"The most difficult, but rewarding, part of the past year has been to try and define a life worthy of Catherine," Hyong Yi writes

By Michelle Boudin
Updated November 21, 2015 05:50 PM
Credit: Lindsay Hart

A Charlotte, North Carolina, man and his two kids spent Friday morning passing out love letters to complete strangers as a way to honor his late wife.

Hyong Yi, an assistant city manager, lost his wife, Catherine Zanga, a former attorney, to ovarian cancer a year ago this weekend.

In an emotional Facebook post, Yi writes about the couple’s moving love story and the reason he started his #100LoveNotes movement to get everyone thinking about the people they love – and saying “I love you.”

Yi tells PEOPLE the idea for the movement came up this past September when he realized the anniversary of her death was imminent.

“I could see it coming,” says Yi. “It was kind of like there was a hurricane, you knew it was going to hit and it was like do you hold on and wait to see the wreckage or do you do something about it. I decided I gotta do something about this.”

He started writing the letters, many of them from actual conversations the couple had during their fifteen year love affair.

Friends read them and convinced the now single father he had to make the letters public. They helped him create the website where strangers can now read the notes he wrote – and Yi hopes – send them to their own loved ones.

Recipients were in tears as Yi, his 7-year-old son Alex and 10-year-old daughter Anna walked through busy uptown Charlotte on Friday handing out the notes.

“One woman she read it, Anna gave it to her, and she ran back and found us,” Yi explains. “She was crying. She had read the note and she hugged me and she said she was so sorry for everything that happened. It was a beautiful thing.”

Anna says she loved seeing people reading the letters.

“Sometimes people take loved ones for granted and sometimes people don’t have their loved ones. Be thankful for everyone around you,” she tells PEOPLE.

Yi says he and the kids are doing okay. Anna struggles because she knows how much she’s lost. Alex is just starting to realize his mom is gone.

“I have to live,” Yi says. “What would she want? I can’t live in the past, as much as I would like to. You gotta keep going forward. My responsibility is to honor her memory and live the best life I can. My job is to live a great life for my kids.”

Yi will spend the next year turning the love letters in to a book, and continuing to honor his late wife.

One of the things that Catherine was afraid of that she would be forgotten. I wanted her to know that she was not going to be forgotten.

And judging by the reactions Yi has been receiving, the memory will not be forgotten.

In a moving post on Facebook, Yi writes,”As MEDIC came to transport her to hospice, I said to her ‘I love you.’ ‘I love you too,’ she replied. These were the last words she said to me. She passed away on Nov. 21, 2014, just nine hours after being admitted.

“After the funeral, my initial plan was to curl up, stay in bed, and wallow in grief for as long as possible. But having children who need care and are legally required to go to school forces you to get up in the morning. In retrospect, this was probably for the best.

“The most difficult, but rewarding, part of the past year has been to try and define a life worthy of Catherine, but without Catherine. What is a life well lived? My conclusion a life filled with love. This, Catherine taught me.

“In return, I want to honor her love. On Friday, Nov. 20, my children and I will be walking uptown Charlotte to hand out 100 love notes to passersby. It is a labor of love and sadness, but also one of gratitude and joy. I am grateful for her love and wish I had just one more opportunity to tell her ‘I love you,’ and for her to respond.

“While it’s too late for me, it may not be for you.

“In daily life, we get so busy that we often forget to express our love for one another. We assume our loved ones will always be there. Today, I invite you to take a moment to honor the loves in your life. Let’s remind ourselves what’s most important in life – sharing our love with one another. Please join me in writing a love note or sharing an expression of love (ex: chalk art, post-it note, skywritten note, whatever) with someone you love and share it on social media with the hashtag #100LoveNotes.”