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Images & Voices of Hope | December 2, 2020

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Father and daughter keep mom’s memory alive through photographs

Father and daughter keep mom’s memory alive through photographs

It’s easy to understand why heartfelt photos of Ben Nunery and his 3-year-old daughter Olivia have gone viral. They’re adorable, and they capture a relatable reality: when we’ve lost someone we love, we try to hold on to what we have left.

Nunery’s wife and Olivia’s mother Ali passed away two years ago from a rare form of lung cancer. She was 31. Before Ben and Ali got married in 2009, Ali’s sister took wedding photos of them in the Cincinnati home they had just bought.

Recently, Ben decided it was time to move with Olivia to a different house. But before leaving it behind, he wanted to be reminded of the happy memories he and his wife shared there and capture new memories with his daughter. So he asked Ali’s sister, Melanie Pace, to take photos of him and Olivia throughout the house. The photos show Ben posing with Olivia in some of the same spots where he and Ali posed.

Several news sites, including WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, have reported on this father-daughter story.

Many of the photos show Olivia and Ben hugging and holding on to each other. WCPO-TV put together a good video of the father-daughter tribute.

“It immediately brought up memories of being there the first time. … 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,” Ben said on the “Today” show. “Our lives will continue down a curvy and uncertain path, but Olivia and I will be able to look at these photos and know 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.”

In an interview with WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, Pace explained why she thinks the photos have resonated with so many people:

“People just like to see people are successful, moving on gracefully. They like that because they aspire to be like that themselves,” she said. Ben agreed, saying, “it’s not about the grief and the loss; it’s about the love.”

Many people who have shared Ben and Olivia’s story on social media said the photos made them cry. The reaction shows how photos can tell a story — and remind people of their own life story.

I felt sad seeing Olivia pretending to curl her hair and couldn’t help but wonder: With her mom gone, who will teach Olivia how to use a curling iron? Who will she talk girl-talk with? Who will be her female role model? I thought about the big milestones Olivia will go through later in life without a mom and empathized with her.

But I also felt touched by the father-daughter bond Ben and Olivia seem to have. You can see it in the way Olivia clings to Ben’s leg in one of the photos, and in the way she curls up in his lap, her face pressed against his chest. Though they lost one of the most important people in their lives, they seem to find comfort in knowing they still have each other.

I felt this deep sense of connection to the photos because I lost my own mom to breast cancer when I was 11. Like Ben and Olivia, my dad and I moved out of the house he and my mom bought together. The memories were too painful, and we needed to start new memories in a new home. Similar to Olivia, I used my mom’s curling iron and hair dryer after she passed away, and I still have her rusty eyelash curler in my makeup bag. I don’t use it, but I like knowing it’s there.

It’s been 17 years since my mom died, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop missing her. I think about her a lot leading up to big days, like Oct. 19, 2013, when I got married. But I find ways to remember her — through writing, looking at old photos, and asking my dad questions about her. I sent him the photos of Ben and Olivia as soon as I saw them.

Ben’s goal in taking the photos seems to have worked — on me and countless 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 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.”

Have story ideas you want to share with us? Email them to IVOH managing director Mallary Tenore or share them with us on Twitter (@ivohMedia).