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Life and Work with Susan Hannifin-MacNab

Today we’d like to introduce you to Susan Hannifin-MacNab.

Susan, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I am a social worker, educator and community organizer who spent 25 years teaching and leading health and wellness workshops, classes, and support groups for children, youth and families across the Mainland USA, Hawaii, Canada, and Australia. I hold a Master’s degree in social work from San Diego State University, a Bachelor’s degree in education from Boston College, and credentials as a teacher and school social worker. My life was smooth sailing until the age of 41 when my bagpiper-surfer-professor husband was killed in a car accident.

Suddenly, I was a young widow and solo parent to our five-year-old son.

After my life took a devastating turn into the world of grief and trauma, I dove into the healing process to help my child. But in helping him, I was really helping myself. Three years after my husband’s death – all the while busy uncovering an alphabet’s worth of helpful healing tools and community resources in San Diego – I founded A2Z Healing Toolbox®, an organization which emphasizes healing with intention, education through action and post-traumatic growth and healing. Through A2Z Healing Toolbox®, I now provide national and international workshops for the bereaved, staff training and development for helping professionals, keynote speaking engagements, and award-winning grief and trauma healing guidebooks.

Ironically, my husband was the professor and writer – and now, I’m the one writing teaching and writing! I wrote a healing guidebook, “A to Z Healing Toolbox: A Practical Guide for Navigating Grief and Trauma with Intention” (2018) for everyone finding themselves drowning in the physical-emotional-psychological-behavioral-spiritual complexities that accompany the grief and trauma experience. There are 26 main chapters in the book (A= Animals, B= Breathwork, C=Counseling), each highlighting one proven, a practical technique that counters the negative effects of grief and trauma while assisting in increased healing of the mind, body, and spirit. The book contains a plethora of life-changing suggestions, powerful daily action steps, independent writing prompts, and inspirational stories from others who have experienced grief or trauma through a personal crisis, illness, or death. So far, the A2Z Healing Toolbox® book has won three independent publishing awards: 1) IPPY Bronze Award in Psychology and Mental Health 2) INDIE Finalist Award in Health and Wellness 3) American Book Fest BEST BOOK Award in Health: Psychology & Mental Health.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
My entire world flipped upside-down when my husband died. Grief and trauma left no stone unturned. It was ALL difficult – never easy – for a long, long time. I was forever altered emotionally, spiritually, physically, psychologically, intellectually, behaviorally, financially. Where there were once two parents to take on the tasks of childrearing; now there was one. Where there were once two professionals to take on the tasks of providing a family income; now there was one. Where there were once two adults to run a household – cooking, cleaning, paying the bills, doing the taxes, shuffling children, grocery shopping-; now, there was one. It was impossible to do everything myself.

So, I asked for help. I delegated responsibilities. I gathered a posse of people to assist me with everything- including starting a business and publishing a book. People came because they wanted to help. It seems that culturally, most Western countries believe that adults should be INdependent at all costs. But I completely threw that notion out the window when grief came barreling into my life. I remembered my years of living in Hawaii with my husband- families, friends, co-workers model INTERdependence. I integrated that notion into my life and it’s made all the difference.

For any woman starting her journey – whether it be a journey to heal her heart, a journey to rebuild her career, a journey to raise her child, a journey to step out of her comfort zone, a journey to write a book, a journey to start or business or organization or foundation – my advice would be to harness your own resiliency and surround yourself with other resilient, supportive people. Use your intellect to locate and research resources in your community. Invite IN all people and experiences that will help you. Push OUT all people and experiences that will deter you. Call in the experts- leaders, mentors, colleagues, supporters. Create something to help others who may someday follow in your footsteps. Ask for help – always and often- and accept the help – always and often!

