The marvelously athletic son of my friend was hit by an SUV while on his motorcycle a month ago. He’s paralyzed from the waist down.
It may or may not be permanent, of course. Miracles happen all the time and while each passing day makes it less likely, he certainly could experience a full recovery. Doctors are currently saying yes, there’s a 5% chance.
It may feel like a good thing to speak encouragingly of walking (skating, skiing, dancing…) again, but it’s really not. Completely apart from the issues of false hope and unrealistic expectations, which are certainly debatable, there’s the simple issue of expecations on this young man, and he could end up feeling much worse for “failing” to work hard enough or even simply will himself to perfect health and wholeness again, the way everyone seems to expect him to.
I am not suggesting that everyone give up hope for a full recovery, and certainly not that you speak of his paralysis as hopeless or permanent. I’m saying just stop being specific about what you think his recovery should include. Spinal cord injury is not the same as broken bones and torn flesh… it is an animal unto itself, and Christopher Reeve should be all the lesson you need on that score, because he was as tough, hard-working, willful person as you might ever meet.
Just tell him you know that his life will be wonderful again, because that’s the truth whether he is paraplegic or not.Tell him you look forward to enjoying your relationship with him when he’s feeling good again, because that’s true whether he is paraplegic or not. Tell him you know how strong he is and that he will through this tough healing, because that is true whether he is paraplegic or not.
Let him know (without spelling it out) that you love him and care about him and support him and believe in his ability to have a full, joyful life again whether he does so as a paraplegic or not. Don’t make him wonder if he has to be exactly the way he was in order to be good enough.
That is all.