As a shark attack survivor, Bethany Hamilton lost her arm because of the tragic attack in 2003.
Bethany, a determined surfer, got back up on her board and one year later went on to win surfing competitions. She learned how to navigate the waves with one arm by making adjustments to her board and strengthening other areas of her body. In 2014, Bethany won first place in the Surf ‘n’ See Pipeline Women’s Pro – one of more than a dozen competitions that she’s placed in since 2004.
I imagine that people ask Bethany many probing question about how she does it. Questions such as, “How do you have the fortitude and strength to get back up on the board and compete?” “How you learn to navigate choppy waters with one arm?” “What does it feel like to swim with one arm?” “Why did you decide not to use a prosthetic limb?”
I doubt that anyone has ever asked Bethany, “So, are you fully healed yet?” or “Isn’t it good to know you really didn’t need that arm anyway? You are so successful without it.” “If you could get your arm back, would you want it back?”
These questions are ludicrous and the answers are obvious.
When I think of people who have lost limbs, I see similarities for those of us who’ve lost children, or someone else very precious to us. In my mind, losing Leah appears to be similar to losing a limb because:
- Leah’s absence is permanent.
- My life experience will never be the same again.
- Nothing I can do or say will ever bring her presence back.
- A critical part of myself is gone.
- I am forever changed.
- I have to learn to function in a new way.
- Unless someone has experienced a similar loss, he or she can’t understand my struggles.
In spite of such a significant loss, Bethany learned to surf again – and surf well.
After her arm was torn from her body, Bethany didn’t immediately start surfing. She had a season of pain and relearned how to go through life without a limb. She had to learn to sit up, dress herself, open jars, move and take care of herself all over again. Slowly. The external wound and skin had to heal; but, the long-term change to her body was permanent.
After the loss of any limb, our bodies are off balance. In the same way, our hearts are off balance after losing someone who we love. If someone, similar to Bethany, loses an arm or leg, we don’t immediately expect them to go from a stationary position to running. In the same way, it’s important to give someone who has lost their child, parent, spouse, sibling, friend or even lost their health, the space and time they need to learn how to navigate the multiple awkward waves of a new daily life.
It’s important for me and others around me to realize that it takes time to adjust after a significant loss. And there are many ways that grievers need to adapt.
It’s inspiring to see how Bethany moved forward in spite of such a horrendous experience. She didn’t drown in self-pity; she envisioned a life for herself after her loss. Bethany knew her heart. She knew she had to get back up on the board quickly, or she may have never gone back in the water again.
Everyone attacks loss differently. I think it’s important for others who walk alongside people in grief to be understanding and full of grace. And to not ask questions when the answer is fully obvious such as “Are you still hurting?” “Do you still miss her?” “Are you feeling any better?” “Does it get any easier?”
For me, when people ask how I am doing after losing Leah, I share that it’s similar to losing a limb. I don’t ever envision fully “healing,” just as Bethany isn’t going to grow a new, fully-restored arm. Her perseverance and faith are inspiring; I want to be like Bethany. My desire is to learn to experience joy and know the beauty of life again – accepting that a precious part of me will never be replaced.
Photo From Notey.com
“Be on your guard; stand firm in faith; be courageous; be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13