Facing Mortality: Interview with Isabel Stenzel Byrnes


At the annual ADEC (Association of Death Education and Counseling), I spoke with Isabel Stenzel Byrnes about living with an illness and learning how to find hope and find a balance.

Isabel was born with cystic fibrosis, and she says that her friends with the illness gave her the support and skills needed to live with her disease.

However, that support came at a cost for Isabel, as almost every year she lost at least one or two friends to cystic fibrosis. She explains that she got to witness how she would eventually die from her disease, but also become more in touch with what it means to live with an illness.

This balance of making friends and coping with loss allowed Isabel to learn some valuable life lessons, which she shares in detail in the video below.

Here are some key takeaways from the video:

  • When you learn at a very young age that life is temporary it changes your whole world view, Isabel says. She learned that being open to the good and bad is what helped her cope with the reality of her limited lifespan.
  • Isabel received a double lung transplant when she was just hours away from dying. This taught Isabel that she spent a lot of time worrying about dying young when she was a kid, but it never occurred to her that she should be open to the possibility of living a normal life.
  • Ten years after receiving the double lung transplant, Isabel is still here and says she has been living a beautiful life since then.
  • Isabel believes that all of the struggles she went through when she was young led her down a path to finding some of her greatest strengths of teaching and offering support to other people.

For more video interviews, please see the Open To Hope YouTube channel.

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