When my son, James, died at 5 months of age, we had to make a decision. He suffered from trisomy 18, a chromosomal disease (also called Edward’s syndrome). He’d developed pulmonary hypertension and was having difficulty moving oxygen through his lungs. His condition was bad. We had to decide whether to wait and see if he recovered or to turn off his ventilator and let him pass peacefully in our arms. It is one of the most heartrending decisions a parent will ever face. We chose to let him go. We made that choice knowing that for the rest of our lives, we would live with questions and fears we could barely articulate to ourselves. Did we give up too soon? What if we had just waited another day? Or two?
In the end, he slipped away cradled against my chest.
Since James died, I’ve gone through every emotion that you can name – anger, sorrow, rage, sadness, regret, guilt, gratitude, and on and on. Except, there has been one emotion for which I’ve had no word.
You see, when I remember that day and those decisions, I am filled with a destructive energy. When I think about holding my son while he died, holding him while the light in his eyes slowly, slowly dwindled away, when I think that we made that decision, I feel… SOMETHING. That something is “liget.”
In the 60s, an American anthropologist and his wife studied a tribe called the Ilongot in the Philippines. They were previously unstudied because of a tendency to behead their enemies. After living with this tribe for some time, the anthropologist became familiar with their language – words for emotions such as love and anger. But there was one word that eluded him, one emotion that he could not grasp – liget. The Ilongot’s told him that it was a feeling that made them want to “take a man’s head and throw it.” They expressed it in times of sorrow and grief.
Related Post: When Anger Is A Part Of Your Grief
Liget can be defined as “high voltage.”
It is an energy that runs through the body and needs to find expression. At the time, the anthropologist couldn’t fathom it. He could not understand the chaos that the word implied. Then, the anthropologist’s wife died on a second expedition to the Philippines. She fell to her death from a cliff on an ordinary hike on an ordinary day. Afterward, back in America, her husband learned to live with his grief—his new normal. One day, while driving, he felt the urge to pull over and just howl and weep. He then understood what liget was. He then understood “high voltage.”
I understand, too, as I believe anyone does who has suffered grief. Liget is that energy with nowhere to go. When I remember everything we went through with our son, all of the decisions we had to make, or our time in the pediatric ICU, I feel the urge to smash everything. I imagine flinging a rock through my bedroom window and watching the glittering shards fall, punching a hole through the drywall and relishing the blood on my fist, screaming at the sky until my throat is raw and weeping crimson, wailing at the top of a mountain during a lightning storm until I am utterly spent.
Related Post: When Loss Is Angry And Apathetic
It’s not destruction that I need, it’s a way to express the pain and sorrow of all that we’ve been through.
It’s high voltage, running through my body. High voltage with nowhere to go. The object of that energy is dead, and there is nothing I can do to change this.
This is liget.
Feature Photo by Max Larochelle
I am mother to three children, two beautiful girls and one gorgeous baby boy, James. James was diagnosed with trisomy 18 at 32 weeks gestation. He was born Aug 1, 2016 and lived 154 amazing days cradled in the love of his family. He died on Jan 2, 2017 due to complications of pulmonary hypertension. Because of him, I learned that a mother’s love has no bounds. My grief is enormous, but only because my love is enormous.
Our sweet son is buried in our backyard. We brought his body home and had a home visitation and home burial. This was facilitated by a Cuddle Cot. Due to this, our baby boy never left our arms. He was with us from the moment he was conceived until the moment we gave him back to the earth. Since his death, we have been trying to educate others about the beauty and healing of a home burial.
We live in western NC. I am a veterinarian and mother. My husband is a mathematics professor. We are expecting our fourth child, a baby girl, in July 2018.