with my parents and reflecting on it, I had a different perspective on the situation.

While the message might initially appear aloof and lacking in emotional depth, it was my friend's way of expressing, "I want you to know I'm here for you." Not everyone excels at conveying their thoughts and emotions, especially in such a unique circumstance. As for the timing, I believe everyone processes these situations differently and at their own pace. There could be numerous reasons for the delay in communication. While it took him eight months, the crucial point is that he did reach out. So, for those who have experienced something traumatic: Have grace and don't be quick to judge what your loved ones say to you. While things are extremely difficult for you right now, it can also be challenging navigating the situation from their perspective as well. Try to see the meaning behind the message rather than what it says at first glance. Remember, there is no handbook on how to deal with tragedy, matter what role you play in the situation.


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