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Meet Susan Hannifin-MacNab of A2Z Healing Toolbox in Carmel Mountain Ranch

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

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I am a social worker, educator, author, and community organizer who spent 20 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. Five years ago- at the age of 41- my bagsiper-surfer-professor husband was killed in a car accident and I suddenly became a widow, solo parent, and person living with profound loss. In an instant, my entire world spun off axis and sent me careening into an invisible pit of darkness and despair.

I was unable to move. I was unable to see. Not a thing in the world made sense anymore. One moment I had been living overseas with my preschool-aged child and international business professor husband. We were in transition, moving across the world to settle back in America. Our personal belongings were en route, on a container ship bobbing across the Pacific Ocean. The next moment Brent— husband, best friend, co-parent, athletic adventure buddy, travel partner, house chef, family comedian, devoted dad, creative artist, talented musician, brilliant young surfing professor—was . . . dead? Impossible. I sat ravaged, immobilized, and completely alone in that pit of darkness and despair for an eternity.

Eventually, I dove into the healing process in order to help our 5-year-old son. But in helping him, I was really helping myself. Three years after my husband’s death- all the while uncovering an alphabet’s worth of helpful healing tools and San Diego community resources- I founded A2Z Healing Toolbox, an organization which emphasizes healing with intention, education through action and post-traumatic growth and healing. I now provide A2Z Healing Toolbox trainings and workshops at conferences nationwide; speak at local universities, hospices, and hospitals on tools for practical grief and trauma healing; donate books to people and cities in crisis; and mentor individuals and families who are learning to live with profound loss.

My first book, A to Z Healing Toolbox: A Practical Guide for Navigating Grief and Trauma with Intention, was published in September 2017 and written as a guidebook for anyone finding themselves navigating 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, practical technique that counters the negative effects of grief and trauma while assisting in increased healing of the mind, body and spirit. Each chapter also 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 personal crisis, illness, or death.

The 26 A2Z Healing Tools are:

A = Animals
B = Breathwork
C = Counseling
D = Doing Your Homework
E = Energy Therapies
F = Flowers & Fragrance
G = Group Support
H = Higher Power Help
I = Imagery
J= Journaling
K = Knowing Your New Environment
L = Laughter
M = Meditation
N= Nutrition
O = Organizing Your Supports
P = Peer Mentors
Q = Quotes that Inspire Hope
R = Right – Brain Release
S = Sliding into Exercise
T = Touch
U = Utilizing Nature
V = Volunteering
W = Western & Eastern Medicine
X= eXamining Your Positives
Y = Your Self Care
Z = Zzzzzzs

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?

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 writing my book! And people came (and stayed) 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 late husband- families, friends, co-workers model INTERdependence. I integrated that notion into my life and it’s made all the difference.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about A2Z Healing Toolbox – what should we know?
A2Z Healing Toolbox is an organization which emphasizes healing grief and trauma with intention, education through action and post-traumatic growth and healing.

I provide A2Z Healing Toolbox trainings and workshops at conferences nationwide; speak at local universities, hospices, and hospitals about practical tools for grief and trauma healing; and mentor individuals and families who are learning to live with profound loss.

My book is also becoming a “go to” manual for those who are living with profound loss.

I am also involved with an amazing organization that provides peer support to the widowed community. For the last 5 years, Soaring Spirits International has provided a soft place for me to continuously fall and rise up again.  I fell down when my husband died suddenly; I rose up when a friend dragged me to Camp Widow West in San Diego.  Now I can say I have attended, volunteered and presented at 8 Camp Widows (Tampa, San Diego, Toronto).  I fell down when I realized I had no local community that understood my new life; I rose up when I realized I could create my own Soaring Spirits peer support system. Now I can say that 200+ members of the San Diego Soaring Spirits Regional Group have found their new home and we meet twice a month. I fell down when I realized my career wasn’t condusive to raising our son as a solo parent; I rose up when the Soaring Spirits community encouraged me to become an work-from-home author.  Now I can say I have published a book to help the widowed community heal:  A to Z Healing Toolbox: A Practical Guide for Navigating Grief and Trauma with Intention.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
There are SO many incredible people who have lifted, pulled, held, supported, encouraged, listened, boosted, nurtured, strengthened, inspired, motivated, and held my hand on this journey toward healing and getting this heart-based business off the ground . Many of these people are San Diego residents! Words cannot capture the profound gratitude I have for them all. They have changed my life for the better—emotionally, physically, socially, and spiritually. It does take a village! An enormous thank you . . . in order of the 26 A2Z Healing Tools:

A: To Nicole Andrews, dog trainer extraordinaire, for helping me locate and train the perfect animal for our new life.

