Losing a life partner can be a very difficult and lonely experience. You lose every bit of hope because a future without them is unimaginable. But life moves forward, and with it, we learn how to cope. More than that, this episode’s guest is letting others in on her own experience so they can find inspiration to start living life again, healthy and happy. Sammie Hawkins joins Tina Fornwald to take us on her journey on how she seeks the path to becoming a healthy and happy widow. She explains the impact of the life-changing event that happened to her life, losing her spouse, and how she managed to face it. Sammie’s experience led her to share hope with people traversing the path of grief and loss. Take this moment with Sammie to find the light in the dark we are dealing with because the future is brighter when we learn to move forward.
Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach. I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.
Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
The Journey To Living As A Healthy And Happy Widow With Sammie Hawkins
In this episode, our guest is Ms. Sammie Hawkins from the UK. She has stayed up late to have this conversation because she knows how important it is. I am looking forward and Sammie is too to hearing your feedback. Connect with her on TikTok. She will share that. We will get right into this conversation. Welcome, Sammie.
Tina, thanks for inviting me.
Thank you for saying yes. Sammie, how are you doing?
Not too bad. We are in the middle of a heat wave in the UK so that’s been quite a challenge because we don’t have air-conditioning here so it’s quite warm. We do in some places so in our cars and restaurants but not in our houses. If I’m looking a bit pink, it’s because it’s 90 degrees.
Is it 90 degrees at 10:00 PM?
Probably not outside but in my house probably.
I wanted to make sure we brought that up because I want them to know how committed you were to this conversation. You did not let that stop you. You are over there looking flawless and happy. I want them to appreciate your commitment to this conversation. That’s why I wanted to make sure to say that. Thank you.
I wouldn’t have missed it.
How long have you been in the UK? Are you born and raised there? Where other places have you lived?
Just in different parts of the UK.
Where in the UK do you live?
I live in the midlands I suppose it would be called. It’s in the middle part of the country. I’m quite close to Oxford and Cambridge. If you follow the Formula One Grand Prix, I’m extremely close to the Silverstone racing circuit. We have the Mercedes team in our town. Lewis Hamilton’s team is based in our town so lots of people in our town work for Mercedes. I have mostly lived around this area for most of my life.
What places have you traveled to in the world?
I traveled a lot to the States. I have a timeshare at Disney World so I’m a bit of a Disney freak. I love the whole positivity and ethos of Disney. It is my happy place. I have been there lots of times. I traveled to lots of other places in the States as well and also to Thailand and lots of places in Europe. There are so many places that I can’t even remember. Thailand is probably the most exotic place I have been to. I loved Thailand. It was a very big place.
Interestingly, you mentioned Disney World. I went to Disney World with my mom and my sister. It’s a happy place. We went to another amusement park and it seemed that people were not as happy and jovial as they were at Disney in other different places. It’s a big thing about it being the happiest place on earth but I’m starting to believe it in comparison to other people. I’m going to start taking note of that. I do know a lot of people who like to travel to Disney. It’s interesting to be in the UK and have a timeshare to go to Disney World. That’s a serious commitment right there to the happiest place.
My son has probably been eighteen times there. That’s the joy of being part of the Disney Vacation Club where we can go whenever we want. It makes it much more affordable to go.
You have intrigued me. What is part of the Disney Vacation Club?
It’s a Disney timeshare so you buy into it. We bought into it at a time when the pound was very strong against the dollar. We got a bit of a bargain. You get to go to Disney every year for years if you want to. We love it. That was one of the best things I got out of my divorce, which will probably come up later. In my first marriage, I got to keep the Disney timeshare. That was a great thing.
Before getting married, what was your life look like? We will get into the first marriage to your late husband.
I had a very happy childhood. I went to a convent school, which I loved even though I’m not Catholic. I went on to a boarding school for the last few years. We did what we call A levels. I’m not quite sure what the equivalent is in the USA. I went to York University, which was amazing. I did a degree in linguistics there. I left and worked in London after that.
I started in retail management and ended up in recruitment. I was an artist’s agent for some time as well where we were looking after celebrities and their work. That was an amazingly fun job in my twenties in London. You can imagine. It was fabulous. I met my first husband who was a very nice man called Richard. We were married in 1996 so I was 29. I’m at that age where you have to work out how old you are.
Sometimes I tell Tom about our dates. When my late husband passed, that became a line of demarcation. Was it before that or after that?
It’s such a big marker. Life is never the same afterward. I married him. We had one child, Theo. I got divorced from him in 2010. I don’t have a lot to do with him but we are still on good terms. It wasn’t an amazingly happy marriage. We drifted apart. I was devastated when it ended but I also felt this was an opportunity for me to find somebody who is truly my soulmate. In 2015, I met Graham, who genuinely was the most incredible man I have ever met.
We had that relationship where I couldn’t understand why he was with me. I’d say, “You could have anybody. You are so amazing.” He’d say, “You are joking. You could have anybody. Why would you be with me?” That’s why it worked. I genuinely couldn’t see what he saw in me and he genuinely couldn’t see what I saw in him.
We had this extraordinary magic between us that I had never experienced before in my life. I was pretty smug. I was like, “Look at this. I have met this incredible man.” We had the most wonderful life together when we traveled. He loved Disney too. We’d go there. We went to other places too. We went to Austria, Switzerland, and lots of places in Europe. We had a great life together.
We got married in 2017 so quite quickly. When you have met somebody, you just know. We’d both felt like we’d fixed each other. I came to him a little bit broken from my previous marriage and he was very damaged from his previous marriage. Together, we fitted and completed each other I suppose. I felt smug. I won the lottery and everybody knew it. Everybody who saw us was like, “You two are amazing together.” I suppose also because by that time, I was in my late 40s. He has three boys. Our children were grown up so we were leading this single life again.
It’s the pressures of raising children and the dynamics of all of that. I would dare say that you were not that 26-year-old girl that met Richard. You were a more mature woman. What you needed in that portion of your life is different than what you needed when you met Richard.
