Traci Sampson

Overcoming Life-Changing Adversity—Like a Girl

October 2023 IssueTraciSampson1023

by Lesley Kyle
Photography by T.R. Love, T.R. Media World

Traci Sampson is relatively new to the Lowcountry. She moved to Hilton Head in December 2022 but previously vacationed here for many years. Born and raised in Charleston, West Virginia, Traci attended college in Pennsylvania and later married and moved to Chicago where she raised three kids – Chloe (now 27), Andrew (25), and Scott (21) – with her husband, Neal. Traci was a full-time mom, while Neal worked as a futures and options currency trader.

The 2008 financial crisis brought hardship to most families, and the Sampsons were no different. The financial markets became very volatile as many migrated to online trading. Neal’s demeanor began to change as a result of market turmoil. He began trading at home, stopped going into the office, and instead became reclusive, avoiding social interaction. Traci knew times were tough and suggested they re-locate, downsize, and cut expenses. Unbeknownst to Traci, Neal was slowly and progressively shutting down and retreating into deep depression. The financial crisis had a much greater impact on the family’s finances than Traci had realized. “We had a happy marriage,” said Traci. “We had a beautiful second home in Lake Geneva, and Neal was well-loved. You never would have known.”

In March, Traci drove the kids to the airport for a spring break trip to Florida. She tried to reach Neal repeatedly by phone during the ride. Instinctively, Traci knew something was wrong when he didn’t answer. Traci returned to their home and frantically began making calls to friends and his gym. Neal wasn’t anywhere to be found. After 20 years together, she knew something was terribly wrong and called 911. She soon learned that Neal had taken his life in another part of town. “He did not know how to fail,” said Traci. “I could adjust to the change in lifestyle; Neal could not.” In that moment, Traci’s life, and those of her young children, ages 6, 10 and 12, changed forever.

Traci and the kids flew to New York for the funeral. She sat shiva, numb from the shock of Neal’s untimely death. Family and friends rallied around her as she strove to maintain normalcy for the children. “It was one of those reminders that no one cares if you haven’t showered,” said Traci. “It was so good just to have everyone around.” Meals were delivered to the home for three months as Traci charted a course forward. With her mom’s help, Traci packed up, sold both houses, and moved to start anew near family in Atlanta. Traci’s mom stayed with them for about a year as she settled in. “What choice do you have? You have to move forward—you just do it.”

Society soon began to address mental health and depression more openly. Keeping close watch over her kids, Traci engaged a therapist to support her children through the grief of losing their dad. Her oldest and youngest children adapted and soon left therapy. Her middle child, aged 10, struggled with anger, shyness, and ADHD – characteristics that made him a lot like his dad. Meanwhile, Traci wrangled those who offered opinions and parenting advice. “I was told, ‘you’ll have to play the role of a dad,’” said Traci. “I am a mom and a woman, and this is who I am. I’ll be a mom who will draw the line, but I’ll still be a soft and loving person.”

Traci’s middle child continued to struggle with behavioral issues, and his actions resulted in serious consequences. Traci fought for her child and tried different approaches to support him. She enrolled him in Trails Carolina, a wilderness adventure therapy program, at the age of 16. According to its website, Trails Carolina teaches “confidence, coping mechanisms, and communication skills that will help them become the best version of themselves.” Intensive treatment and medication made all the difference in the world for her son. Traci taught her children that it’s okay to fail, to be aware of their feelings, and to share everything —good and bad. Her kids know that even if they fail, they are loved and will find a way through to the other side.

Raising three healthy, successful kids is Traci’s proudest accomplishment. Her daughter is established in her life, her middle son is a content sixth-grade math teacher, and her youngest is finishing college. “At this point in my life, I want to try it all!” said Traci. Without a fear of failure, she finds herself in an inspiring stage of self-discovery. Traci now owns and operates Glow Getter in Hilton Head, a beauty shop that offers spray tanning and teeth whitening services. “I’m taking life day by day and will wait and see what happens,” Traci said. “I’m done with knowing what’s going to happen in the future.” And failure be damned, how can she go wrong?