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Life Is Short

Natalia J. Garland

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First lady Laura Bush has been appearing on television, trying to calm and reassure Americans, especially children, that we are safe in our homes. She has expanded and fulfilled her role as first lady by including this new and unexpected duty. She has been affectionately nicknamed comforter in chief. While her husband manages the nation's wartime strategies, Laura Bush compliments his leadership with tenderness.

Laura Bush is a 55-year-old former second-grade school teacher and librarian. She is traditional in her marriage and in her career choices, and seems quite at ease with this. She does not seem to feel compelled to prove herself to anyone or to defend her lifestyle preferences.

Some women just seem to have a maternal component to their personality. Why do some women exhibit this behavior and some do not? Perhaps it is their disposition, or a learned behavior, or a coping style. I have known maternal types who are quite young, married as well as single, with or without children. I have even come across some men who have an unusual maternal way about them. People have different reactions to the maternal types. Some like them, and some do not. Some people feel nurtured and comforted by maternal types, whereas others feel suffocated and infantilized.

I like Laura Bush's approach and I like her message. In essence, it is the same material with which many of us in the helping professions are confronted daily: helping the traumatized to cope with stress and to work through feelings.

In a recent speech (11/0 8/01) to the National Press Club, the first lady stated, "Rather than fearing death, we are embracing life--life that is now seen as more precious, more meaningful than it seemed before that tragic fall day." Yes, life is short, but we will not embrace death or the fear of death. Life is meaningful. Meaning can be discovered, created, and shared.

The average American cannot take it for granted that they will live to achieve their goals or even to come home from work at night. Health and longevity are never guaranteed, but death on a "tragic fall day" is a new and dark possibility. This realization, however, has caused terrorism to backfire. For we are now more aware of the preciousness of life and have a strong willingness to protect: whether through the military or nurture.

Some of us work with life and death matters every day, especially in the fields of alcoholism and drug addiction. Some of the A.A. slogans, such as a day at a time, are applicable to our nation's need for healing and moving forward. People in recovery have always understood the immediacy and deep significance of that simple saying.

Sometimes in group therapy sessions with recovering alcoholics, I have stimulated discussion by asking the group: what if you only had six months to live, would you drink? Rarely will someone answer yes.* If someone does answer yes, that indicates to me that recovery has been unrewarding for them, that they are struggling, and that there is still a lot of therapeutic work to be done. Most will answer no. And that indicates to me that these patients have undergone tremendous growth. They have found reasons that would make even six months of sober life worthwhile. Like Laura Bush, they embrace life and do not fear death.

[*NOTE: I have always asked the above question to higher functioning groups where it can be expected that patients will answer in the affirmative. Their affirmative answers help to bring their own values into greater awareness. If a patient answers in the negative, it then becomes necessary to do some relapse prevention counselling and to assess for depression or other possible co-existing conditions. Asking the above question is NOT a typical therapeutic technique.] (Written 11/19/01 - Revised 12/01/03: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2001, 2003 Natalia J. Garland