John Schneider Recalls His Final Moments With His Wife, Alicia Allain Schneider, Who Died of Breast Cancer in February

John Schneider is opening up for the first time since his wife, Alicia Allain Schneider , died in February following a four-year battle with breast cancer. He recently sat down for an exclusive interview in this week’s issue of PEOPLE and talked about the many stages of grief he has experienced since her death.

One of those stages is guilt, which stems from a lie he told his wife in their final moments together. He first told her that it was OK if she was tired of fighting and was ready to see her Grandma or Grandpa. “If you want to go, then it’s OK. You go,” he told her – which he admits was the truth. But it was followed by a lie.

“But then I lied, because I said, ‘Don’t worry about me; I’ll be OK.’ That was a lie I had to tell, but she knew it. OK is a long way away,” he said with tears forming in and around his eyes. “The last thing I said to her was, ‘I love you desperately, and I’ve got multiple sets of very long-term plans for you.’”

His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2019, but went into remission in 2020. During that time, they got married twice – once unofficially in July 2019 and again, officially, two months later. Her cancer returned in December 2021 and she later succumbed to the disease on February 21 at the age of 53.

While John Schneider admits that he wasn’t in the room with his wife when she took her final breath, it’s something he’s grateful for and something he feels she did on purpose – knowing that he wouldn’t be able to handle that moment. Instead, she was surrounded by her mother, father, daughter, and son-in-law.

“I still wake up in the morning, and I reach for her in groggy sleep. I keep my eyes closed, and I reach over, hoping maybe this was a dream. I’m a creative person. I have some very vivid dreams; maybe this is one of them,” he told PEOPLE. Unfortunately, it’s a reality that he’s still struggling to believe and accept.

To fight through the grief, he thinks back to all the incredible moments they shared together. He describes themselves as ‘kindred spirits’ who ‘made everything look easy.’ For someone who frequently needed a break whenever he would date someone, Schneider had a hard time being in a different room than Alicia.

John Schneider Focused on Keeping His Wife’s Memory Alive

John Schneider might be struggling to accept his wife’s death, but he’s doing a great job of keeping her memory (and legacy) alive – from his daily messages to Alicia on Facebook (which he dubs ‘letters to Heaven’) to his newest clothing line called AliciaWear (which features some of her favorite sayings).

One of the more sentimental things he has done in the six months since her passing was getting his first tattoo. It’s a thumbprint – his wife’s thumbprint – that sits in the very spot where her thumb would rest anytime they held hands. They held hands often – whenever possible – so it makes him smile often.

“I miss every damn thing, every day,” he said of the grueling grieving process. “I have to get to the point where I look around and see where she is, not where she’s not. And I’m trying to do that, but that’s hard. Somehow I love her more every minute, but with that, somehow I miss her more every minute.”

He often feels like he’s being pulled in two completely different directions. “You want something with all your heart and soul, and you don’t wait it with all your heart and soul, at the same time,” John Schneider says. “I want this pain to go away, but I don’t want it to diminish her in any way” – a feeling many of us can relate to.