Isabel Stenzel, LCSW, MPH
Isabel Stenzel, LCSW, MPH, Bereavement Social Worker
Isabel Stenzel has been helping people express their feelings about end of life since she was young. She and her twin sister Anabel were survivors of a life-threatening childhood illness, witnessing firsthand the impact of loss among parents of their ill peers. As an adult, her volunteer advocacy for organ donation also exposed her to bereaved family members who found comfort and meaning in giving the gift of life. She learned from many mentors how to be resilient through loss.
But when Anabel was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, Isabel says “It was the most difficult time of my life.” When Anabel was ready for hospice care, Isabel chose Mission Hospice. “The personal connection we had with every member of the staff was extraordinary,” she said.
“The miracle we were praying for came in the form of (Mission Hospice Medical Director) Dr. Gary Pasternak. He brought so much care and patience.”
Earlier this year, Isabel learned that Mission Hospice was hiring a bereavement counselor – and she jumped at the chance to be a part of the organization. “There are very few times in our life when we are doing exactly what we are meant to do,” Isabel said. “All the experiences in my life have led to this moment.”
Isabel specializes in working with children. Her cozy office is welcoming, and packed with children’s toys, books, and – importantly – art supplies of all kinds. “If children don’t have the words to express themselves, they can show their feelings through art. Grief is really a form of energy that needs to come out.”
She also understands the great power of writing. Isabel started writing when she was about 10, published a memoir at 35, and credits the art form for helping her understand her own experiences.
“Writing helped me reorganize and gain perspective on what I’d been through. That’s when I realized that writing about people who have died can be a difficult but transformative experience.” Having facilitated writing groups for four years, Isabel is eager to offer them to Mission Hospice family members.
Writing Through Loss is a new eight-week support group designed to help grieving adults express themselves. By limiting her workshops to 14 people, Isabel feels that she can help people both write and listen. “People of all backgrounds and all experiences come together with one thing in common: their emotional pain, and their willingness to face it and move through it, and to write and share.”
“My whole purpose as a bereavement counselor,” says Isabel, “is to let people know that love doesn’t end when the patient dies. As humans, we create and live out our stories. When someone dies, that’s all we have left. If we keep sharing the stories, the loved one stays alive.”