No Words

A silhouette of someone in despair on a bench against the setting sun

A bereaved father whose daughter died in a car accident described an experience to me that frightened him. “It was a surge of feelings that started in my feet and traveled through my whole body and came out in a primal sound that did not seem like my voice,” he said.

Anthropologist Renato Rosaldo, who studied an isolated tribe in the Philippines, the Ilongot, believes he discovered a new emotion that sounds similar to this father’s story. As Rosaldo was learning the language, there was a word he could not understand: liget. The English description of this word would be an experience of high voltage current running through and out of the body. Rosaldo observed the tribe members expressed this emotion when they heard a tape recording of a respected, deceased member of their tribe.

Rosaldo did not completely understand this emotion. Years later he did, when Shelly, his wife and research partner, died tragically in an accident while they were studying another tribe. He describes an alien emotion that grew from the day of her death and built inside him until some weeks later when it surged through him and came out as a primitive howl. It was liget.

At times our sorrow about the death of one we loved cannot be expressed in words. It can only be expressed in a primitive cry of anguish that comes from the deepest place within us.

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Dr. Patrick O’Malley is a psychotherapist in Fort Worth, Texas, specializing in grief counseling. For 35 years, he has counseled individuals, couples and families in his private practice. Dr. O'Malley has recently published a book, "Getting Grief Right" about grief recovery.

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