Boston amputees face a long spiritual struggle ahead

c. Religion News Service 2013
Reprinted with permission

BOSTON (RNS) In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings that left three dead and more than 260 injured, perhaps none face more significant adjustments or a longer road ahead than the 14 amputees who lost a limb.

For these victims, the path forward involves relearning almost everything, from getting out of bed to getting in a car. Whether they go on to lead satisfying lives depends largely on how they handle the spiritual challenges at hand, according to amputees and researchers.

Losing a limb is like losing a family member: It involves grief and mourning, according to Jack Richmond, a Chattanooga, Tenn., amputee who leads education efforts for the Manassas, Va.-based Amputee Coalition. When one’s body and abilities are radically changed, questions of meaning are suddenly urgent: Why did this happen? Why am I here?

“You’re wondering: Why did I live?” said Rose Bissonnette, an amputee and founder of the Lancaster, Mass.-based New England Amputee Association, a support organization for amputees.

Bissonnette works regularly with more than 150 amputees and finds a common pattern. Those who feel positively connected to God and to other people tend to do better in recovery than those who have “hardened” or grown bitter as a result of their injuries.

“You have to (let go of) the life you lived before and forgive for whatever happened to cause the amputation,” said Bissonnette, who was crushed by a tractor-trailer 16 years ago and lost a leg. “It’s tough, (and) if they don’t have some kind of belief, they get hung up in the anger. I’ve noticed that quite a bit.”

Research on other disabilities reaches slightly different conclusions. People of strong faith are no more likely than nonbelievers to accept a neuromuscular disease, according to Jessica Evans, a psychotherapist who published her findings in the Journal of Christian Healing, published by the Association of Christian Therapists.

However, those who feel conflicted with a faith community or with God have notable difficulty coming to terms with their physical condition.

“In stressful situations in particular, that’s when religion is found to