Photo by Holly Thornton

Mike Norrell and Woody Thornton ski in a pyramid with Gloria Walker at the top. Photo by Holly Thornton

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.

Martha St. Jean 02-15-2010
One month later rain pours into the streets of Port-au-Prince.
Edwidge Danticat 02-02-2010

I was at the supermarket at my home in Florida with my two young daughters when my sister-in-law called to ask if I'd heard that there had been an earthquake in Haiti. I was a bit stunned. "Earthquake?" I said. Are you sure? She said it was 7.0. That didn't quite register for me. Then she said it was catastrophic.