B: To Hanna Kluner, HHP, for teaching me it was okay to breathe again, then showing me the way. To the biofeedback specialists at Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, for helping me realize I could actually have some control over my system again.

C: To Deborah Lapidus, PhD; Christie Turner, LCSW; and Sue Ann Edwards, LMFT, for your individual knowledge and dedicated teamwork that moved us from a place of horror and fear to a place of hope and health. To Cathirose Petrone, ND, for altering the new narrative of my life into one I could visualize. To Claire Bidwell Smith, LCPC and Thea Harvey, MFT, for giving me the Ojai opportunity to express grief within a nurturing community. To the extraordinary Gail Gerbie, LMFT, for your continued empathy, mirroring, and “bag of tricks” that have guided me toward the stable ground on which I now walk.

D: To post-traumatic growth researchers Steven Joseph, PhD; Lawrence Calhoun, PhD; Richard Tedeschi, PhD; and the PTG Research Group at University of North Carolina–Charlotte, for giving me a bright ray of hope to hold on to in the darkness.

E: To Jean Haner, for introducing me to the concept of small, positive energetic shifts. To Reiki Master Teachers Serena Poisson, Shirley Williams, and Chris Chaplin, for your ability to shift, integrate, and balance.

F: To Brent and Jacob MacNab, the remarkable father-son duo who brought scent healing (and a million other good things!) into my life.

G: To Joe Pirrello, LMFT, and the interns at San Diego Hospice, for graciously supporting my rst grief group experience. To John James and Russell Friedman of the Grief Recovery Institute, for adding some much-needed structure to my grief experience. To Mary Lee Moser, Ann Gonzales, and Maya Naik, for holding me up with the support, love, and community I so desperately needed. To Chris and Trish Lovato, for giving me your grace, compassion, and friendship when I had nothing to give back.To the San Diego Regional Group of Soaring Spirits International, for becoming supportive family members on this wild journey.

H: To Jerry Sittser, PhD, for being my first life-line to grief, trauma, God, and healing. To the pastors and members of Penasquitos Lutheran Church in 2012, for bringing immediate prayer (and meals) to our shattered life. To the priests and prayer warriors at St. Therese Catholic Church, for providing an inexplicable healing mass. To Reverend Kerry Maloney, for marrying us “till death do us part,” then enlisting prayers from Harvard Divinity School when death arrived too soon. To Father Jim Poulson, for inviting God back into the room during discussions on human suffering. To Rabbi Harold Kushner, for helping me understand my suffering experience through the eyes of your su ering experience. To Bob and Vernagene MacNab, for sending bountiful prayers in our direction, even though your own world had crumbled. To Marni Scofield, for consistently scooping me up with compassion, love, and prayer amidst the anger. To Suzanne Rollow, for your intuitive consultations that brought understanding. To Antoinette Spurrier, for your incredible vibrational gift that changed my life forever.To Fleur,for your compassionate and accurate mediumship that has given me peace and understanding. To Pastor Joel Osteen, for providing a daily dose of encouragement, hope, and sunlight through despair. To all of you who silently prayed for us, for keeping the prayers coming even years later.

I: To Belleruth Naparstek, LCSW, for providing simple, safe, stable imagery-based tools I use anywhere and everywhere.

J: To Maureen Levangie, for jumping off that train with me and encouraging me to write it all down.

K: To San Diego State University’s School of Social Work, for introducing me to the many tools and resources I needed to heal my own life.

L: To Evelyn Lafferty, for providing endless opportunities for us to laugh through the pain. To Steve Islava, for creating Laffy Laffalot and bringing us back to life. To Jim Gaffigan, Brian Regan, and Sinbad, for comedy sketches so funny I couldn’t help but laugh through the tears. To the talented actors from Seinfeld and Big Bang Theory, for being perfect companions in the dark. To Justin Heimberg and David Gomberg, for writing the absurdly funny books my son can’t seem to put down. To Kelley Lynn, for making young widowhood a comedic journey—who knew?

