Tribute: Angela Stenson 1957-2012

Our good friend and colleague, Angela, died on February 8th, 2012 after a short illness in the excellent care of the Medical and Nursing staff at St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin. She will be greatly missed by her husband Johnny Lahert, children Nessa and Jack, mother Carmel, brothers and sisters Maura, Alex, Anne, Ned, Ger, Joe and Caitriona. She will also be missed by her many friends and colleagues.

We started our psychotherapy training together in Turning Point in 2004 and graduated in 2008. Looking back at our photos of that day in DCU, there was a great sense of achievement at what we had accomplished. Angela looks really happy and full of life in those photos. When our training finished, we started to meet once a month to discuss our fledgling practices and to get support and guidance in our work as psychotherapists. Our last meeting as a group with Angela was at her hospital bed on the Saturday before she died. She sat upright in the bed as she said, ‘on her sitting bones’, with her legs crossed. She approached that last stage of her life in the way she approached many things in her life, with strength and integrity. She had a great sense of humour and although it was a sad occasion, we laughed a lot at that last meeting with her. She was still very much herself even when her body was greatly weakened. She took time over the last weeks and months to take care of all her affairs and to put as many supports in place as she could for her children. It was extremely painful for her to contemplate leaving them earlier than she had expected. She was comforted by feeling that they, although relatively young, were balanced and resourceful. She was reassured a little by the knowledge that they will have many good people in their lives who love and care for them. Her biggest regret was leaving Johnny, Nessa and Jack but she was lucky in that she did not feel she had many regrets in life. She felt she had by and large lived the way she wanted to live and in line with her values and beliefs.

One of her important values was to be a good parent and to nurture a strong sense of community. Both Angela and Johnny succeeded in developing a very solid sense of community with neighbours and friends when they moved out to Killiney when the children were small. This stood to them in the last few months. Angela was very passionate about social justice and wanted counselling and psychotherapy to be much more widely available. She felt that it was not accessible to people on low incomes. All the work she did in the last few years since she qualified reflected this value. She saw clients through Living Life Voluntary Counselling Service and Springboard, both of which offer counselling support to those on low incomes. She spoke passionately about her work with clients and put great emphasis on the relationship between the client and therapist. One of her favourite books was Relational Psychotherapy by Patricia deYoung with its emphasis on the relational approach. She read voraciously and described having psychotherapy books piled one on top of the other by her bed so she could dip into them whenever she wanted. She was also passionate about attachment theory and one of her bibles was The Search for the Secure Base: attachment theory and psychotherapy. In her varied work in Southside Partnership she was an integral part of a team that created a parenting programme which she saw as a great development. This 12-week programme is called ‘Infant Matters’ and it offers weekly sessions to support young parents with new babies. One major difference in this programme is the emphasis that it puts on the attachment relationship between the parent(s) and baby. Angela made a particularly strong contribution in this area.

Angela lived her whole life passionately, both professionally and personally. She loved music, singing, reading poetry and her psychotherapy books. She loved socializing and having friends over to share a meal together. Two weeks before she died she was given permission to leave the hospital for a few hours so that she could have a ‘singing’ party with a big gang of her women friends. She loved hill walking ‘except for the hills!’ as her husband Johnny said at her funeral, which was a sad yet wonderful celebration of a ‘life well lived’.

We will remember many things about Angela, especially her passion, honesty, courage, the beautiful colours she wore and her lovely strong laugh. We love you, Angela and we will miss you very much.

Odette Lawlor, Anthony Keane, Laura Murray, Andrew Connolly and Emily Johnson.

Oh the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.
They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on.
And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song.
Oh I hope you run into them, you who’ve been travelling so long.

From ‘Sisters of Mercy’, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), one of  Angela’s favourite musicians.