(Ben and his wife Ali and daughter Olivia. Melanie Pace/Provided)
When Ben and Ali Nunery closed the deal on their Price Hill house the day before they married in 2009, they knew it was where their life together would start but not where it would end. Children would come along. Ben's business would expand. Life would sweep them on to bigger places. Still, beginnings mattered to Ali, a school librarian, and Ben, a graphic artist and co-founder of a marketing agency. So on the morning of their wedding day, they had Ali's sister, photographer Melanie Pace, take their photos throughout their empty home.
Ben and Ali posed in doorways, in front of windows, coming down the stairs as the groom got the first sight of his bride.
Ben and Ali smiling, holding hands. Ben and Ali at the start of everything.
But two years later - a year after giving birth to their daughter, Olivia - Ali Nunery was gone. She died at age 31 of a rare form of lung cancer.
In the two years since her death, Ben Nunery has had a painful, poignant lesson in all that life can take from someone, and all that it can never take.
What he has learned is that, after all else is gone, love remains.
Earlier this month, as he and Olivia, now 3, prepared to move from their Price Hill house to a new home in Fort Thomas, Ben and his sister-in-law, Melanie, found a way to share that lesson with the world.
In a hauntingly beautiful collection of photos, Melanie again captured Ben in the empty Price Hill house. This time - in photos that mirror the wedding-day shots - Olivia takes the place of her mother.
SEE PHOTOS: http://on.kthv.com/JZ4Rhs
Instead of a bride and groom looking forward to all that lies ahead of them, the photos are of a young father and his tiny daughter who have weathered what lay behind them.
Now the shots - of Olivia and Ben silhouetted against a window, playfully descending the same stairs Ali walked down as a bride - are capturing hearts around the world.
After a family friend who works for NBC in New York saw the photos on Melanie's blog and helped land them on Today.com, they poured across international Web sites. Buzzfeed.com, which captures viral media circulating on the Web, reports 1.1 million views of the photos thus far - a statistic Ben says he has has had little success conveying to Olivia, who is more interested in the Barbies she expects for Christmas.
For Ben, the photos and the reaction to them have been an affirmation that he and Olivia are still part of a family of three, not two, and that even after tragedy, life and love do go on.
"People instinctively think that what life is all about is some sort of complicated, incomprehensible thing.... I think a happy life is just about love - that's it," he says. "The story in these pictures is love that moves on."
Not that moving on has been easy.
The recreated photos were shot earlier this month, a few days before Ben departed the house for the final time. Sure that the move was one he and Ali would have made - that, in fact, he's felt Ali helped guide him to
- he still remembers fearing he'd be overcome by emotion as the photos were shot. "I knew it was going to be the last time I'd make memories in that house," he says.
His sources of strength were Olivia and the strong presence of Ali's "bright spirit" - the same comforting presence he felt a few days later when he walked out the front door for the final time, with dueling feelings of completion and sadness that left him sobbing at the wheel of his car.
Before he left, he'd walked through every room recounting the special moments in each. In the bedroom he'd shared with Ali, he felt prompted to look behind the door. He found a white ribbon tied to the knob.
"To me, that was Ali's blessing," he says softly. "It was a sign that we had done everything we needed to do in that house - a moment of clarity, that memories of her don't stay in that house."