A grieving widower from Illinois shared a tragic photo of his late wife, who died two weeks before she was to walk down the aisle in her 'dream dress.'
John Polo never saw his wife in that dress. He lost Michelle to a ferocious form of cancer when a two and a half year battle ended shortly before their special day.
"Once I realized she would never make it to the wedding, I was devastated. Hearing her talk to people at hospice about how amazing the wedding was going to be - while everyone else realized that it wasn't going to happen - was absolutely heartbreaking," Polo said.
On August 31, Polo shared the touching photo of Michelle in her beaded ball gown on his blog, Better Not Bitter Widower. She was glowing with a beaming smile that stretched from eye-to-eye. It was the first time he saw her wearing the dress that she just had to have. And the discovery came by chance. Polo was lying in bed scrolling through photos on Michelle's phone a week after her death.
The two started as high school sweethearts in 2002, but went their separate ways after a year of dating. They reunited in 2011 and Polo proposed the following year. In 2013, Michelle was diagnosed with a devastatingly rare form of cancer called proximal-type epitheliod sarcoma. It kills 50 to 70 percent of those diagnosed within five years. A sarcoma expert the Polos saw said the kind Michelle had was particularly rare. An "aggressive beast," as the doctor put it when warning that it would likely return, even if surgery was successful.
Almost immediately after being diagnosed, the couple visited a courthouse to be married just days before she underwent a dangerous surgery that involved removing her liver. Polo had to hold Michelle up while she violently threw up during their vows.
"We wanted to make it official just in case she didn't make it through," said Polo, who added that the decision was mutual.
And so, they were man and wife and out of surgery. Three years later, her cancer was diagnosed as terminal. The news prompted a desire to have a true wedding with family and friends and a ceremony. But Michelle didn't make it.
Polo watched his wife die for two and a half years. During that time, he harbored emotions that tugged at his core. He was bitter. He masked his truth well on the surface, but inside questions of "Why her?" and "Why me?" plagued his existence.
A friend sent him a meme that said: "You can chose to be better or bitter." The statement stuck with Polo and felt appropriate when naming his blog - Better Not Bitter Widower. He began detailing his journey with Michelle on Facebook and the blog was birthed shortly after he received numerous heartfelt reactions from people who followed his posts.
"At first, the blog was to keep her memory alive," Polo said. "But then it turned into a healing process."
And while Facebook was the first public platform he used to express his words, it was in hospice, while Michelle was in a coma, where he initially put pen to paper. He wrote her eulogy. And now he has a book set to be released in late September titled "Widowed. Raves, rants and randoms."
Michelle spent her last days in hospice expressing her excitement. She shared how wonderful the ceremony would be with those who cared for her. Sadly, the reality that she wouldn't make it failed to register. She simply wasn't coherent enough.
"But, she got that dress. Her dream dress. She loved that dress SO much," Polo wrote in a blog post.
Polo describes the moment he discovered the photo as multi-dimensional. A moment which revealed an array of emotions that simultaneously chocked and elated him.
"I was happy and devastated all at the same time," Polo said. "But most of all I felt a sense of pride. I was proud that she was my wife."
There's a heartrending realization that accompanies Polo never being able to see Michelle walk in her dress - she never was able to show him. But she was hopeful until the end. Whether coherent or not, she chose to entertain possibility, not dwell on reality. And as with many harrowing journeys that touch souls in a unique way, there was a lesson to be gained, for Polo.
"You refused to let me give in," Polo said, in addressing his wife. "It's because of you, Michelle, that even in the most hopeless of times, I am, somehow, a hopeful man."