Grieving Your Limbs
Losing a limb can leave you questioning your place in the world
Losing a limb means losing a part of your physical self. It potentially changes how you move and how you feel or touch. It may also change how you function, how you see yourself, your job, and may impact your relationships. You may experience a loss of freedom which can be devastating as this will disrupt life as you have known it before, which then leaves you to be more reliant on others. You may experience a loss of trust in your body and a loss of trust in those around you.
With reduced mobility, independence and participation in the simple day to day tasks might leave you questioning your place in the world in this new state. The loss of a limb or living life as an amputee can mean significant changes to life as you had known it, to a new life that comes with new sets of rules and abilities. This change will not be an individual loss, it is a shared loss that will mean personal adjustments along with the support system.
An amputation means you could be thrust into the throes of a long-term illness, as well as working on your journey to recovery after the surgery and coping with your new diagnosis. If you have had to have an amputation due to an existing long-term illness, or you’ve experienced a sudden loss through an accident, you have to acknowledge the fact that your body has gone through trauma and grief.
However, there may be a sense of relief if a limb has been the cause of pain for an extended period of time.
How you view your body can affect how you feel about yourself. It can also lead to feelings of isolation, or avoiding social interaction. Afterall, how could anyone understand what you’re going through?
Please know the following feelings are normal reactions to losing a limb:
Feelings of shock
Feeling of anxiety, worry and stress
Feelings of depression
Feelings of isolation and loss of control
Feelings of frustration especially in the initial stages of the journey
Feeling of sadness, grief and loss
In the initial stages it may be useful to discuss these feelings with a trusted person or seek professional help which will help you process your recovery journey in a healthy manner. With your new diagnosis, learning practical strategies will help you.
As an amputee, your feelings might become dampened down by others trying to offer practical solutions that are intellectually right but emotionally unaware. Yes, of course you can replace your limb with a prosthetic but the actual feeling of losing a part of you is hard to bear.
You may feel like you’re not coping. Here are some signs to help you know when you need to ask for emotional support:
Feeling the need to talk, especially to someone who isn’t familiar with you
Lack of sleep, no appetite, and feeling hopeless
Withdrawing from social contact
Being irritable or angry
Neglecting your personal hygiene, diabetes, or other conditions,
Taking risks or rushing into things
Feelings of anxiety around moving, or refusing to move
Regression or excessive dependence
Here are some coping strategies:
Getting something to work towards will give you a sense of purpose. This needs to be realistic with the support of the therapists that you are working with.
Have a daily routine with planned activities. This will work as a distraction from dwelling on what you are no longer able to do but rather what you are able to do, plus learning new skills.
When worry overshadows the day, actions that can be taken are relaxation, rest, accepting the new norm.
It’s very important to also depend on the professionals that are there to help with adjusting, building resilience, recovery and coping strategies with the new norm.
It’s important to put things in perspective around the recovery. Reflecting back and taking stock of what has been achieved is a good way of building resilience.
Personal care will naturally help you feel better about yourself.
Participation in meaningful activities is very important for recovery, as it builds confidence to be able to establish yourself back into society, and improves self worth.
If you would like to get involved in new activities, such as sports, a prosthesis limb could help facilitate this and can give you a new lease of life, which helps physically and emotionally.
Adjusting to life as an amputee may be a long journey. One thing that can help enormously is to tap into the support systems available to you. In doing so you are letting yourself not be defined by what has happened to you. Remember when you experience the depths of your loss, there is someone out there willing to get you back up on your feet without judging you.
Supporting an Amputee
If you’re reading this and you’re supporting an amputee, this can involve a variety of activities, depending on the individual's needs. These activities may include providing emotional support, helping with physical tasks, and providing financial assistance.
Emotional Support: Amputees may feel overwhelmed by the physical and emotional changes that come with amputation. Offering emotional support can help them cope with the transition and provide comfort during difficult times.
Physical Tasks: Amputees may need help with everyday tasks such as getting dressed, bathing, and cooking. Offering to help with these activities can make a huge difference in an amputee's life.
Financial Assistance: Amputees may need financial assistance to pay for medical bills, prosthetics, or other expenses related to their amputation. Donating money or fundraising for an amputee can make a big difference in their life.
Eva Nabunya is a Grief Recovery and Trauma Specialist and an author of Tears Of A Mother: Where Love Triumphs Over Loss, shining a light on the grief of child loss and how love can triumph over such loss. You can learn more about Eva here.