It was wonderful.
Tell me about some days with Graham. What did that look like between you two courting?
When I first met him, I had a big pink cupcake van and I used to go around. I used to bake cupcakes all week. A lot of the weekends, we’d spend out on the cupcake van. He was hilarious on it. He loved being in this pink van driving along. He was great at selling cupcakes. People would come for 1 and he’d get them to buy 12. I’d say, “How did you do that?” It was great but he also worked away a lot. He was a management consultant. He traveled all over the world on different projects. He’d often be away for 1 week or 2 weeks and come home. It got to the point where he’d come in the house and there’d be 500 cupcakes in the kitchen.
I suppose you are tired of making those cupcakes.
I made about 15,000 cupcakes a year. It was a lot of cupcakes.
Did you have a favorite flavor in all those cupcakes?
I don’t think I had a peanut butter cupcake. That sounds tasty.
It was good. That was a very popular one. He’d come home from being away and there’d be cupcakes everywhere. We’d be out on the van at the weekend. Somebody made me an offer for the business, which I decided to take and I thought, “I’m going to concentrate on spending time with my husband,” and that’s what we did. He was away a lot as well. It was always so fresh when he used to come back. This was always lovely to see him but our happy place was always very much Disney. We loved spending time. I sound a bit weird with all the Disney thing, don’t I?
Why would it sound weird? There are so many people who spend time trying to find a place where they will be happy. You are fortunate enough to find someone to make you happy and also find a place where you enjoy being together. For you to be able to bring your son with Graham, and that to be a seamless process, that’s something to be grateful for. I wouldn’t say it’s weird. It’s pretty cool.
We had so many happy times with Theo as a child. It’s a place where if you are prepared to look further than the surface, you can find the magic and I love that about it. I remember a day when my son came to me. We’d watched the fireworks and he must have been about seven. He came to me with tears in his eyes and he said, “I don’t feel sad but I want to cry.” I thought, “You have it. You understand what it is that I love about this place.” That made me happy.Disney is a place where if you're prepared to look further than the surface, you can find magic. Click To Tweet
I know what the fireworks are but I want to make sure everyone else how that happens in Disney. Can you share a little bit about that?
Every night they have fireworks. I’m sure you have great fireworks in other places in the US but in the UK, that’s nothing like it. Every firework is perfectly timed to the music. They even have heart-shaped fireworks or smiley-face fireworks. Tinkerbell flies out of the top of the castle and they have projections on the front of the castle, which tells stories. The music is always very evocative and beautiful and things that you are familiar with if you know Disney songs. They are very beautiful.
You nailed it because it is. It’s not like something I have ever seen before. We were there in the Magic Kingdom. It’s the way they changed the scenery with the lights and Tinkerbell coming out. In each of the different parks, the fireworks are different. It’s a theme to that park. It is something to see. You are so right. You and Graham have this wonderful dating experience. How did you get to, “Let’s Get Married?” What did that look like?
He proposed at Disney World. He proposed at Epcot. I couldn’t believe he hadn’t proposed in front of the castle at the fireworks the night before because I knew he was going to. Almost as soon as we met, it was almost like we were getting married. We knew that we were going to be together forever. He’d been out by himself shopping a week or so before we went to Disney. I thought, “I know he is going to propose.” He was being vague about it. By the end of the holiday when he hadn’t proposed, it was coming up to the end. I was getting a bit anxious. I was thinking, “Maybe he’s not going to do it.”
One day, he tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and he was on one knee in the middle of Epcot with people shouting around us. He and Theo had a special word with a camera. It was very sweet. I’d booked him to go into a diving experience at Epcot that day. He loved scuba diving. In Epcot, they have a massive aquarium and you can dive in there. You can pay to have a diving experience there. That was the day that he was doing that. Directly after he proposed, he got into a tank full of sharks.
I’m going to say that. That’s right about time. Were you nervous? Are you thinking, “Maybe I don’t want him to do this?” Any second thoughts or you are like, “No, he’s in there now?”
I was a bit like, “Not today,” but they are very well fed the sharks at Disney World so they weren’t interested. They are only little ones anyway.
Was he in a cage or out with the sharks?
They are small ones. I don’t know. They don’t associate humans with food. He was quite safe there. There are lots of fish things in there as well.
He wasn’t bleeding so there wasn’t a draw.
He seemed to be fine.
What did it look like from the proposal to the wedding?
I got into full wedding mode. I loved it because I had an opportunity to get married again. When I got married the first time, it was very much me organizing it with my mother. I had very similar tastes to my mother. I was her only daughter so I wanted it to be her special day. When I got the chance to do my thing, I did my thing.
It was very beautiful and elegant in a lovely hotel that’s about half an hour away from here, where Queen Elizabeth I had stayed there and Henry VIII had visited there many times. It was a beautiful space. We got married on the 30th of November. We had a winter wedding, which was wonderful. It snowed on our wedding day a tiny little bit. It was quite small. There were only about 60 people there. It was wonderful to have that opportunity to do it again but do it the way that I wanted to do it and wear what I wanted to wear.
You change a lot in the time. How long ago was it since I first married? Things have changed, haven’t they? It was all still quite old fashioned in 1996 and everything was very different this time. We had a great time and then we went on our honeymoon. We went to Disneyland. We went to the other side. We went to Hawaii but we stopped off in LA on the way through. We spent three nights at Disneyland using my timeshare again. We went to Hawaii for a week and then stopped off in San Francisco on the way home. It was an amazing honeymoon.
How’d you like Hawaii?
I loved Hawaii but the time difference is so great. It’s either 10 or 12 hours by the time you get to Hawaii. I couldn’t stay awake past 8:00. It was ridiculous.
I feel like that coming from the ethos. It’s a lot. You need time to adjust.
We could have done with two weeks there but I loved it. I’m big into sunsets and the sunsets at night, even in December were wonderful. It was December so everything was all Christmassy. I didn’t think you could get too Christmassy until I spent three days at Disneyland. Before Christmas, I thought, “I’m Christmas out. I have had enough Christmas.” It’s quite nice to get to Hawaii and it was amazing. I loved San Francisco as well. We did lots of those great things like Alcatraz.
