It’s been nearly eight months since Cassie Lohrey lost her husband, Hospital Corpsman 1st class Ryan Lohrey, in a military plane crash. And as she prepares to welcome their first child, Lohrey says she wanted to honor her late husband in her first maternity shoot.
Lohrey, 34, teamed up with photographer Amie Akers (of A Stitch in Time Photography) to incorporate Ryan in the shoot. She posed in a form-fitting dress, cradling her baby bump as Ryan’s shadow appeared to embrace her and plant a kiss on her forehead.
“I knew I wanted to do it for him, I could feel his presence.” the mom-to-be tells PEOPLE. “It was surreal, the whole experience. It was very calming. I felt like it was just meant to be our first family picture of three. I’m so grateful to have that.”
Lohrey, of Hampstead, North Carolina, says the photographer used images of Ryan from the couple’s wedding day, making the shots even more special. She says the experience was “very calming” for her.”
“[The photos] brought tears to my eyes. I was really in awe just at how perfect they were and how well everything fit together,” she tells PEOPLE. “It was also reassuring and comforting at the same time to have that memory with him.”
Ryan died on July 10 in Mississippi just one month after the couple tied the knot. In the months after Ryan’s death, the grieving widow honored him by having 16 service members help her reveal the gender of their baby.
Now, Lohrey says that although her life has been “flipped upside down” by Ryan’s death, knowing that she will soon hold her new baby girl helps her cope with the loss.
“She’s my motivation. She’s what keeps me going and I want to just keep going strong for her and for him as well,” she tells PEOPLE. “She’s the little shining star that keeps me going. I have something to look forward to with him being gone versus having nothing. This is just the silver lining.”
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Lohrey says she plans to show her daughter every article that was written about her husband and show her all of his photos. “My goal is to just keep talking to her and show her all the time so she never forgets.”
She has decided to name the baby girl after her husband — Ryan Jo.