Widowed dad whose photo tribute to wife went viral finds love again

A father and daughter who lost a wife and mother have written another chapter in their lives — with a mom and son who lost a husband and dad.

Ben Nunery’s story about love, loss and a poignant tribute to both went viral after a TODAY article in December 2013.

The young widowed father, with help from his 3-year-old daughter, re-created a series of images he first posed for with his wife, Ali, on their 2009 wedding day. The pictures were captured inside the new Cincinnati home they had just purchased the day before.

Ali died two years later, at age 31, from a rare form of lung cancer. When Ben prepared to move out of their home, he paid tribute to her by having their daughter, Olivia, pose in the same spots as her mom did years earlier, and Ali’s sister, a professional photographer, take pictures.
Melanie Pace / Loft Three Photography

Ben Nunery and his daughter, Olivia, re-created photos in 2013 that he took with his late wife, Ali, on their wedding day in 2009.

The photos and the story behind them struck a nerve: Ben received an outpouring of much-needed support, encouragement and inspiration from strangers around the world.

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At the time, he felt certain he would never fall in love again.

Melanie Pace / Loft Three Photography

The touching photo series went viral in 2013.

“I’m going to be this sad single father for the rest of my life. That was just my destiny and I was convinced of it,” Ben, 37, told TODAY in a recent interview. “That sadness and grief was overwhelming and didn’t allow me to see beyond the immediate future.”

But he did reach beyond it, thanks to an old college friend with whom he reconnected after Ali’s death.

Best Day Ever Photography

Ben, who has known Lesley since college, said their friendship “became this natural progression into a more romantic relationship.”

Lesley Amann and her husband, Mike, became friends with Ben during their college days as graphic design students. Mike and Ben went on to start a business together, but a falling out eventually drove a deep rift between them. The two went their separate ways.

Years later, they reconnected after the Amanns learned of Ali’s death.

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“When something like that happens, you feel inclined to put the past behind you because all of a sudden, certain arguments seem petty,” Lesley said.

Best Day Ever Photography

The Nunerys and the Amanns on Ben and Lesley’s wedding day last June

Shortly afterward, her husband was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroendocrine cancer. Lesley was eight months pregnant at the time with their first child, Kaizer.

Lesley said she initially rejected Ben’s offers of support because she was determined that her family outcome would differ from his.

“It was probably a month before Mike passed away before I really started to see, ‘OK, we weren’t going to get the happy ending we wanted,’” she said. “I finally reached out to Ben and met up with him for coffee to talk about the ins and outs of being a caretaker.”

Mike passed away in November 2013.