What are some of your favorite memories of Graham?
His kindness. He was the kindest, most patient, and wonderful man. What I loved about him the most was he had a great job. He was very good at what he did and very well respected. They created an award in his name at work. He was so respected in his company, which I found emotional. When you lose somebody, the thing that you want is for that person to be remembered. Knowing that he will be remembered every year and somebody will be given the Graham Hawkins Award warmed me and broke my heart at the same time. I do feel sad that he didn’t get to achieve the things that he wanted to in his work but that he’s remembered is a wonderful thing.When you lose somebody, you want that person to be remembered. Click To Tweet
He always had a sense of fun about him. He always had something a little bit outrageous that he’d say, “I have had a great idea.” I’d say, “Go on. Tell me.” He loved Land Rovers. He had 4 at 1 time. He said, “I’m thinking we can go to Morocco and cross Morocco in the Land Rover. We can sleep in the back of it. I can set up this makeshift shower. I have looked at it online and I reckon I can do that. It will be brilliant.” I’m like, “Your Land Rover has no air-conditioning. I’m not sleeping in the back of all this whilst there are five-star hotels in the world. I’m not doing it.” He’d be like, “Maybe it will be fun.” I’d be like, “It will,” but there was always something.
His best days were when he’d rolled his Land Rover in a very large muddy puddle. He loved that. He was ex-Army. He was always a bit of an action man but cried at Disney movies. He was such a lovely strange combination. It didn’t matter how long I’d known him. Every day, he’d tell me something and I’d say, “How do I not know that about you?” He will say, “I read tarot cards.” I was like, “You know how to read tarot cards?” He said, “Yeah. I did a course. I have done hot yoga or a Pilates class. I will cycle from London to Brighton.”
There was always a surprise and it was always done with the best humor. That was what we did for each other. I don’t think he was like that in his previous marriage at all. I have heard his children refer to him as Mr. Grumpy, whereas you couldn’t be further from the truth. He was not at all grumpy with me. He was this lively, fun, and charismatic man who everybody loved.
It is something that different people bring out different things in us. I could see that going back to how you were not the same woman that you were before from life experiences. I’m sure when we have had a relationship and we have something we enjoy so much, we value that, treasure it, and can appreciate it. Maybe some things that would have been spent in a previous relationship, it’s like, “It’s not even worth talking about. It’s so small in comparison to the big things that are going on.” How was the blended family? Graham has children and you have children. How did you guys work through that and being together?
Our children are not dissimilar in age. His youngest is a few months older than my son. The middle one was away at university. The older one was quite settled with his girlfriend and they then went on to have a baby. It was fine. They all got on and did their thing. We had this amazing, wonderful time, and quite selfish time together I suppose. It wasn’t long after that that we went into lockdown where it was the two of us.
What happened with COVID for you?
It was great. We loved it, which is awful because for so many people, it was hard but he was home every day. It was the only time that he’s been home the whole time. I got to spend 24 hours a day with him 7 days a week and I loved it. He loved it. He was furloughed. You used the same expression in the US furloughed.
He was furloughed for about two months, although he was still working for the company at that point, and then he went on another project and was working from home. He worked there with our cats surrounded by him. Our wallpaper became quite famous in his office. We started doing some fun things together. He was the head of a charity committee for his company.
We used to do these big quizzes online with his company, which were a great hit and they have continued to do them. He was the quiz master and I was the assistant. They were brilliant fun. We all found a different way of living, didn’t we? From a selfish point of view, I loved being with that man 24 hours a day. I felt blessed that we had that year together, 2020 into 2021. Funnily enough, on the 14th of February in ‘21, we both sent each other Valentine’s cards that said, “This has been the best year of our lives,” which was amazing because only a week after that he died.
How did he die?
He was a very fit man so he loved walking and hiking. He particularly loved cycling. He didn’t run because he said he had bad knees. He loved cycling so he did a lot of cycling. He would go out for 30 to 40-mile bike rides regularly. He hadn’t been out at all in the winter and this was the 20th of February in 2021. We had a turbo trainer in the garage. He’d been out on that through the winter.
On the 20th of February ‘21, he decided he was going to go out on his bike on a proper bike ride because he had an outdoor proper cycling event the next week that he was going to do with my neighbor, which was about 30 miles, 40 miles, or something like that. He thought, “I probably should go out, cycle on the road, and check the bike out properly.” He went out cycled 20 miles in good time and had some heart incident. He instantaneously died.
I am so sorry. How were you informed about what happened to Graham?
He always used to tag me in an app called Strava where you can see where people are. If they go out exercising, you can see where they are. It tracks their journey. I always used to know where he was. I keep an eye on it. The last text he sent me was, “This is my Strava thing.” He said he’d be between 2 and 2.5 hours. I checked for about two hours. I thought, “I will check where he is.” I checked so I could see where he was and he was still cycling.
The phone rang and it was my son. I had a little conversation with my son and then I thought, “I will check where he is now because he should be coming back through the door.” I could see that he’d stopped but he hadn’t just stopped. I could see he was walking around in circles. He was not cycling anymore. I thought, “What was he doing?” I didn’t think there was anything strange about it. I thought, “That’s a bit odd.”
I thought I better phone him because maybe he’s got a cramp and he needs me to go and collect him. I need to check he’s okay. I phoned and immediately the phone was answered by a woman who said, “Who is this, please?” I thought, “Who are you?” She said, “Who is this, please?” I said, “Graham’s wife.” It was quite outrageous. She said, “I’m a paramedic. I’m with your husband. I need to ask you some questions.” They got there.
I feel like I almost had a bit of a premonition about it. I wouldn’t have normally checked it at that point. It was a coincidence. It was five minutes after the ambulance had arrived there. The ambulance got there very quickly but there wasn’t anything. They tried their best but there was nothing that anybody could do for him.
