Many years ago, I was recovering from a breakup of a long-term relationship. I had no regrets about the relationship ending, but that didn’t change the fact that I was also experiencing waves of grief over the loss of my old life, as well as the future I had been expecting to live.
Experiencing loss is something all of humanity has in common. Everything, absolutely everything changes. The only stable thing we can truly count on is what some call “The Law of Impermanence.” And we all experience grief in so many ways, whether through a break up, the loss of a loved one, or whether it’s grief over a life we once thought we were heading towards.
During the time I described above, a dear friend offered me some advice about loss that completely changed my experience with grief. It was something that has since allowed me to develop greater peace with the very natural and unavoidable cycle of mortality.
The Theory Of The Thousand Goodbyes
My friend told me about something he called “The Theory of the Thousand Goodbyes.” To be honest, I don’t know whether he came up with this on his own or if someone taught it to him. He had grown up in multiple South American countries, and so may have been describing something that was common knowledge in one of the cultures he grew up in.
Either way the theory is based on the idea that when you love another being, there are energetic “strings” that sort of develop between your heart and theirs. The deeper and longer the relationship, the more strings develop.
When there is a loss, many of those strings are cut all at once, knocking the wind out of you and knocking you to the floor for a bit. As time passes, though, some of these wounds begin healing and scarring over and you’re able to get up and walk again.
But then, one day, Bam! Something reminds you of the loss, and suddenly it hits you like a ton of bricks again. Perhaps you heard a particular piece of music or smelled a certain food. Maybe you drove past a restaurant where you two shared memories. Suddenly, the grief is profoundly present again, bringing tears to your eyes and a catch to your breath.
The thing about these strings between our hearts is that they are like spiderweb filaments: sometimes you only see them when the sun hits them just right or you walk into them. Suddenly you are reminded of them, and one of those filaments is touched, and Oof! – your grief comes right to the surface again.
Bittersweet, Yet Welcomed Experiences
This experience can be incredibly painful because you are suddenly reminded of how your life has been changed. You remember that there was a “before” and you are now in the “after.” It’s truly painful, especially when the loss is recent. But believe it or not, after some time, these moments can become bittersweet and even welcomed.
The theory of The Thousand Goodbyes says that these moments happen when you energetically, and in a heartfelt way, are reminded of the love that exists between you and that other being. This is now how that relationship is felt and experienced in this new normal. And so ultimately it is possible to come to a place where you can welcome these moments and invite them in.
Let me give you a real-life example. I have worked with many people who struggle with recurring grief around the holidays. There can be a profound sadness to the absence of a loved one, who is no longer bustling around in the kitchen and dining room as they used to be. The holiday season that previously held so many warm memories is now marred with sadness and loss.
Maintaining A Sense Of Connection
Some of these clients worked to develop new rituals to help them change their relationship with the holiday season. One person, for example, put a photograph of his mother in the kitchen every holiday season and placed a little plate by the photo. This helped him feel her “in the room,” and enabled him to turn towards the grief instead of away. He let himself chat with her as if she was right there. He would place bits of the food he was cooking on the plate and chat with her about it. While he didn’t hear her respond with her voice, he was able to drop into his heart and feel her presence there and even enjoy it.
Over the years, I have shared this theory of The Thousand Goodbyes with many of my clients. Many of them have expressed gratitude and amazement at how helpful it has been. I hope this article has the opportunity to help someone else going through grief, one of the most difficult experiences in the world.