So, as you know, we’re impressed with A2Z Healing Toolbox® – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
A2Z Healing Toolbox® is an organization that emphasizes healing with intention, education through action, and post-traumatic growth and healing. Through A2Z Healing Toolbox®, I now provide international workshops for the bereaved, national staff training and development for helping professionals, keynote speaking engagements, and award-winning grief and trauma healing guidebooks. Our culture has so much work to do in the way of helping people heal after a profound loss and life-changing experiences. I feel grateful that I am now able to provide some assistance as I walk with others on their journey of restoration, renewal, and rebuilding.

A2Z WORKSHOPS FOR THE BEREAVED: I work with both large and small groups of youth and adults who are learning to navigate life with grief and trauma. This includes at-risk teens, families with medical challenges, bereaved parents and young widows with children. Workshop participants are at various points in their healing process and individuals have an openness and willingness to try new or varied approaches to healing through action and intention. A2Z workshops are tailored to 60 minutes, 90 minutes, half-day or full-day sessions. Each interactive class engages participants and features teaching techniques that emphasize an entire alphabet’s worth of healing tools. The focus of each workshop is customized to meet the unique needs of the group. A2Z tools that may be included in each particular workshop are as follows:

Z = ZZZZZZs (Sleep)

A2Z PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT & TRAINING: I provide inspirational keynote addresses, conference presentations, and staff training for organizations and groups of professionals who work with grieving and/or traumatized individuals. Trainings have been provided for social workers, therapists, teachers, business groups, lay ministers, doctors, nurses, hospice interns, university staff, marriage, and family therapy students and non-profit foundations. My professional training as a social worker, educator and community organizer combined with my personal experience as a widow and mother to a grieving child give me a powerful perspective on grief, trauma, and the healing process. The topics I cover during training and presentations can be customized to meet the needs of the organization. Topics include:

A2Z Healing Toolbox: 26 Powerful Tools for Health Professionals
Solo Parenting: Tools for the Family Healing Journey
Post-Traumatic Growth: Tools for Learned Resiliency
Totally Terrific Tools for Kids: 26 Fun Ways to Heal
Grief to Growth: A Personal Story of Restoration and Renewal
Taming Trauma: How to Harness and Heal Trauma with Intention
Broken Yet Blooming: How to Bridge the Grief-Growth Gap
Eco-Map Your Life: A New Way to Navigate Social Change
The Right Brain: Creative Techniques to Heal Grief and Trauma

Who have you been inspired by?
My two grandmothers were very different from one another, yet each inspired me their own unique way.

My grandmother Mary grew up in New Mexico and then went to college at the age of 16. In the 1930s and 1940s, most women weren’t even thinking about higher education but my grandmother loved school and excelled in her studies. When I was a child, I remember sitting down with the family to play the board game Trivial Pursuit. My grandmother took only one turn – she answered every single question correctly, collected all of her pie pieces, and won the game! She was also a fabulous cook and extremely creative. She made beautiful pillows, wall hangings, and blankets from needlepoint patterns she envisioned by looking through an old wooden kaleidoscope. She was an intelligent woman who inspired me to keep growing, keep learning, keep expanding, keep challenging myself.

My French-Canadian grandmother Jeanette grew up in small-town Connecticut during the Great Depression. She was the eldest of ten children. After she graduated from 8th grade, she worked at home and in the community to help her parents earn money for the family. Eventually, my grandmother had five children, 13 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren of her own. She treated us all with love, compassion, and respect and made sure we valued the importance of both working hard and having fun. On hot summer nights, she would give us empty glass jars and send us out into her enormous backyard to catch fireflies. Afterwards, she would sneak us into the back kitchen pantry – away from our parents – to give us candy that was stored in her empty old dishwasher. She was a remarkable woman who inspired me to look for the love, look for the humor, and look for the positives in life.


  • A2Z Healing Toolbox books – $18.95
  • Workshops for the Bereaved- By Appointment
  • Professional Trainings- By Appointment
  • Keynote Speaking Engagements- By Appointment

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Robin Litrenta Photography, Michele Zousmer Photography, Hey Soul, Health Journeys

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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