Were you hearing this all on the phone as this was going on?
I realized that what she was doing was a fact-finding mission. She said my name then came up on the phone. She had his surname. She also had his first name because he didn’t have any of that stuff on his phone. She said, “Graham’s name is Hawkins.” She asked his date of birth and asked if he had any health conditions that were concerning.
It was a slow realization for me. She said, “We are worried about him,” but that’s all they said. Eventually, after she told me a few times that they were worried about him, I said, “I get the feeling you are not telling me the whole story.” She took a deep breath and said, “I wasn’t going to say anything. We are still worried about your husband but he is unresponsive. Do you know what that means?” I thought that meant he’d fainted.
Even at that point, I was thinking, “He will be fine. He’s fallen off his bike.” She said, “What’s your address?” They sent a police car to come and get me. He was about 4 or 5 miles from home. It was not far. They sent a police car to come and get me. I spoke to the air ambulance paramedic as I got into the police car and he said, “We may have stopped working on him by the time you get here.”
I realized that they wanted to know how long it was going to be so they could stop because they don’t want the family necessarily to come into anybody who’s experienced somebody trying to be resuscitated in that way. It’s not easy to watch. I realized they were trying to find out how long it would be before I got there so that they could have stopped at that point. It was during that short police ride, which we did with the sirens going. The police officer who was in the passenger seat turned around and told me that he died.
Was anyone with you? Was your son there?
No. I was by myself. My stepfather didn’t live that far away so I phoned him when I got into the police car and he met me at the scene. It was nice to have somebody else there but we were in the middle of COVID at the time. Everybody is wearing masks. You are not seeing people’s faces. It was a very strange time. I remember a complete stillness around that time.
It’s quite common. People are different but I have spoken to other people who say the same. That entire process plays in a loop around and around. It’s a never-ending loop that doesn’t ever quite go away. It goes a bit further into the distance but it’s something that constantly plays in my mind. I don’t know what my mind is doing. It’s looking for maybe a different ending. I don’t know but there was a stillness about it. I remember stepping out of the police car and everybody stopped.
It seemed like everything was a slow motion.
The place was silent and they all looked at me. I thought, “This is strange.” The senior paramedic who was the air ambulance guy came over and put his arms around me. I never saw his face. I’d love to see his face now because that man was extraordinary at the time and said to me, “Your husband has passed away.” I said, “I know.” He explained what they’d done. They tried their best. He said, “Do you want to see him?” I thought, “I don’t know if I do.” He said, “Look, there’s not a mark on him. He doesn’t look like your husband.”
At that point, I’d never seen anybody who’d passed away. I don’t think that necessarily was the final memory I wanted of him in fairness but I felt like I owed it to him. They’d put him into the ambulance at that point. He said, “I will walk with you. Anytime that you don’t want to go any further, then you don’t have to. There’s no right or wrong here but I will be with you every step of the way.” He gave me so much comfort.
I did go to the ambulance and walked into the ambulance. I took a look at Graham’s face and it didn’t look like him. I knew he wasn’t there. That wasn’t him any longer. I gave him a little kiss on his leg, which was as far as I went. I told him I loved him. I still feel a bit guilty about that but I couldn’t look him in the face because he looked so awful. I didn’t want that vision but I do have it still. I didn’t want it any closer than I’d already seen, unfortunately.
It is very tough. That part is almost the easy part because it’s the bits after it, which are the hardest when you begin to realize they are not coming home and the repercussions of all of those things. Those are the devastating bits. I get flashbacks about that the whole time. It’s been for a long while. I got a kick in the heart and I’m like, “My husband is dead. How is my husband dead?” My brain knows that but there is a part of me that doesn’t want to accept it. It’s hard. Maybe you think they are going to come home still.
Thank you for sharing that. There’s a price to be paid to share that level of pain. I appreciate you sharing that. If we can circle back a little bit, there were a couple of things you said that I wanted to unpack a little bit. You talked about how still it was and how quiet and slow everything was. I don’t think many people realize that it’s almost like time stops when something like that happens. You talked about also playing that loop over and over again.
I remember when I moved from where we raised our children to where I live now when I would drive to work. That loop would start playing that last day when everything happened. It was like somebody put in the videotape and it went and I could not stop it from playing. I don’t know if that was my mind trying to give me the reality that this has happened or emotion but it is something I hear people experience a lot.
I have not experienced it at any other time but it’s brutal. I don’t think I cried at the time. This was so great and I cried a lot.
How did you get from the love of your life passing to starting to talk about your journey?
I’m quite an open person. I started using my Facebook page initially as an outlet. It’s almost like a diary of my grief in a certain way. A lot of my friends and people that I know locally were incredibly shocked by his very sudden death and had an awful lot of support. It organically grew but I didn’t want to use my page. I felt like my friends were going to start getting bored of my grief. You and I know that the grief doesn’t go away. It stays with you. I’m an open person and I feel better talking about things so I wanted to write about him all the time but I realized that other people might not have the same appetite for it.
I started to use my Instagram page a bit more. I have various businesses that I have. I’m messy on my Instagram page and there wasn’t much traction there. I connected with quite a few amazing widows. I have an online help and wellness business or eCommerce business. Suddenly, I had all these widows as well on my page. That was quite unusual. TikTok was a bit of a surprise for me. I posted on the second anniversary of Graham’s death. In February 2023, I posted a video I’d made of him on the anniversary of his death. It is heartbreaking but I had of him cycling away from the house on the day that he died.
I downloaded that quickly off our camera because I wanted to see those last moments and I’d watched it hundreds of times. I’d posted it on my Facebook page and a lot of people found it quite moving. I made a reel that went on Instagram on the first anniversary of his death, which was quite positive. It was sad because it showed him cycling away but then it had lots of photos of us. You just don’t know what’s going to happen in your life. You need to love fiercely and live life to the fullest. I can’t even remember what it said, to be honest, even though it’s done quite well.
