Courtesy TheBrittanyFund.org and Dan Diaz
At 29, Maynard made global headlines when she announced that she would end her own life with medication prescribed to her by her doctor. She had been diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma, a malignant brain tumor, and doctors told her she had six months to live. She decided to end her life on her own terms and utilized a prescribed fatal dose of barbiturates instead of allowing the cancer to progress and inflict more pain.
Diaz, 49, lives in the same Alamo, California house that he and Maynard bought together in 2012. The holidays are always “tough,” he tells PEOPLE, because “Brittany’s absence is the most obvious and felt by everyone in attendance.”
Brittany would decorate the house for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the holiday season always started early for the couple.
“Brittany had this flare,” he shares. “She’d put up all these candles, ornaments and holly to make the house feel warm and inviting.”
Courtesy TheBrittanyFund.org and Dan Diaz Brittany Maynard and Dan Diaz's dogs at Christmastime
“Her job for me was decorating the exterior, hanging up the lights, the wreaths and all of that to make the outside look bright and cheerful,"
It took a few years after his wife’s death for Diaz to dust off their crates of Christmas decorations and keep his promise to Maynard that he’d make the house festive for the holidays.
“Now, I do my portion of stringing the lights on the exterior of the house, like Brittany expected of me every year, to keep the house looking nice and cheerful,” he says.
Outside their home, the couple enjoyed visiting California’s wine country before New Year’s Eve.
“We’d just get away from the craziness of the holidays: the gifts, the shopping, the malls and just spend time as the two of us,” he says. “It was one of those moments where you get to just appreciate the person you’re with and do things that we’d enjoy.”
This year, Diaz says he’ll be spending the holidays with his family in California. If Maynard were still alive, Diaz imagines he’d be with her and the children they wanted to have.
“We had aspirations to have our own family and were in the process of starting when we discovered her brain tumor,” he says. “So when I personally reflect on the holiday season, I imagine maybe we’d have a little 5-year-old and 3-year-old running around the house.”
He continues: “Cancer took that opportunity from us, and that’s what I reflect on during the holidays, but at the same time, I also reflect on the seven and a half years Brittany and I had together.”
Courtesy thebrittanyfund.org Brittany Maynard and Dan Diaz
Diaz has become a fierce advocate for end-of-life options following Maynard’s death, working alongside Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life advocacy organization. An advocate and activist for the controversial right-to-die movement, Brittany worked tirelessly with the organization to expand death-with-dignity laws around the country.
In 2014 the family temporarily moved from California to Oregon so Maynard could have access to the state's Death with Dignity Act, which allows physicians to prescribe life-ending medication to certain terminally ill patients.
"My glioblastoma is going to kill me and that's out of my control," she told PEOPLE after her diagnosis. "I've discussed with many experts how I would die from it and it's a terrible, terrible way to die. So being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying."
When Maynard died, dignity statues only existed in Washington, Oregon, Vermont and Montana. Currently, eight states in the United States, plus Washington D.C., allow the terminally ill to die with medical assistance.
Diaz says terminally ill patients and their family members will frequently approach him to say how grateful they are for Brittany’s advocacy and starting a public conversation about the right-to-die movement.
“Their gratitude is so meaningful to me because it highlights the impact that Brittany made,” Diaz says. “So during this time of year, as we reflect on all the blessings that we have in our lives, it's those moments that I think about. That keeps me going and it’s how I honor Brittany's legacy.”