Before her father’s death six years ago, Isabela considered her life a fairy tale.

“I’m not exaggerating,” Isabela said of life with her parents, Daniel and Susana. “These two people gave me the moon and stars. I was their everything. I was very sheltered and hadn’t experienced any childhood trauma.”

Isabela’s ideal world shattered abruptly when Daniel died in a car accident when she was 12. It set off what she called the “darkest time” for her and Susana. “It was like, ‘Here’s real-life,’” Isabela said.

Daniel and Isabela

Different things helped Isabela deal with her loss, particularly some cherished memories. She spent a lot of time with her father in the week preceding his death, including a father-daughter Starbucks outing just hours before he died.

“The whole week before, I treasure that time a lot,” she said. “That specific time is a distinct memory to me.”

Isabela and Susana also credit the Children’s Grief Center of New Mexico for helping them work through their profound grief. A friend told Susana about the Grief Center when traditional one-on-one counseling wasn’t helping Isabela. Susana said she became “super worried” about her daughter, who started getting physically sick.

Goofing around with dad

At the Grief Center, they interacted with others who were grappling with similar losses. That time enabled the two to move forward again with their lives. Isabela said during the weekly outings she learned how to talk about what happened to her father.


“Getting to hear other people’s stories were important to me,” Isabela said. “It put things in a bigger perspective. Time keeps passing whether you like it or not, and you can make the most of it. That’s what the Grief Center taught me. It was nice to come together as a group and help each other. We’d talk about current things in our lives – what was going on – not just our loss.”

Susana echoed that, saying it was “good for my soul” to hear how others handled loss, how they were coping day by day, and how they were going through life with the pain and the loss.

Isabela with her Grandfather at CGC

“Listening to everyone else was the best part of going to the Grief Center,” Susana said. “It makes you feel like you’re not alone. It was safe.”

Going to the Grief Center helped Susana and Isabela learn to find happiness again. In the six years since Daniel died, Isabela navigated middle and high school. She graduated high school in May and will attend the University of New Mexico in the fall. She plans to major in English and wants to teach. Meanwhile, Susana married Tom McKenzie in 2019.

“Week by week, you step forward, because that’s all you can do when you’re going through this pain,” Susana said. “There are no shortcuts to grief. You have to take it day by day and keep pushing through it. Life does go on.”

“Loss really teaches you to look at things with perspective,” Isabela added. “Life is all about perspective. I choose to see the silver lining in losing him because I became who I am, and I really love who I am because of that. I love the strength. I love the fact I’ve gotten through it and gotten to a positive place, a happy place. … We chose to be happy.” added Susana