By Monica Rizzo
March 19, 2012 12:00 PM

One look at all the family photographs adorning Catherine Bach’s Encino, Calif., home makes it abundantly clear the actress thrives on being surrounded by her loved ones. The black-and-white portrait of her late husband, Peter Lopez, embracing Bach and their two daughters Sophia and Laura, is especially meaningful to Bach. “That was his favorite,” she says, recalling the day the photo was taken in early 2010. “He said, ‘I have everything I want in my arms right here.'”

Which makes it even more baffling to Bach that Lopez, then 60 and a prominent music industry attorney, committed suicide in April 2010. “He was the love of my life,” says the actress, 59, who became a TV icon and pinup queen as Daisy Duke on the hit ’80s series The Dukes of Hazzard. “To have this happen was a sucker punch. I did not see this coming.” Almost two years after her husband of 19 years shot himself at their home, the actress is finally healing and opening up about her grief as she begins her first acting job since his tragic death. Playing Anita Lawson on the CBS soap opera The Young and the Restless “is so much fun,” says Bach. “She’s a schemer and has a million ways to make money-all of them evil.”

In other words, she’s the complete opposite of the genteel Bach, who has devoted the past two years to putting her life back together with daughters Sophia, 16, and Laura, 13. An outpouring of support from friends like Dukes costar John Schneider (“He’s like a brother to me,” she says) and grief therapy enabled the family to reinvent a routine. “I’m hyperaware that I’m guiding the ship for all three of us now,” says Bach. “I make sure I talk about Peter so they can check in with me. My serious grieving is not in front of them, but I do talk about my sadness.” Adds Sophia: “It’s not so much us helping our mom or our mom helping us, it’s all of us working together to help each other.”

For Bach, being solo at the helm also means helping her teen girls navigate the perils of image-conscious L.A. Even during her Dukes heyday, when Bach made sexy denim cutoffs so famous that they became known as “Daisy Dukes,” the South Dakota native insists she never obsessed about her weight. She maintained her figure-including her legs, which were famously insured for $1 million-by “dancing three hours a day, hiking and swimming,” she says. “I wasn’t skinny from dieting; I was an athlete.” Her girls have followed suit. “We’ve taken up yoga together, so we still get in our bonding time,” says Sophia. “We make it more of a priority to spend time together.” And three decades after Dukes, Bach has no qualms about admitting she no longer has Daisy Duke’s svelte figure. “I’ve put on a little weight, but so what?”

In the nearly two years since Lopez’s death, Bach has remained haunted by the still-unanswered question of why her husband decided to take his own life. “A lot of people in the music business have stress, but Peter was always calm and collected,” she says. “The further I get away from it, the more I believe he did this to protect us. Something must have happened to him that he couldn’t get past.”

Because Bach will likely never know for sure, she’s content to embrace the reality of her new life. Except when it comes to the possibility of finding love again. “Peter was a gift from God. If God blesses me again, I will. I don’t have plans any more,” she says. “I have focus: on the kids and on moving ahead.”