John Polo's wife died in January from complications due to cancer
When John Polo and his wife, Michelle, found out she had a rare form of cancer in July 2013, they immediately went to a courthouse to get married. When her cancer turned terminal almost three years later, the couple planned to have a larger second wedding in February 2016—but Michelle succumbed to the disease just two weeks before the ceremony.
After Michelle’s death, Polo started a blog called Better Not Bitter Widower, which he uses to share reflections on his experiences as a widow, and it is where he uploaded a picture on August 31 of Michelle in the elegant wedding dress she planned to wear for their second ceremony—a dress he never got to see her wear in person.
“She wasn’t materialistic at all, she didn’t get excited about materialistic things, but she loved that dress,” Polo, 33, tells PEOPLE. “I joke that she loved it more than she loved me.”
Michelle didn’t want Polo to see her in the dress until the day of their second wedding, and he still hadn’t seen her wear it by the time she was bedridden. Polo found the photograph a week after Michelle’s death as he laid in bed and shuffled through pictures on her phone. He had no idea the picture even existed, and he felt a wave of emotion when he found it.
“I was happy and devastated at the same time, but if I had to choose one emotion to describe how I felt when I saw it, it would be pride,” he says. “I felt pride she was my wife.”
The couple first met in 2002 as high school students in Illinois, and they dated for a year before breaking up and losing contact. They reunited eight years later, and Polo proposed in July 2012. A year later, Michelle started to experience severe back pain, and doctors discovered she had proximal-type epithelioid sarcoma, a form of rare cancer that kills 50- to 70-percent of patients in five years. That’s when the couple decided to quickly have their courthouse ceremony before Michelle went through with a surgery to remove the tumor in her kidney. The cancer returned three years later and would spread to her liver, lung, ovary, and tailbone.
Michelle passed away at 30-years-old on January 22, 2016, and Polo started Better Not Bitter Widower a month later. For Polo, writing has helped him connect with other widowers who have helped him find a sense of salvation through his experiences.
“The blogging, and the writing, and being apart of the widow community, has saved me,” he says. “As I write, it heals me, but when I read the comments from people, it is more healing knowing that it is helping them. It’s extremely rewarding and humbling.”
Polo recently ran a workshop at Camp Widow (a program that provides tools and resources for widowed persons) and is now preparing to release a book based on his blog called Widowed. Writing has given Polo a reinvigorated purpose in life after facing such a devastating loss, and he feels that by opening up about his feelings, it will allow other widowers to feel comfortable speaking about their own.
It is also the best way Polo knows to pay tribute to the love of his life.
“When she was dying, Michelle was worried that people would forget about her,” Polo says. “I’m writing in order to keep her memory alive.”