He looked in his wife’s phone and found a picture of her in her wedding dress.

In July 2013, after learning that Michelle Polo had a rare type of cancer, John Polo and his wife went straight to a courtroom to get married. The pair intended to have a grander second wedding in February 2016 once Michelle’s cancer became fatal almost three years later, but she passed away just two weeks before the event.

Polo started a blog called Better Not Bitter Widower after Michelle passed away. He uses it to reflect on his experiences as a widower, and on August 31 he posted a photo of Michelle wearing the beautiful wedding dress she was going to wear for their second ceremony—a dress he never got to see her wear in person.

She wasn’t at all materialistic, Polo, 33, says PEOPLE, “and she didn’t get thrilled about materialistic stuff, but she loved that dress.” I quip that she cherished it more than she cherished me.

Polo still hadn’t seen Michelle wearing the dress by the time she was hospitalized because she didn’t want him to view it until the day of their second wedding. A week after Michelle’s passing, Polo was browsing through images on her phone as he lay in bed. This is how he discovered the picture. He was overcome with emotion when he discovered the photograph because he had no idea it even existed.

If he had to pick one feeling to sum up his reaction, pride would be it. “I was thrilled and devastated at the same moment,” he adds. I was proud to be her husband.

The couple first connected when they were in high school in Illinois in 2002. They dated for a year before splitting up and losing touch. Eight years after their reunion, Polo proposed in July 2012. Michelle began to have significant back discomfort a year later, and physicians soon discovered she had proximal-type epithelioid sarcoma, a rare malignancy that claims the lives of 50–70% of victims within five years. At that point, the pair made the hasty decision to get married in a courthouse before Michelle underwent surgery to remove the kidney tumor. Three years later, the cancer would come back and spread to her liver, lung, ovary, and tailbone.

On January 22, 2016, Michelle lost away at the age of 30, and a month later, Polo launched Better Not Bitter Widower. Polo has discovered a feeling of salvation via his experiences thanks to other widowers he has met through writing.

He claims that writing, blogging, and being a member of the widow community have all rescued him. “As I write, I feel better, but seeing the feedback from readers makes me feel even better since I know that it is benefiting them. It’s both tremendously fulfilling and inspiring.

Polo is getting ready to publish a book based on his blog called Bereaved. Polo just conducted a class at Camp Widow, a program that offers tools and services for widowed people. Polo hopes that by being upfront about his thoughts, it would help other widowers feel comfortable talking about their own. After experiencing such a tragic loss, writing has given Polo a renewed purpose in life.

Additionally, Polo believes that this is the finest approach he is aware of to honor his true love.

Michelle was concerned that people might forget about her as she was passing away, according to Polo. “I’m writing to preserve her memory,” you might say.