It was quite positive. It was like, “Don’t take it for granted. This was my husband cycling away. He never made it home. Be grateful and love fiercely.” I posted that on my Instagram page and didn’t do anything. On the second anniversary, I thought, “I’m going to see it on TikTok.” I didn’t use TikTok at all. I had about six followers. That’s not an exaggeration.
I got about six views with any video that I put on there. People said, “TikTok is great.” I thought, “No, it doesn’t do anything for me.” Nobody watches my videos but, on a whim, I decided to lift it off Instagram and put it onto TikTok. I went back on about half an hour later and it said it had three views. I thought, “That’s ridiculous. I hate TikTok.” I thought that’s stupid.
I didn’t have any notifications on my phone about TikTok. Back on about five hours later, I looked at it and it said 528. I thought, “I have had 528 views.” I looked again and it was 528,000 views. I thought, “I hadn’t considered this was going to happen.” I was like, “I’m not sure I want 528,000 people to watch this video.” It snowballed.
That weekend, it had over two million views. I understand. People start contacting you and then that’s how it grows. They want to know the story and more about you. I thought this was a little gift. I felt particularly because it was over the anniversary of his death. I felt somebody was giving me a little sign that maybe this was something that I should pursue in some way.
You are like, “What do I want to achieve out of this page?” It’s all very well having a very sad video that lots of people find upsetting, I suppose but also inspiring. Lots of people said, “I will hug my husband tighter tonight and I won’t take him for granted,” and all of those things so you feel like you are doing some good in the world.
I thought, “What do I want this page to achieve?” Ultimately, I didn’t want it to be just about sadness because I have done quite a lot in my life over the last couple of years. It’s not easy to get on with your life as you well know. You have to make a decision about what you want to do and what your husband’s legacy will be. I did not want his legacy to be my extreme sadness. He may be the happiest person in life.
Do I feel like my life is slightly ruined? I do. Do I feel I will ever get over him? I will never get over losing my husband but I’m still here and I feel like I’m here for a reason. If only I can inspire people and help them understand that you can find another life. It’s not the life necessarily that we all thought we were going to have. If you can pivot and find a life that is acceptable for you, find some purpose and a reason to get out of bed every day. Start living your life again. That has to be a good thing.
That’s how I try and run my page showing enough positivity to give people hope. That’s what we all need in these situations. You lose every bit of hope. Your entire future disappears in a second when you lose your spouse. In a way, people who haven’t lost a partner have no concept of how all-encompassing it is to lose a spouse. It changes everything.
I wanted to inspire people but also have enough on there that people could still relate to. I don’t know whether I’m getting it right or not but that’s the idea of my page. I’m trying to bring in a lot more positive elements. I don’t want people to think I’m sad the whole time. My insides were sad the whole time but my outsides weren’t sad the whole time.
Do you know what a stick of rock is? We have a candy in the UK that you buy at the seaside, which is a long and hard candy. Inside it has words printed and it’s a stripe on the outside. You get it at the seaside. I feel like a stick of rock that if you were to cut me in half, it would say sad but the outside looks happy. You feel sad on the inside but you have to find a way of moving forward.
You have a choice. How do I want to do this? Do I want to be miserable? Do I want that to be his legacy? I don’t. I have to find a way of being positive and grateful for the time that we did have. I can’t change the past. None of us can change the past. We can only change how we are going to move forward. We don’t move on. We just move forward I feel.
Thank you. There are a couple of things I want if you could talk about a little bit more. This is how I want to phrase it. If someone is a new widow or widower and they are apprehensive about talking and sharing, how would you have that conversation with them or what would you recommend?
You have to do what’s best for you. I’m an oversharer. For me, talking about it comes easily. I initially started with grief counseling but it became very obvious that I was doing that with anybody who walked past me. I always wanted to talk about Graham. He was the most incredible man. I don’t want him not to be remembered and not talked about. The grief counseling for me at that point, I didn’t find very useful but I did go on to find a life coach, which I did find helpful. I talked a lot of things through with her.
What’s the difference between a life coach and a therapist?
It’s about looking to the future. What I didn’t want to do was go over the past and my feelings. I knew how I felt. I understood that and I could talk about it to lots of people. What I wanted to know was how to navigate the path forward and try and envisage a future. I found that useful. I still see her at least once a month.
She’s a part business coach and part grief coach. In fairness, she’s a grief specialist. Some of her stuff is a bit woo-woo and I love that. We do a bit of visualization. I have had some amazing experiences with her where it’s not exactly a meditation but something similar where I have almost been in the room with Graham when I do not know where to go or what to do. She’s almost managed to get me into a space where he’s in the room and I’m able to ask him the question myself.
I know that sounds strange but it was extremely powerful. I don’t know how she does that but she’s been incredible. In terms of talking to people, it’s finding that one person whom you can trust. I do think it’s important to talk about it. I don’t think that keeping it to yourself is ever going to help you process or understand it properly. You do have to talk about it. I have to talk about it to process it. Find if it could be that one person or a group of people that you feel able to talk or it could be a member of your family but talking about it is important.
I can relate to that. You also talked about the people reaching out to you after watching your TikTok. Any conversations that stand out or questions that people ask a lot?
A lot of people say, “I couldn’t do what you are doing.” I would say, “You can. It’s a choice.” Somebody who very sadly lost her daughter said to me, “Your brain drip feeds you what you are able to cope with.” That’s an interesting thought. You are only dealing with what you can cope with at that one time and that grows over time. If you start doing things small, then they grow and you are able to do more in time. The questions that I get asked are, “I’m a new widow. Please tell me this. I’m not going to feel like this forever. How did you manage to get your life back on track?”
I would say, “There are a few things that have helped me.” Firstly, I try and keep myself well. Let’s face it. If you feel bad, everything feels bad. Prior to COVID, I had a number of health issues and I have been on top of that over the last few years. COVID helped. We didn’t have to go out and I could concentrate on myself. I always make sure that I eat well. I take particular supplements, one of which is a gut health supplement. That sounds strange but 95% of your serotonin is created in your gut, and serotonin is your happy hormone. If I have the right gut hormone, I feel a lot stronger. That sounds strange but if I don’t take it for three days, I cry a lot. I find that helpful. I try to get outside and walk a little bit. Those things are important.
