I broke my own rule of no internet or phone around bedtime.
Actually, I broke it pretty hard-core, because I was using the internet—on my phone—to read some news when I woke up at 3:30 a.m. and couldn’t easily fall back asleep.
I saw this story circulating with such intensity that I couldn’t seem to avoid it, no matter how hard I tried.
Believe me, I did try avoiding it, because this story is heart-wrenching and it’s everything that I have unfounded fears of.
Widower Ben Nunery and his 3-year-old daughter Olivia are finally ready—after two years of “a rollercoaster of emotions,” as Ben describes it on his blog—to let go of the house that he made into a home with his once soon-to-be bride.
Ben writes in his blog that “for a short time there was a place where I was the luckiest man in the world, even if just for a little while.” That place was the house he turned into a home with Ali Nunery, before she died in 2011 from a rare form of lung cancer, leaving behind Ben and their then 1-year-old child.
This November he and Olivia moved out of their Cincinnati home—the one they’d shared with Ali—but before they did, Ben asked his sister-in-law Melanie Pace, a professional photographer, to take photos of him and Olivia to help capture the happy memories that came alive in that house.
“I was just really looking for a way to say farewell to the house, and have some things that Olivia and I can have to…remember the house,” Ben told TODAY.com. “When Ali and I got married, we closed on the house the day before our wedding, so we did wedding photos in the empty house.”
And the home was completely empty again, with Nunerys’ impending move, so Pace, who shot Ben and Ali’s original wedding photos in 2009, recreated those images with Ben and Olivia.
“It immediately brought up memories of being there the first time,” he said to Today. “They were really good memories I cherish and want to remember. In a lot of ways, it felt like Ali was there, and doing that with Olivia I felt a closeness with both of them.”
Pace also shared on her blog that she often feels her sister’s presence and that she too saw multiple signs Ali was with them during the photo session.
During her interview with TODAY.com, Pace said, “It’s almost like she was nudging me along as I was shooting, telling me which places to go and what to use as props. It was a very overwhelming feeling to have her so close even if she was not physically there.”
And if these story hasn’t already brought tears to dry eyes, then simply look at the photographs.
If a typical picture is worth a thousand words, then these are worth much more.
As a young mother and wife, I know that it’s every mom’s worst nightmare to leave her family too soon.
Pace writes in her blog that “one of the things that hurts the most, is when I watch Olivia do things that Ali fantasized about before becoming a mom. She would talk about taking her future daughters to ballet and watching them spin till they giggled and fell down. Which is pretty much what happened here. It’s so hard to let go of the anger I constantly face because she’s missing these things. But I know she’s with her still watching and likely whispering in O’s ear, “Olivia, don’t forget to spot! Oliviaaa! You’re going to fall! You’re spinning too fast! Oliiiviaaa!””
Still, while these images were captured specifically for Ben and Olivia, the family wants others who see them to remember, not only that love is inextinguishable, but that healing is possible and that life can continue, even after such a profound loss.
“I hope that people can see it as evidence of a love that Ali and I shared that is still very deep, [and] that love carries on, and it doesn’t die,” he told Today. “People who don’t know us personally but may have experience with losing a loved one can see that as an example of healing and life moving on.
“It doesn’t mean that we forget our loved ones, but find ways to remember them and keep that memory going.”
And the reason that I shared these pictures with you?
Because I fell asleep a little after 4, thinking about how fortunate I am to be leading this life with my husband and my daughter both holding my sometimes too-tender heart in their hands.
I’m reminded that, though I’ve lately been in a bit of a funk, life is, indeed, too short, and that appreciating these moments of love as they unfold is something to cherish, even and especially when the daily to-do’s of life are overwhelming.
And memories aren’t locked in houses—they’re kept forever inside of us.
View the full gallery on Pace’s website.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise