It’s hard to write about very traumatic and personal events in a reflective and yet not overly sentimental way. As mentioned in the list of topics to avoid, topics like death, depression, and mental health issues are too heavy for your college application essay and may label you a “liability” in the eyes of admissions readers.
On the other hand, it is possible to philosophize and reflect on a seemingly traumatic event without becoming overly dramatic or dark. To do this, keep the description of the actual incident or event very brief—limited to a maximum of four sentences. Be sure to focus on how it changed your worldview or strengthened you rather than how it negatively affected you. How did your perceptions and actions change as a result?
Remember the silver lining in every situation. If a close family member died, perhaps you started deliberating on metaphysical questions for the first time, which in turn sparked an interest in philosophy or religion. Maybe the death of a loved one caused you to strengthen your relationship with God, your family, or with yourself. Maybe witnessing the death reminded you of your mortality, which in turn caused you to appreciate life more and to change your priorities.
Overall, appropriately writing about a traumatic incident requires skill and tact in the writer. You must delicately present the incident so as not to offend or disturb your reader, and you must provide a self-analysis insightful enough to impress him or her.
Sample Passage 1
“…my grandpa had passed away. Disbelief at first, I then saw his body lying on the bed through Skype, peacefully and silently with both eyes closed. Such a cruel reality made me cry like a newborn, tears dropping like an unstoppable fountain. The fact that the distance kept me from seeing my grandpa the last time saddened me. In the next few days, I was in a trance always during the classes, frantically thinking about my grandpa…”
“Faith is the antiseptic of the soul.” This quote from Walt Whitman has helped me figure out how my faith entrenches in my grandpa. Although I was no longer able to see my grandpa after he passed away, I was still capable of leafing through his books to communicate with him. Amongst these, Leaves of Grass has brightened my outlook in immeasurable ways. Just like Whitman claims his presence is literally with the reader of his words, I know that my grandpa’s presence will always be with me.
If I ever forget this, all I need to do is consciously bring him to mind. I find myself doing this during especially hard moments, when hope seems far off. For example, when I’m overwhelmed by schoolwork, I think of my grandpa who always believed that I could do anything I set my mind to. I try to think about what comforting words he would’ve said, or the way his hand would feel resting upon my shoulder. In these moments of reflection, I feel him near. My grandpa stands over me like a numen, revitalizing and protecting me. Although his body has faded away, I am convinced that his spirit will always remain with me, granting me the strength to conquer any challenges in my path.”