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The young Ohio widower simply wanted to make sure the memory of his wife would never fade for their daughter. He never expected his poignant, heart-wrenching tribute would touch so many people all over the world.
A series of images Ben Nunery originally posed for with his wife on their wedding were recently recreated with his 3-year-old daughter. The photos, and the story that recounted their journey, went viral after TODAY.com posted them on Dec. 16.
“They see hope in these photos, and that’s really what I want from this,” Nunery told TODAY. “We lose our loved ones, and they go away and it’s painful and it hurts, but the love doesn’t go away. It never goes away.”
In 2011, Nunery lost his 31-year-old schoolteacher wife to a rare form of lung cancer. The couple’s child, Olivia, was only a year old at the time.
In November, Nunery prepared to move out of the Cincinnati home he and his wife bought just before their wedding day. Before leaving, Ben wanted to honor the happy times the family shared in the house. So he asked his sister-in-law and Ali's sister, Melanie Pace, to take photos of him and Olivia in the exact places he posed with his wife years earlier.
Pace, a professional photographer, posted the photos on her blog. The images quickly became the top story on TODAY.com in December, as well as one of the website's most popular stories of the year.
On TODAY's Facebook page, more than 300,000 people have liked, commented or shared the moving tribute.
"This made me want to cry. So beautiful and sad and happy all at the same time," Facebook user Sara Evans wrote.
"Your daughter will one day see these photos and thank you," wrote Debi Brown.
The story was retold repeatedly by other media outlets within the last several days, prompting Twitter users to post links, often with a warning to grab some tissues before reading.
Taking the pictures was incredibly emotional for Nunery’s sister. Pace, who said she felt her sister’s presence while shooting the photos last month, said she understands why the images went viral.
“I think that so many people just want to see people living gracefully after a devastating loss,” she said. “I’m showing people that you can go on, and Ben can heal, and we all can heal together.”
While strangers may view the photographs as a bridge from a bittersweet past to a hopeful future, Pace said in the end, they are intended for Olivia.
"One of Ali's biggest concerns was Olivia forgetting her and not remembering her,” she said.