'It doesn't get any easier' - Widower opens up over loss of wife five years ago
PUBLISHED: 12:55 08 September 2019 | UPDATED: 09:05 09 September 2019
In October 2014, Mark Hawkins and his wife Victoria took their two children on the holiday many families dream of to Florida, having spent more than a year saving.
The day before they were due to return though, Mrs Hawkins collapsed in their hotel room and could not come back round, leaving Mr Hawkins without his wife and the youngsters without their mother.
Five years on from that tragic event and the 41-year-old widower, of Lingwood, has opened up about his family's grief and urged others to do the same.
He said: "It really does not get any easier - it does reach a point where grieving almost becomes the normal for you.
"You think it will get better, or things will get easier, but it just does not. When certain dates come around you just can't help but think about it and the mind does wander."
Mr Hawkins' daughter Izzy was eight at the time has been helped throughout by Nelson's Journey, a charity which works with children who has suffered a bereavement - for which Mr Hawkins now volunteers. It also supported his stepson Max, now 21.
Mr Hawkins said: "I think one of the problems with the male species is you almost have it programmed into you that you have to be strong, you have to be the typical man's man. However, from my experience, talking to people about what you are going through is the best thing you can do.
"It's so important people know it is okay to be sad, it is okay to cry. And for me, helping others in the same position is almost my own type of counselling.
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"And I think for some people, seeing a six foot tall, big bald man opening up and talking about this type of thing helps them realise that too."
Now 13, Izzy has since adopted one of her mother's great loves - the sport of netball, which has brought mixed emotions about in her father. He said: "It's scary in a way - she hasn't been playing long but people who saw her mum play watch her and say they can see Victoria in her.
"Knowing that Victoria never got to see her play does get to me sometimes, but I also love that something she loves so much has lived on in Izzy."
A £10,000 netball legacy
The sport of netball was one of Mrs Hawkins greatest loves - and has proved a key part of the legacy she has left behind.
Each year since her death, a memorial tournament has been held in her honour, to raise funds for Nelson's Journey.
This year, the event saw the fundraising through the events exceed the £10,000 mark.
The events have been organised by family friend Lisa Price, 38, who played in the same team as Mrs Hawkins.
She said: "When Mark reached out to Nelson's Journey and the children began getting support I could see how much it helped. Knowing that, plus wanting to keep her memory alive, I thought of the one thing I could do that would help connect her family and friends with something she loved - netball."
Mr Hawkins added: "Victoria would find it hilarious that we do all this in her memory, but it means so much to all of us."