During the 2015 Association for Death Education and Counseling conference, Dr. Gloria Horsley connects with Isabel Stenzel Byrnes about finding hope and balance while living with an illness. Born with cystic fibrosis, Byrnes wasn’t given many years to live—but she has proven doctors wrong again and again. She attended CF-related camps as a child and then retreats as an adult. She cites her peers as giving her the support she needed to fight the disease. However, every year she loses friends to this illness and has seen how she will eventually die of CF.
It puts her in touch with what it means to face mortality, live with an illness and of course allows her to engage deeply with other people in similar situations. “When each friend died, they became a part of me,” she says. She also knows that when she dies, she’ll become a part of the group. This has helped her to see balance while learning life lessons. “When we learn at a very young age that life is temporary…you lose a lot of friends, my whole world view has changed and I learned that being open” is the key to a full life.
A Roller Coaster Life
All she’s been through and seen has helped her cope with a limited lifespan. She underwent a double lung transplant at 32 years old. This was the first time she thought death was imminent, but it never occurred to Byrnes that she should be open to the possibility she might not die so young. Now in her 40s, Byrnes is thankful to the young man whose lungs she received.
Now, she works in a hospice as a bereavement counselor in California. It was a natural calling, and her path is steeped in her strengths.