When Dan Diaz first met Brittany Maynard in April 2007, he saw at first glance that she was beautiful. But as they got closer, he quickly discovered “what a beautiful person she was on the inside,” he told PEOPLE.
“After a while, we realized this person is someone special,” he said in a telephone interview in October. “She’s just a great person to know; a good person to be around: attractive, energetic and outgoing and just a personality you really get attracted to.”
Maynard, 29, had terminal brain cancer and ended her own life Saturday by taking medication prescribed to her by a doctor – which is legal for certain terminally ill patients in Oregon.
In June, Maynard, Diaz, her mother, Debbie Ziegler, 56, and stepfather, Gary Holmes, 72, moved to Oregon so she could access the state’s Death with Dignity Act.
Diaz shared their love story with PEOPLE – with her blessing – three weeks before she died.
Though he’d been a bachelor for many years – he was 35 and she was 23 when they met – getting married after a five-year romance just felt right, he said.
“For me it was meeting the person I fell in love with and that was Brittany,” said Diaz, 43, who works in the food industry and took a leave from his job to help care for his wife.
“Jokingly, she would say I’d certainly been single long enough because there was an age difference between us,” he said. “And ‘What’s taken me so long?’ and my answer was, honestly, that I hadn’t met the girl for me until Brittany.”
“It felt like this is the person for me and the person I want to spend the rest of my life with,” he said.
He proposed to her “on bended knee” in May 2012 and the pair quickly began planning their wedding for that September.
They decided to get married at the Beltane Ranch in California’s wine country on Sept. 29, 2012.
“Our wedding was truly special,” Diaz said. “She did so much of the planning, the coordinating and all of that. The end result was there were a few moments I caught myself looking around at the location, the friends and family and everyone there and I was like, ‘Wow. This is a really beautiful setting.’ ”
Their guests agreed.
“Friends have told me our wedding was the best wedding they’d ever been to,” he said.
The couple had taken waltz lessons for their first dance together.
“I was the one in need of lessons,” he said. “Brittany had it down just fine.”
They danced to Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E,” chosen because it “fit the tempo” of their dance routine, he said.
“The routine was very simple but the crowd certainly liked it and they appreciated it,” he said.
When it came down to picking a place to honeymoon, Maynard, true to form, wanted adventure.
That passion, Diaz said, was “certainly more hers than mine. So when I said, ‘What do you want to do for the honeymoon?’ and she said, ‘Patagonia,’ at first glance, I was like, ‘What’s that going to be like?’ ”
It turned out to be amazing, he said.
“It was the best of both worlds,” Diaz said. “We’d go out to glaciers, go see nature, go for a hike and then come back and get pampered.
“So I’d say we really did it right where we had a lot of what she wanted – the outdoors, hiking and trekking and seeing the beautiful sights in nature – but then we’d also come back to the hotel and relax.”
They spent 10 days there, he said.
“One of our longest hikes was nine miles,” he said. “I guess most people on their honeymoon, they’re probably sitting poolside but it was neat. It was an adventure.”