On this episode of Leader of the Pack, Tom has a virtual sit-down conversation with Hannah Stonehouse Hudson, a motivational speaker, coach, and writer focused on grief and transforming people’s pain into purpose. Hannah shares with host Tom Sega about her firsthand experience with loss and becoming a young widow, her personal journey with cancer, how she has grown from grief, and how she has created a company where she helps consult and work with clients on healing, being resilient, and moving forward. Through her personal struggles, Hannah found a passion for helping those who have experienced loss, tragedy, grief, and difficult chapters that life so graciously hands out.
Background on Hannah Stonehouse Hudson
Hannah begins the conversation by stating that she was born in Ilinois but lived all over the world due to her father running a radio station, which she believes is how she got the “gift of gab.”. She stated that unlike most people who move a lot growing up, she absolutely loved being introduced to new cities, countries, and cultures and wouldn’t trade that for the world. At a young age, Hannah’s parents bought her a camera so she could document all the places she’d lived which sparked her love of photography. After high school, she and her family moved to Wisconsin where she attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and graduated with a degree in Central Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies. After a brief overview of Hannah’s background, she dives deeper into the story of her and her husband. During a trip to Bayfield, Wisconsin in 2004, Hannah had heard of a police officer that went by “Jimmy the Cop” and was told that she had to meet him. Hannah tells Tom that the minute she met him she knew that he was the one she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, and she did. A short month into dating, Hannah permanently moved to Bayfield and got a job as an insurance agent. After bonding over their shared love for fishing, Hannah bought Jim a boat that led to him starting a fishing guide service that she helped him run. They quickly realized that it was time for them to pursue their dreams, so Hannah quit being an insurance agent to become a full-time photographer and Jim quit being a police officer to become a fishing guide; both careers were extremely successful, and Jim even appeared on TV shows. Growing up, Hannah was always around dogs, and she wanted to start photographing dogs full-time but living in a town of only 300 people made it difficult. However, in 2012, Hudson photographed a friend of hers with his dog in Lake Superior and the picture went viral. Their lives completely changed at this point, and Hannah started travelling all around the country, achieving her dream of being a professional photographer.
Becoming a Young Widow
After a week-long shoot with BOSS Snowplows, Hannah returned home to spend some “long overdue” quality time with her husband. They went out to dinner that night and vowed to each other that they would spend more time together. The next morning – January 26, 2013 – Jim kissed Hannah goodbye as he left to take some of his clients out on Lake Superior to fish for lake trout. Hannah tells Tom that to this day she can still feel that kiss. While working on her computer and scheduling new shoots, she got a knock on her door from her downstairs neighbor who was also a police officer telling her that her husband had been in an accident. Hannah describes this encounter as an “out-of-body experience” and that it “didn’t feel real”. He goes on to tell her that Jim was driving a snowmobile to a new spot on the lake and his snowmobile plunged through the ice, trapping him in below-freezing water for 45 minutes. Once first responders pulled Jim out of the water, he was rushed to a hospital in Ashland where doctors did everything they could to resuscitate him, and all the Hannah remembers is begging them to stop because she knew her husband wouldn’t want extraordinary measures taken. He was taken by helicopters to a Duluth hospital to be officially pronounced dead. Hannah explained to Tom that there were over 50 people, both friends and family, in the waiting room to help comfort her but she was too overwhelmed to feel comforted. Hannah knew that day that she had entered a long-term relationship with grief, but instead of wallowing in it she used her husband’s tragic death as her inspiration for her consulting business, HSH Communications.
Turning Pain into Purpose / How Dealing with Cancer Inspired Her to do More
The lessons Hannah learned about resilience after her husband’s death came in handy once again because unfortunately, Hannah was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2020 where she had a lot of downtime. However, she tells Tom that during the plethora of downtime, she kept thinking to herself “how can I help people who think they’re stuck but only think that way because they’re paying attention to what other people are telling them?” This thought inspired her to create a business that helps people turn their pain into purpose. As a coach and writer, Hannah’s main focus on helping people through loss is on the parts of grief that people don’t necessarily talk about. She explains to Tom that there are many resources out there for the initial start of it – what to do when someone dies or how to help someone who has lost a loved one – but what they don’t talk about is the second or third year down the road where people want to find meaning in the tragedy that they’ve experienced, or when people feel like they’re not normal for still grieving years after the loss. Hannah felt a calling to give people resources to be able to be their best person after a tragedy. Tom asks Hannah how she’s able to keep herself in such a positive mindset after experiencing so much loss and tragedy in her life. She responds, “journaling or writing things out, and also acknowledging that grief really sucks and it’s exhausting to go through both mentally and physically”. She also explains that a lot of the chronic illness she has comes from PTSD and from grief. Throughout this podcast she also preaches finding grief groups through social media. She states that if things are administered in a correct way, they can be one of the most powerful sources for certain people to heal in a good and correct way. Tom also asks her what the biggest challenge has been of being a grief and resilience coach and she says, “finding people who are going through grief that struggle with bringing out their resilience but want to learn how to. A lot of the time I find people that are too stuck in their head and don’t think they’re strong enough to overcome grief and aren’t open to trying. But it’s a good thing I’m persistent in showing them that they can”. Hannah tells Tom that she is now officially cancer free and while running her business, HSH Communications, she also currently leads seminars on social media and grief, social media crisis communication, and how to move forward when tragedy strikes. She is also going to school to become an end-of-life Dula, which is someone who helps people transition to the other side.
It was such a pleasure to listen to Hannah Stonehouse Hudson share all her experiences and knowledge about grief and transforming pain into purpose. It was not only fascinating but inspiring to learn that everyone can be resilient in the face of tragedy. Thank you, Hannah, for sharing your story with us at Duluth Pack!