tragic loss | 

Husband of mum who died of Covid after giving birth will 'honour' his wife's love of Christmas

Widower bids to recreate his wife's love for festive season
Josh Willis cradles his daughter, Eviegrace, who was born just two weeks before her mum died

Josh Willis cradles his daughter, Eviegrace, who was born just two weeks before her mum died

Steven Moore

Grieving husband Josh Willis says he's going to make Christmas as normal as possible and honour the traditions of his beloved wife Samantha.

The father of two from Strathfoyle, Derry, is preparing for the holiday season for the first time without Samantha, who died after contracting Covid in August - just days after she'd given life to the couple's second daughter Eviegrace, but without ever getting to hold her.

He spoke exclusively to the Sunday World about how he's coped after the shocking loss, how he visits Samantha's graveside every day and how anti-vaxxers on the radio drive him mad.

Josh Willis is still coming to terms with the death of his wife.

Josh Willis is still coming to terms with the death of his wife.

"Samantha loved Christmas so much," says Josh.

"She loved decorating other people's trees and watching Christmas movies.

"She started a Christmas tradition about six or seven years ago that everyone would come to our house for Christmas dinner.

"There'd be 17 or 18 people here.

"I make a decent stuffing and would spend hours on Christmas Eve peeling hundreds of spuds but Samantha cooked all the other stuff.

"This year I've decided to try and keep that tradition going.

"So everyone is coming here and everyone is chipping in to do part of the dinner.

"My mother is doing a gammon and a big pot of soup while my dad will be doing most of the rest.

Josh and Samantha Willis pictured together in happier times.

Josh and Samantha Willis pictured together in happier times.

"Samantha's family is coming too and everyone is helping out.

"It's going to be very difficult of course because Samantha won't be here, but we will do our best to make her proud."

The terrible story and its bitter twist of fate reached audiences across the world and, in a way, that story comes full circle at Christmas as Josh and Samantha discovered they were expecting on Boxing Day.

It touched people all over the globe because Samantha had been a dedicated care worker herself and had stringently followed the rules to do her best to avoid Covid and she had not been vaccinated because at the time the advice was for pregnant women not to be.

When she passed away on August 20 Samantha had not even been allowed to hold her gorgeous new bundle of joy in case she passed the virus on to Eviegrace.

Josh insisted on Eviegrace's christening taking place at Samantha's funeral as it was the only way she would be there.

After testing positive for Covid a few days before, Samantha became seriously ill and struggled to breathe, meaning her unborn child was in danger so on August 5 doctors decided to perform an emergency Caesarean section to try to save them both.

Samantha was treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) masks and various medications and responded so well there was great hope she'd fully recover.

Eviegrace being baptised during her mother's funeral service at St Columb’s Church

Eviegrace being baptised during her mother's funeral service at St Columb’s Church

But things took a turn and Samantha ended up back in ICU where she was put on a ventilator and in an induced coma, and then she passed away.

When it all happened, Josh urged people to pay heed to their story and get vaccinated.

He acknowledged he couldn't tell people what to do but he hoped by publicising his story if people saw what he had gone through it would help convince them to get jabbed.

And it did, but Josh says listening to anti-vaxxers on the radio drives him mad.

"I try not to get angry because I don't want to be a 'hate the world' but when I listen to them on the Nolan Show or read their comments on Facebook it makes me mad.

Sisters Lilyanna (4) and Eviegrace

Sisters Lilyanna (4) and Eviegrace

"These same people who refuse to put a vaccine in their arms are going out at the weekend and drinking until they can't stand and they're taking God knows what else.

"I don't know what goes on in their heads thinking it's all a plot for the government to control them. Why would they want to do that?

"Samantha wasn't vaccinated simply because it wasn't recommended at the time for pregnant women but I've no doubt if she had had it she'd be here now."

Samantha Willis with Josh on their wedding day

Samantha Willis with Josh on their wedding day

Eviegrace is four months old and knows no different but for five-year-old Lilyanna, Christmas will be tough.

"Lilyanna is doing much better now," says Josh.

"She has been attending special play therapy to help her because it was very hard for her at the start, but I think we are starting to get her back to herself.

"She will miss - well we all will miss - Samantha not being there to do all the stuff we would normally do on Christmas Eve but there will be plenty of people here to take her mind off missing her mum."

Josh has booked some festive treats to keep Lilyanna full of wonder.

A trip to Belfast to see Disney on Ice was on the cards as well as a trip to the Santa Express at Oakfield Park in Raphoe, Co Donegal.

Josh says he thought after Samantha had gone time would drag by, but he says it has been the exact opposite.

"I thought life would drag by but the kids have kept me so busy that time has been going much faster it seems - it's like one big long day with a sleep in the middle," he explains.

And when he's not doing something with the kids he's doing all the work on the house that Sam had wanted.

A GofundMe page set up to help the family has raised over £14,000 and Josh says he'll use the money to put a deposit on the house.

"We planned to buy this house from the Housing Executive as part of the Right to Buy. Samantha didn't want to try and buy a big expensive house because she wanted us to have money to do things with the kids.

Josh with his daughters Eviegrace and Lilyanna (4) beside the christmas tree this week

Josh with his daughters Eviegrace and Lilyanna (4) beside the christmas tree this week

"We had plans to pay the mortgage in ten years or something and then take regular holidays with them. I'm going to still try and do that as best I can, though it may take me a bit longer to pay the house off."

- Donations can still be made at the Friends of Samantha Willis GoFundMe page.


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