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When a loved one passes away, we often use photographs as a way of keeping that person's memory alive. One Ohio family took the process a step further, creating a unique set of photos that serves as both a touchstone of the past and a reminder of how life moves forward.
In 2011, 31-year-old schoolteacher Ali Nunery passed away from a rare form of lung cancer, leaving behind her husband Ben and a 1-year-old daughter named Olivia.
This November, after two years on "a rollercoaster of emotions," as Ben described it, he and Olivia were ready to move out of the Cincinnati home they'd shared with Ali. But before they left, Ben wanted a way to remember the happy times they'd shared in the house. So he asked his sister-in-law Melanie Pace, a professional photographer, to take photos of him and his now 3-year-old daughter in their home.
"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."
Since the home was empty again due to the Nunerys' impending move, Pace, who shot Ben and Ali's original wedding photos in 2009, was able to recreate the images with Ben and Olivia, including one of the father and daughter in a doorway to mimic the photo Ben had once taken with her mother.
"It immediately brought up memories of being there the first time," he said. "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, who noted in her blog post that she often feels her sister's presence, said she felt Ali's guidance during the photo shoot.
"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," she told TODAY.com. "It was a very overwhelming feeling to have her so close even if she was not physically there."
Pace and her husband, who is also a photographer and helped out with the shoot, posted the photos to their blog, and the beautiful and poignant images soon attracted attention, as even those unfamiliar with the Nunerys and their story were moved by the photos and story.
Ben said that while he did the shoot for himself and his daughter, he is heartened that the images have had an effect on others.
"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 said. "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."