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My Starting Over Story: A Soap Making Hobby Became My Lifeline After Loss

Portrait of a founder collaged over an array of her bar soap products

Mental Health Awareness Month happens every May. While this is a reminder to pause and reflect on the importance of self care, mental health is a priority all year long. This series shines a spotlight on the issues that impact entrepreneurs every day—along with solutions and resources to help put your wellbeing first.


The year Trisha Trout turned 50, everything changed. It was 2008, and she and her husband had just built a new home, where they were living comfortably with their two teenage sons. That June, they received the news: Trisha’s husband was diagnosed with leukemia. 

Though the initial prognosis was good—the doctors expected he’d be able to manage it—the cancer became aggressive and he passed away that fall.

On top of Trisha’s grief, she was also faced with the financial realities of losing a spouse. As the breadwinner, her husband had been responsible for managing the finances of the household. Now, she was on her own. The economy was crashing, forcing the family to sell everything they had—including their home.

Trisha had never attended college, and aside from a few odd jobs outside the home, her work was raising the couple’s sons. As her kids grew older, Trisha began to feel restless. She bought a soap making kit and dove head first into her new hobby, occasionally selling at weekend farmers markets.

As Trisha realized that the life insurance payments would eventually run out, she doubled down on her hobby. What if soap making could be more than a creative distraction? What if it was a way for her and her sons to start over?

Now a grandmother, the owner of Prairie Sage Soap Co. lives a life of simple pleasures, afforded by the business she built by learning everything from scratch.

This is Trisha’s story, in her own words:

On Wednesday, October 29, 2008—our 31st wedding anniversary—my husband said he didn’t feel well enough to go out for dinner that evening. On Sunday morning, he passed away. 

Unfortunately, at the same time, the economy was crashing. As a result, I had to short-sale the house and sell furniture and vehicles. We had also purchased a five-plex apartment building about a month before his death, hoping for passive income. There was absolutely nothing passive about it.

It took four years to sell the building, all the while I was trying to learn how to become a landlord—a role I had never intended on taking on. My friends helped me rip up the disgusting carpets, take mountains of trash to the landfill, and clean caked-on grease off of stoves, cabinets, and floors. 

I remember many late nights alone in an apartment, painting and cleaning and crying while dealing with my grief. The building sucked away a large amount of my life insurance policy. I hadn’t paid a bill in my life—my husband handled all things financial. I spent many hours in his home office that winter, trying to negotiate with creditors and pay debts so I could have a clean slate. 

After eight months, I reached a decision: to survive I had to stop using my life insurance and let the chips fall where they may.

I was trying to deal with my own grief and was determined to rise from the ashes and make a life for myself and my two sons. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.

Up until that point I had “only” been a housewife and mom. I didn’t have an education beyond high school. There were a few times in our married life when we struggled and I had gladly worked odd jobs for a year or so just until things were better. I cleaned hotel rooms and office buildings and banks. I did data entry and worked in a gift shop. But by the time we had children, my husband had a job that supported us. 

By that time the children were in school, I was feeling rather unfulfilled and bored. By nature, I am a creative and artistic person. We had gone on a family vacation to San Diego and visited a herb farm with a soap shop on the property. I was instantly in love. I bought a big soap-making kit with a video that explained the whole process, and came home and made my first batch of soap. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. 

I started studying soap making and was making soap regularly. After I was quite adept at it, in 2001, I began selling it at the local farmers market on Saturdays. 

Bars of dark green handmade soap arranged on a wooden tray

The first few years after the loss of my husband in 2008 were a whirlwind of worry, grief, and stress. It was more work than I had ever done in the previous 50 years of my life combined. I basically went into survival mode. There’s nothing like the determination of a mom! I was trying to deal with my own grief and was determined to rise from the ashes and make a life for myself and my two sons. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.

In many ways, this business has become my best friend and therapist all rolled into one. Having a small business requires focus, which is just what a grieving person needs to carry on.

After three years of being absent from the farmers market I decided to go back again. Much to my surprise, my customers hadn’t forgotten me. They were there and they came in droves. My business was up and running again. My oldest son had taken web design in high school and then went to a tech school—a website was born! 

Having the focus of this business has been the thing that has kept me going through all the tears and lonely times. In many ways, this business has become my best friend and therapist all rolled into one. Having a small business requires focus, which is just what a grieving person needs to carry on. 

At 63 now, I’m the most grateful for the little things in life. I’m thankful for my little house, for small pleasures like feeding the birds and squirrels, and for the fact that I can afford to go to Starbucks almost every day! It’s my little getaway—start an audiobook and drive to get a good coffee and relax.

I’m also grateful for my customers. They know my story and they have shown their kindness in many ways. Oftentimes, I’m sitting at home alone in the evening when an email or social comment pops up and it’s a customer telling me that they received their order and they are so happy with it. They have no idea what it means to me.

Things can never go back to what they had been. But there’s really no other option than to make a new life and keep going.

The best part of running my business is just the knowledge that I’m able to support myself. I’m not wealthy, but I make enough to enjoy life and help others here and there. This gives me great satisfaction, considering I came from a lifelong background of being financially supported, first by a father and then a husband.

Years ago, when I first started this business, my husband was my biggest advocate. He told me that the sky’s the limit and I could do whatever I wanted because I had a built-in investor. He would have wanted this to succeed, and he would be so proud of me today. It makes me happy to think of that. 

Things can never go back to what they had been. But there’s really no other option than to make a new life and keep going.


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Feature image by Loren Blackman