The other thing that is important is to practice gratitude. That’s quite a big subject but be grateful for what you do have. At the times that I’m feeling at my worst, I will try and be grateful for what I have. If you are grateful, you can’t be too sad at the same time, although I have written my gratitude crying in fairness. Maybe that doesn’t work. They might be small things. You have heating in your house, a cat who is purring next to you, or a new duvet cover.
It can be small but if you can be grateful for what you do have, then you start to look at the world in a different way. Find a purpose in your life, whatever that may be. That could be your children or pets. It could be a business. It’s so important because that gives you hope for the future and that’s what we all need. We need hope. I felt everything was taken away from me the day that he died. My financial security, my best friend, and all my future plans disappeared. I had to find a way to try to navigate through that and find some purpose and hope.
One of the ways that I did that was I bought an ice cream for him. That came about through Graham as well. During COVID, we had restrictions. I’m sure it was the same with you. Only 30 people were allowed to his funeral, which was devastating. Although, in fairness, I wouldn’t have minded if it had just been me there that day. It was a day that we had to get through but I wanted to have a bigger event at a later time. I arranged something in the summer where it was an outdoor event. Everybody was still nervous about COVID. I contacted a friend of mine who had a beautiful vintage pink ice cream van. I said, “Would you bring it along to this event?” This would have been in May 2021.
He only died in February 2021. She said, “It’s in storage. I’m going to sell it.” At that moment, I felt a tiny spark in my tummy for the first time in three months and I thought, “I want to buy that van.” I was like, “No, I won’t.” There were a few other things that happened and it seemed like the right thing to do. I thought it would get me out of the house or give me a purpose. Everybody loves ice cream. If you are going around serving ice cream to people, you can’t be too sad.
It sounds like a little Disney World driving around, the happy place.
However, if you are in a 1971 van, you feel like you are taking your life slightly into your hands and it could break down or cease to progress. At any time, it is joyous. People wave at you getting on the road. Little girls point at this big gorgeous pink van. She’s very beautiful. She’s full of fairy lights and roses. I ended up buying this van from my friend. It was terrifying in the first year. I thought, “What was I doing? I wasn’t in a fit state to do that at all,” but I did.
I got it ready and I went out. I’m sure it’s the same for anybody working. I know when I’d gone back to working on my online business as well. I found that it closed something off in my mind and my mind stopped racing about the grief. It was almost like I got a break from that time. I was thinking about somebody else and not about myself at that point. If you are serving other people, then you are not so focused on yourself. I found a great relief. Not a release as such but a relief to stop what’s going on in your head the whole time over the grief.
That first set season on the van was interesting. It wasn’t until 2022 when I started going out that I thought, “I love this. It is fabulous.” I get to go to a different wedding probably every weekend. They are all different. Everybody is happy. Everybody loves ice cream. I was at a music festival and a food festival. I have a corporate event. Everybody is happy to see you when you are serving them ice cream. I thoroughly recommend that if you get a chance. That was my outlet. There are lots of things that people can do.
Those are some good points. Go outside. I don’t know about you but I feel like sometimes it’s the weirdest times of the hour that I am feeling pressed. It feels like things are closing in on you. To be able to be outside where it’s cold and warm with that fresh air has a way of rejuvenating you and making you feel better.
The health that you talked about is so critical. The stress that is on our bodies from losing a spouse is tremendous. There are so many different medical studies about blood pressure, anxiety, and something happening to your heart as we are worrying and our brain is trying to process that this spouse has passed. The finding of purpose is spot on because that gives us something to live for a purpose or a reason. Everything that we knew in life was shattered in the absence of that person.
You mentioned someone talking about getting your life back on track like it was. I don’t know for you but it will never be like it was. There’s a way to have purpose. You said gratitude. I keep a little journal when I start getting sad. I will put three things a day in there that I’m happy about. It can be something simple but it refocuses your mind from what you are hyper-focused on with tunnel vision.
There is some good that happened. Out of that good, I can appreciate that and let that grow into another thing that you are happy about. Those are some good points for us to look at and for people to consider when they are trying to move forward with their lives. We don’t get to have what we did before. It’s impossible.Try to move forward with our lives because we don't get to have what we did before. It's impossible. Click To Tweet
We are changed. We are different people. After the loss of a spouse, you are a different person. I was fortunate in some ways that we were still in a lockdown situation. One of the things that I noticed was that very quickly, I almost felt like I was reset at that point. Anything that came towards me that I didn’t think served me, I didn’t want anything to do with it because I felt I was dealing with enough. I didn’t want negativity so I didn’t want to be surrounded by negative people.
Your friend who gossips, you might have sat there having a coffee and listening to them before. I would tolerate it and thought, “She’s telling me her stories,” but I suddenly was like, “No. That doesn’t feel good to me any longer. I don’t want to do it.” Things that I didn’t want to do, I suddenly thought, “I’m not doing that now. I don’t want to do it.” It made me stronger in many ways and reevaluated what I found positive in my life.
I have tried to surround myself with joy. I follow the joy wherever I can. On some days, you don’t want to follow it. It’s not nice being miserable but we all have those days where the grief overwhelms us and we succumb to it but I try and follow the joy. I have done a lot of frivolous type of things. I traveled quite a few times. I have had six holidays since Graham died.
The first one was awful. I got there. We went to Mexico with a friend. I didn’t like being away without him. You have a way of doing things together on a holiday. Suddenly, everything was different and I didn’t get it. I cried a lot during that holiday but I did it and the next holiday was much easier. You have different memories to attach to those things as well, haven’t you?
I would be interested in hearing it. You are in this mark. There’s often a big fuss about making it through that first year. What are your thoughts or memories of making it through the first year in the absence of Graham? What does that second year look like to you in comparison?
