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I took my life back after Boston marathon bombing

Five years ago, a terror attack at the Boston Marathon killed three people and injured more than 200, including REBEKAH GREGORY. She tells Claire Briine how faith helped her to cope with life-changing injuries

Resentment does nothing for me

ON 15 April 2013 Rebekah Gregory and her young son Noah were watching thousands of runners as they approached the finishing line of the Boston Marathon. At 2.49 pm Noah was sitting on his mum’s feet, playing with rocks on the ground, when a bomb exploded in a man’s backpack behind them. Twelve seconds later there was a second blast. Thrown to the floor, Rebekah’s first thought was that her life was over.

‘It was like looking at a war scene,’ she tells me in a transatlantic phone call. ‘I saw that my left leg was on fire, my bones were lying next to me on the sidewalk and there was all this metal – nails and ball bearings from what turned out to be pressure-cooker bombs – embedded in my skin. As I looked around, I saw other people’s body parts scattered on the ground, and the thought came to me: I am going to die today.

‘I said a prayer in my head: “God, if this is it, then take me. But please let me know that Noah is OK.” Then, in my peripheral vision, I saw that a police officer had picked up my son. Clearly he was damaged, but I could tell he was going to be OK. My legs had shielded him from the blast.’

When she arrived at the hospital, Rebekah took in the extent of her injuries.

‘My legs and my left hand were severely injured,’ she says. ‘My skin was peeled back to my wrist and my bones were sticking out. My hand had to be pieced back together. But my left leg was the most damaged of all, with 80 per cent of the bones, tissue and muscle completely blown away. I had a hole through my left foot. Hundreds of pieces of metal were stuck in my body, and I needed operations to remove them.’

Since the bombing, Rebekah has had 67 operations on her legs. 

‘The doctors tried to save my left leg, but 18 months after the blast, we agreed it was time to amputate. I was devastated – but I joked that my leg had become like a bad boyfriend and I needed to get it out of my life for good.’

The loss of a leg meant that day-to-day life changed dramatically. Rebekah tried to get used to the fact that her future would forever include a wheelchair and a prosthetic leg. Coming to terms with the psychological effects of the bombing also proved painfully difficult. 

‘After spending 56 days in hospital, I developed PTSD and was scared to interact with the world again,’ she says. ‘When my mum drove me home, I thought every single person on the road was trying to kill us. I cried and had a panic attack. When I finally got home, I didn’t want to leave the house, because I was scared that someone would hurt me as soon as I stepped outside the door.’

Gradually, with the help of therapy, Rebekah began to feel stronger. She also took a lot of comfort from her Christian faith.

‘I thought: If I’m still alive after being three feet away from a bomb, God must have a bigger plan in all this,’ she says. ‘Today, I realise that I can look back on my life and ask God why he allowed this to happen or I can look at all the times when he has been there for me. I choose to look at the blessings that have come out of this situation – and I can’t be mad at God for that.

‘On the day of the bombing, God was everywhere. There were angels in the form of the people who came to rescue and help us. And since the bombing, God has restored me. He has repaired me in ways that I didn’t even know I needed repairing. He has given me a tremendous platform to try to help others. He has blessed me by bringing my college boyfriend back into my life – who is now my husband. He adopted my son and we also have a beautiful daughter together. 

‘Every day, I can count up my problems or my blessings. I know that my blessings will always win.’

After giving countless interviews about the Boston Marathon over the past five years, Rebekah reveals the one question she is always asked: Has she forgiven the bombers?

‘Forgiveness is a process, and I think I’m still in the middle of it,’ she says. ‘It’s hard. But I’m a lot closer than I was a few years ago. I pray every night that one day I will be able to forgive completely. 

‘The reason I try not to hold on to resentment is that it does nothing for me in terms of moving forwards. Every moment in life is precious. It has so much beauty to offer. So I don’t want to focus on the things I can’t change or control. Instead, I want to focus on being grateful for my life and living it to the full.’ 

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