A young man, 32, sat across from me last night and told me about all the anger he held around the death by avalanche of his older brother. He was 8 at the time and his brother was 10. The avalanche caught everyone by surprise in their small Alaskan village and there was no way to have anticipated the danger.
The young man had lost his closest friend, mentor, guide, and comrade. He was disconsolate afterwards. His anger grew so much that no one could or would help him. His parents apparently became aloof, as did his friends at school. He felt awful and no one was seemingly doing anything about it.
Here he was sitting at my table showing me that he could contain his anger but that, if allowed to, it could come up in spectacular form. He would often rage at all concerned about this event that had happened 24 years ago. He mentioned that some group release work had seemed to help, but that his anger was still there.
I suggested that he could most easily relieve his anger by changing the story. This, quite naturally, was met with deep skepticism, but he was willing to go further. So I asked him if he thought his brother had intentionally abandoned him. He said that as a child he was angry at being abandoned by his brother but now he could see that his brother certainly hadn’t done any such thing intentionally. So I asked him, from his perspective today could he forgive his brother for dying? After a moment, “Yes.”
Then there were the friends that had seemingly abandoned him. I asked him if it was possible that they had cared about him but didn’t know what to do. Was it possible that he had even driven them away with his anger? “Yes.” From his perspective today, could he forgive his friends for “abandoning” him? “Yes.”
I then asked him if he thought it was possible that his parents were distraught over their loss, perhaps even more so than he, and couldn’t figure out how to cope with their loss. Was it possible that they loved him as best they could, but were doing so in the midst of incredible pain? “Yes.”
I gave him a quick lesson in expectations, that expectations are something we create ourselves, and because they are created without doubt, they look a lot like reality. But they aren’t reality; they are only a thought form we have created and thus we’re responsible for them. No one is responsible for living up to the expectations we create any more than we are responsible for living up to the expectations that other people create. He had created expectations of how his parents should have acted and they hadn’t lived up to his expectations. Who was responsible for those expectations? “I was.” In light of how he was viewing things today, could he find it in his heart to forgive his parents? “Yes.”
He paused for a long time. He seemed to be fascinated by this simple process that was clearly changing his very being. But he still felt anger. He expressed it as just a giant anger at “something” that wouldn’t go away. I suggested that that “something” often goes by the name God and that he was angry at God for making or letting this tragedy happen. That seemed to resonate. So had he been making expectations of God that God so rudely ignored? “Yes.”
Were there any lessons that he got out of the whole drama around his brother’s death? He thought for a time and finally recognized that he’d learned a lot about love, that there had, in fact, been lots of people who loved him, and that he had grown tremendously as a result of this. Could he now forgive God for his brother’s death. “Yes.”
So there was only one other forgiveness left to tackle – forgiving himself. He was carrying a guilt that somehow he didn’t do something that he should have. I asked him what he thought he should have done. It wasn’t that he should or could have done something, it was the frustration of being helpless. I asked him if, in looking at the situation, he was responsible in any way for what happened? “No.” Then could he find it in himself to forgive himself? “Yes.”
And then there was a clear shift in him. A single tear fell from his right eye and he stared into my eyes for a long time. His whole inner world had changed by simply looking at his story differently. No great releases were necessary, no powerful crying or raging. Only the simple task of changing how he was creating his reality. He had been totally invested in the story of abandonment and helplessness. Looking at the story in a way that kept him in his power but let him forgive all the relevant parties allowed him to let this piece of his past rest. At last.
A little ice cream seemed to be the next appropriate thing.