It’s not what people imagine it’s going to be. Everybody knows it. You have all these milestones in the first year, which are very difficult. It was his birthday a month after he died and a couple of months after that was my birthday. You have Father’s Day and all of these things. It’s your wedding anniversary, the anniversary of when we got engaged, and our wedding anniversary. You anticipate all of those things.
I was either in complete shock, denial, or something during that time and I got through those. I thought it was quite a difficult year until I reached year two. I felt it all much more. I thought I had done a year. It’s fine. The next year is going to be easy but in 2022, it was almost like I was keeping going. “This isn’t going to beat me. I’m going to do this.” I did feel that things started to not crash around me but they were much harder than I anticipated it was going to be in the second year. In the third year, it’s different again. I have done all these things twice.
Is it easier or harder? It’s different. I don’t know if it’s easier or harder. It changes. One of the things that I do find difficult, which has been quite new is that I feel very much that he’s slipping away from me. Whereas in that first year, I felt incredibly close to him and I remembered things well. When I think about him, it’s almost like he was never here. It was almost like he was a dream.
I have heard other widows talk about that and say that you do go through a phase but it often comes back after that and you do remember things a bit better. I do wonder whether that is the reality setting in which they have gone. Maybe your brain sends them off slightly into the distance because it’s too painful to deal with. It’s the little things that I remember so clearly.
Fortunately, I wrote them down and that’s a good tip. For anybody who’s newly widowed, write a journal. Write what happened the last day that you saw them, the last thing that they said to you, or any memories that you have from the past. As much as you think you will remember them, you won’t remember them. I wrote a journal every day for three months. When I read it back, I’m like, “I was coherent. I don’t know quite how I managed to do it but I was.” It is important.
I was talking about him disappearing for me and I don’t remember him. The little things about him, I don’t remember as well. It’s a little bit blurred. That’s a difficult thing to come to terms with. We attach ourselves to the grief because it makes us feel close to that person. Being close to the grief makes you feel like you have still got a connection to them.
The grief dissipates to a certain extent but you learn to come to terms with it better or cope with the grief better. I certainly don’t feel as close but I want to. This is always this strange juxtaposition between wanting to get on with your life and wanting it to stay how it was. It can’t stay how it was but you are reluctant to let it go. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s the right thing to do or kind to be letting it go. You want to feel that closeness with your husband again. Grief is a strange thing. It does weird things to us.
It is muddled sometimes. You can’t put a pin in it. It’s interesting you say that we feel connected to our loved ones by the grief but we were more connected to them by love than the grief itself. It’s interesting when that grief changes and slips away. What does moving forward in your life look like?
Just more joy. I have had a very difficult couple of years as well, which has made my journey especially difficult. Both Graham and I were married before. Six weeks after he died, I was contacted by his ex-wife who issued legal proceedings against the estate to try and get money. I feel very sad about that because it has nothing to do with me. It was between him and his ex-wife. I don’t know her. I have never met her but it’s been hanging over me.
Finally, we agreed to settle out of court because it has been relentless. It’s important as well if you have been married before to perhaps look at your divorce order before somebody dies. I don’t know whether people will read this but if they haven’t lost somebody, it is important to understand what some of those clauses in the contracts are. I know he would have hated me to have been left in this position. She’s been relentless and although she has no case and she’s not entitled to any money, the way the legal system works in the UK is that I have to go to court to fight it.
My legal fees have been insane. We ended up in the high court. That 1 day cost me £15,000. That’s about $20,000. This has been going on for a few years. You can only imagine how devastating it’s been. I wasn’t left a lot of money by him. I have had to borrow money to pay my legal fees from family members. It’s been very stressful.
Going back to your question, how does it look? We have agreed to settle. We are finalizing the court order. I hope that I can move forward without that hanging over me because that will be a huge weight off me. I’m looking for the joy. I hope that the TikTok thing will go a little bit further. It doesn’t have to be TikTok but I love the idea of connecting with other widows and being able to inspire people that even after a life-changing experience that we have all been through, your life doesn’t have to end. It changes.
You can find the joy somewhere else. It’s not the life that we wanted and would choose but by making a few changes in your life and the way that you look at things, you can find a life that is acceptable. I didn’t want to be one of those people that felt my life didn’t have any purpose. I didn’t want his legacy to be my sadness because I owe him more than that. He would want me to go out and live a happy life. I hope that I can continue to inspire people and do things that I love like being out on my ice cream van, growing my other business, and doing some of the things that I love doing.
What are your other businesses? How can people contact you?
One of the things that I did before COVID, not so much since, although I do still teach, is I am a private singing teacher and performer. I have sung in the 1940s post-harmony trio like The Andrews Sisters, which has been a joyous thing. We have not done that at all since Graham died. I can’t bring myself to go back to that. It’s at the moment. I hope one day that we will because it was such a wonderful time but I still teach singing from home. I have had a lot of vocal problems. My voice is quite croaky. It shouldn’t be croaky. Since Graham died as well, I cried too much. I have damaged my voice.
A lot more tears than I have ever cried in my entire life.
It’s not permanent. I have a rotated larynx. If you look it up on the internet, the main cause of a rotated larynx is extreme trauma but I’m having a lot of treatment for that. I’m hoping I will get back to my singing because that’s always been a major part of my life and I love that. I have an online health and wellness business, which has been extraordinary for me during this time. I would encourage people. If they are looking for a purpose or something to do, perhaps a place where they can work from home and still have some earnings but also some great training, we are a great community.
That business set me up for my grief. I do not doubt that I found that business. It gave me the skills to deal with what I had to do. I certainly didn’t practice gratitude before or look after myself in the way that I do now. I didn’t have the community around me or that sense of purpose. That has been extraordinary. It’s been a great source of earnings for me.
At a time when my life stopped, that carried on happening for me because my clients still bought products from my online business so that has always been great. On TikTok as well. You can contact me there. I’m very open to chatting to any widows on there. I love it when people message me and we can have a conversation. I love helping people. Feeling like you are making a difference in somebody else’s life is what life is about.Life's about making a difference to other people. Click To Tweet
Those are the ways in which they can contact you with these topics. Thank you for sharing that. If you were to talk to younger Sammie, what age range would she be? What advice would you give her?