M: To Jon Kabat-Zinn, Pema Chodron, Brené Brown, and Karen Sothers, for opening my mind and heart to the gentle teachings of compassion, ease, and empathy.

N: To Mom, for being my first “health and wellness” coach, teacher, and nutritionist. To Heather Holter, for consistently mailing restaurant gift cards even when you needed them yourself. To Christine Bearden, for knowing we needed that enormous cooler of Omaha Steaks. To Amy VanLiew and Andrew Jacobs, for reminding me that nutrition is important, food is medicine, and that sometimes it helps to just put down the fork.

O: To Jennifer McCartle, for saying those perfect words as a Stephens Minister and becoming my first true BE-er. To Brian and Denise Fogarty, Steve and Patrick Hannifin, Great Auntie Janie, Honor Hannifin, Marco Alessio, Shannon and Teri Oakley, Christine Youngs, Tom Nishioka, Mike Mathieu, Shannon Cary, Adam Cooke, Bill Dean, Anne Marie Vorbach, Elizabeth Furnari, and Stephanie Allen Knox, for showing up (or waiting patiently on the shelf ) for the BE-ing and DO-ing of it all.

P: To Robin Litrenta, Kathy Thompson, Lisa Dean, and Joe Qualls, for suddenly appearing in my life as unofficial peer mentors and then staying by my side as lifelong friends. To Adele Buffington, Lynn Aguilera, Elaine Wilson, and Christina Rasmussen, for reaching out through common ground to show me stable ground. To Michele Ne Hernandez, Kath McCormack, Dianne West, Rachel Kodanaz and
the entire inspirational community of Soaring Spirits International, for providing a soft place for me to continuously fall and get back up again.

Q: To Louise Hay, for providing a reason and system to love myself back into wholeness.

R: To Gail Gerbie, LMFT, for providing a plethora of right-brained creative options to help heal my traumatized self.

S: To Tori Brillantes, for training my physical body and emotional mind back into healthy existence. To both “old life” and “new life” girlfriends, for letting me drag you up mountains and across beaches.

T: To Kathleen McCabe, for listening, supporting, and massaging out all of my rough and tender edges.

U: To Dad, for being my first camping, hiking, fishing, exploring, and traveling teacher.

V: To Boston College Campus Ministry, Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest, Polinsky Children’s Center, Casey Family Programs, Build a Miracle, Love on a Leash, Shoal Creek Elementary School, and Miracle League of San Diego for embracing me within the healing world of volunteerism.

W: To Valerie Doyle, for introducing me to acupuncture, wisdom, and wellness. To Dr. David Leopold, for gathering your resources at Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine to weave together a comprehensive plan for my healing. To Dr. Kevin Pansky and the staff at ASIS Physical Therapy, for putting my broken body back together again. To Dr. Doug Roche, for believing my back would feel better and then continuously making it happen.

X: To Suzan Clausen, for showing me that gratitude can be a powerful place to start, both at the beginning and at the end. To Dr. Rick Hanson and Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, for giving me weekly reasons and research for which to be grateful. To Dr. Brian King and the Institute for Brain Potential, for filling me in on the importance of gratitude. To the Dalai Lama, who is gratitude embodied.

Y: To everyone who encouraged me to take care of myself, for giving me permission to do so.

Z: To my Big Brother Pat Hannifin, for being my first role model and biggest sleep cheerleader.


  • Books~ “A2Z Healing Toolbox: A Practical Guide for Navigating Grief and Trauma with Intention” ~ $18.95
  • Speaking, Training, Conferenece & Workshops ~ Contact A2Z for Details
  • Peer Mentoring ~ Contact A2Z for Details

Contact Info:

  • Address: San Diego, CA 92128
  • Website:
  • Phone: (858) 354-0114
  • Email:
  • Facebook: A2Z Healing Toolbox

Image Credit:
Robin Litrenta
Jessica Lindberg
Terry White

1 Comment

  1. Cathirose Petrone

    March 15, 2018 at 6:30 pm

    Susan is a shining light <3

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