How Grief Resembles Amputation

How Grief Resembles Amputation

Living with someone for so long gives birth to habits, reactions, and responses that are second nature. So when loss occurs, you must learn to endure phantom impulses. These impulses are painful reminders of the habits born of oneness.

“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” 1 Corinthians 14:33

I’ll never forget the first time I travelled following Kim’s death. In a hotel room after an evening meeting, I reached for my phone to call her. Phantom impulse and response.

There are many such impulses.

You hear a voice that reminds you of your loved one. Mothers who have lost babies have reported feeling the baby move in their abdomen after the stillbirth delivery. A chance encounter in a crowded place with someone who looks like your spouse from a distance. You take a step in their direction only to stop yourself. These phantom impulses evoke a response. As you start to respond you catch yourself and correct course. You put the phone back in your pocket. You convince yourself you’re not feeling the baby kick. You realize, on closer inspection, the person doesn’t look at all like your loved one.

Grief is often compared to amputation. It’s an effective comparison. Amputations can heal, but you never get your limb back. Mourners can heal, but they never get their loved one back. Minor injuries that do not involve amputation heal and everything returns to normal. Full use returns. Not with amputations.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

Amputations, I’m told, give rise to strange sensations. The amputee feels the missing limb at times as if it were still attached. These sensations arise from impulses in the brain. It’s as if a roadway has been built based on repeated use of a limb. And it’s also as if a road has been built because of a relationship and repeated experiences. These phantom sensations are confusing. Imagine feeling a twinge, a need to scratch an itch, or a tickle. However, it’s coming from the amputated limb. Confusing. Frustrating. Even maddening.

“Two years have passed…grief has remained the salient fact of my existence.” Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy

I’ve found, as time marches on, when I’m distracted by normalcy I am more prone to experience phantom impulses. The normalcy lures me away from the immediate context of my grief. And I reach for my phone. An old habit seeps through the barricade of my new reality. The busy-ness and distraction lowers your guard. And an old memory has time to travel the path of the nerve all the way to a limb that no longer exists. Painful. Confusing. Jolting.

These phantom impulses are unavoidable. They are inevitable. They must be faced courageously and endured diligently. It’s a part of healing, but it’s also a reminder that healing still involves loss that will never be reversed. Denial surrenders slowly.

Grief resembles amputation.

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:17


  1. We pray for courage, moment by moment some days…………….and the faith to walk alongside this grief thing. God bless my faithful brother.

    • D. Ray Davis

      Thanks, Annette. Keep walking faithfully, sister.

  2. Paul Reed

    Thanks D. Ray! Sometimes it is even a season. My Father passed in October when I was 12. To this day sometime around mid-October a sense of nostalgia, and even sometimes even melancholy, hits me. It reminds me that heaven waits with the sweet fulfillment of event these emotional longings. Thanks for giving voice to these shared experiences of grieving!

    • D. Ray Davis

      Thanks, Paul…yes, the nostalgia and impulses continue. Fortunately, they become sweeter more that bitter.

  3. Tress Miles

    C.S. Lewis also likened grief to the loss of a limb, referring to the death of his mother when he was a child and later to the death of his wife. Thank you for your series. It has been helpful.

    • D. Ray Davis

      Thank you, Tress. Yes, C. S. Lewis has been very helpful to me.

  4. April N

    I totally agree and since my mom passed away I have often related grief to amputation. You never go “back to normal.” You enter into a new normal, without the limb. And every so often those phantom impulses arise, often at the most inconvenient times.

    • D. Ray Davis

      So true, April.I know those impulses you’ve felt over your mother, too. Loss introduces a new normal for sure.

  5. Paula Hemphill

    D.Ray, the recent death of our son-in-law has left such a hole in our hearts. This is a good word. Thank you. I’ll share with our daughter Rachael. Blessings for continued comfort!

    • D. Ray Davis

      Paula, I have heard of your loss and have prayed for you. This is a long journey. I encourage her, when she’s ready, to read all ninety-plus that have already been released.

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