I have done a lot of this with my coach. It’s interesting because when she takes me back to meet young Sammie, I’m always five. It’s broken my heart going back and talking to her. How do you tell somebody what’s going to happen in their life? You are going to get divorced and lose the love of your life. How do you tell a five-year-old that? That’s hard.
The thing I would say to her is, “It’s going to be hard and the hardest thing you have ever done but you are going to be okay. You are stronger.” I hate people telling me I’m strong. I’m sure we all hate being told strong. Maybe not strong is the right word but I am more resilient than I ever believed I was. I tell that man every day, “I wouldn’t last a minute without you.”
Every day, I’d say, “Be careful out on your bike because I wouldn’t last a minute without you and I couldn’t survive without you.” Here I am years later, I am surviving without him. It breaks my heart to go back and speak to that little girl. We all have our dreams. I want to end up with the Disney fairytale and I got that.
For our Valentine’s Day before Graham died, he sent me a picture that had Mickey and Minnie on it and it said, “Sometimes life gives you a fairytale and that’s you and me.” He had our names on it. I felt I had that fairytale. It’s hard to go back and tell a little girl that her life is going to be hit with the hardest thing. I lost my stepbrother, my father, and my mother several years ago. I have experienced grief and I thought I knew grief. This is on a different level.
This is not the first loss but it is the most traumatic loss.
It changes everything but we find a way. If you have the right attitude, you can find a way. It breaks my heart to go back and talk to that five-year-old Sammie. Nobody wants that for your life. Of all the things I have talked about, that’s the thing that upsets me going back and speaking to that little girl. I have talked about so much about losing Graham that I have not desensitized but I’m comfortable talking about it. Not that I’m any less upset that I was talking about five-year-old Sammie.
You said something about the inside always being sad and on the outside being different. That loss of our spouse will be with us forever so that constantly resonates inside of us as we try to live outside of that sadness. That is a good way to explain what moving forward looks like. I haven’t forgotten them. I’m no more excited about this than the day it happened but I’m living in finding purpose using those coping tools to help me learn how to find a life I will enjoy. This has been a good conversation. I appreciate your time so much. Is there anything else you feel you wanted to share, talk about, or recommendations that we didn’t go over?
Talk about it to other people. Connect with other widows. People think they understand but it’s only truly other widows who get what we are feeling and have a true understanding. I always recommend that you find other widows that you can share your journey with but also surround yourself with positive people.
We are the result of the people that we spend the most time with. You can still be positive having lost a spouse I feel. Surround yourself with positive people but do connect with other widows. We get it. We are a special group of people. We have more compassion and understanding. The widow community is extraordinary. Not that any of us want to be in but I’m grateful to have those connections with people.Connect with other widows because we're a special group of people. We have more compassion and understanding. Click To Tweet
I am grateful for you and other widows and widowers who are on social media candidly sharing their journey. You are educating people who may or may have not lost a widow but they are a friend of someone and trying to understand from a perspective. They may not have the boldness to ask their friend how they are feeling but they can listen to some information that you have shared and show how to format that to help somebody else or someone who feels like they are alone and that no one can be going through something like this and still smile. How could you be years later on an ice cream truck finding joy in that and still reminiscing about this wonderful man?
On the way back from an event, I cry every time. I named my van after him as well. I couldn’t call it Graham because I thought that was a silly name for an ice cream van. I called it her. She’s a her. Gigi for Gorgeous Graham. It is my tribute, I suppose, to him. I was out from 10:00 in the morning until about 8:00 at night. I come back and then the sun is setting. It’s getting dark.
I look into the sky and think I’m so grateful that I have had this. I always have a little cry because I feel like it’s probably not the best thing to do when you are driving, in fairness. It’s not what I thought I was going to be doing but I’m grateful I got it and that I can have that hopefully as not his legacy as such but a positive thing that I have done in my life afterward. I will send you a link to my van as well because I do put a bit of it on TikTok. It’s a piece of joy.
Resilience is important. I love how you explained that you can have this wonderful day doing this and then grief will pop in there. We have to deal with that. You lean into it, let it wash over you, and then try to continue living your life. Those washing were heavier in the first year, and then they changed in the second, and the third as we go through this. Thank you for that message to people to know that they are not alone and to hang in there. Thank you so much, Sammie.
Thank you so much for having me.
About Sammie Hawkins
I am a 56-year-old mum with one son, now grown up and studying at York University, three stepsons, and ‘Mimi’ to almost 3-year-old Ada. I live with my four cats in Northamptonshire, UK. I am a private singing teacher and former performer in a 1940s close harmony trio.
My first marriage ended in divorce in 2010, and in 2015 I got together with the love of my life Graham who would change my life forever in so many ways.
After marrying my soul mate in 2017, life was genuinely
idyllic. I have never felt so much happiness and just that feeling of knowing you’re with that perfect person. We truly completed each other.
In February 2021, Graham ( a super fit, appealingly healthy man) died while out cycling of an unknown heart condition. It was the hugest shock I could ever have imagined, and I felt like my life had ended.
I didn’t leave the house for months. However, I decided that I did not want Graham’s legacy to be my extreme sadness, so when an unusual business opportunity was offered to me in June 2021, I decided to take it.
Suddenly I found myself the proud owner of a 1971 pink vintage ice cream van. I had no idea what I was thinking then, but I knew I needed to do something with my life.
For the last two years, I have spent the summers in my vintage van spreading ice cream joy to everybody. It gives you purpose, a reason to get up and out daily, and an income (like many widows, my financial circumstances dramatically changed when my husband died). And I love being out in my little pink van!
A random video of my husband I posted on TikTok at the end of February 2023 went viral, amassing 4 million views over one weekend.
I now use social media to help and inspire others going through loss and bereavement, and I have a growing following of over 18,000 on TikTok.