Grisel Leyva/X&V Photography James Alvarez and wife Yesenia Aguilar (left) and James with baby Adalyn after his wife's death (right)
A California father is keeping the memory of his late wife alive by recreating the maternity photoshoot they had taken together — this time with their 14-month-old daughter.
James Alvarez told Good Morning America that he wanted to find a special way to honor his late wife, Yesenia Aguilar, while also celebrating their daughter Adalyn's first birthday.
Aguilar never got to meet Adalyn, as she was killed in an alleged drunk driving accident in August 2020, according to the outlet. Though Aguilar did not survive, doctors were able to save Adalyn's life and welcome her via Cesarean section.
Fourteen months after that day, Alvarez returned to the park with his daughter Adalyn and photographer Grisel Leyva.
Discussing the "very emotional" shoot with GMA, Alvarez said of his late wife, "She was there with me."
"It's been a tough journey but I did it with my head held high," Alvarez added in an Instagram post. "I try to be the best father I could be for my daughter. I want to make my wife proud."
Grisel Leyva/X&V Photography James Alvarez and baby Adalyn looking at a photo of Yesenia Aguilar
According to a video on Alvarez's Instagram page, he and Aguilar met in 2017 in ultrasound school. The two "hit it off" and dated for two years before tying the knot on April 27, 2019.
Months later, the pair learned they were expecting their first child. But tragedy struck on Aug. 11, 2020, when Alvarez said he and Aguilar were walking on the sidewalk and were both struck by an SUV.
"As I saw my wife lay there lifeless, I knew all our dreams and goals were destroyed in that moment. My wife was taken to the hospital in hopes to be saved but unfortunately didn't make it. But the greatest gift happened," Alvarez wrote. "Even lacking oxygen for 20 mins, Adalyn Rose was born. She was a miracle. She never gave up, which I learned to never give up either and the rest is history."
Over the last year, Alvarez has raised his daughter solo while making sure to honor his late wife. He's saved several of Aguilar's belongings, like her clothes and makeup, to give to Adalyn one day.
"When my daughter is old enough to understand, I can show her all those beautiful items, memories, so she can kind of have an idea of who she was really was," he explained to GMA.
Grisel Leyva/X&V Photography James Alvarez and Yesenia Aguilar (left) and James with baby Adalyn (right)
His mourning process has included the new photo shoot at the park — a place Alvarez told GMA he had not visited since his wife died.
Dressed in the same outfit he wore during the initial shoot, Alvarez posed with his daughter in the same locations around the same time of day as the same photographer captured their sweet moments together. As a nod to his late wife, Alvarez dressed Adalyn in pink — the same color her mom wore for the maternity shoot.
"The day you left, I lost a part of me but gained that piece back when we had our daughter. We did our daughter's first birthday photoshoot in honor of you, wifey," Alvarez wrote on Instagram next to a series of photos from the shoot.
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"You mean the world to me, Adalyn. I know your mommy is watching over you and proud of you. How I wish I could switch with your mommy so she can have the opportunity to fall in love with you like I have," he continued. "I didn't set out to be a single father or widower. I set out to be the best father I could be…And it hasn't changed because giving up is not an option."
Despite being unexpectedly thrust into his single-parent role, Alvarez told GMA he has made the best of the situation.
Since Aguilar's passing, Alvarez has gotten involved with MOMS Orange County, a California-based nonprofit organization dedicated solely to newborn and pregnancy health. Thanks to MOMS, he has been able to connect with other single fathers.
"[Being a single father] can be a challenge, but life is full of challenges, and it's a matter of how you face them," Alvarez told the outlet. "I would tell any single fathers that are in similar situations, it's a blessing to be a parent, and even though it [can] be scary, be blessed for the opportunity to be a father and to enjoy every single minute that you possibly can with your child because you have no idea what kind of bond you can build with your children."
Echoing those sentiments, Alvarez wrote in an Instagram post: "Through my daughter, I was able to find the light at the end of the tunnel. She gave me strength to carry on, to fight for my life and she fought for hers... I share my story to help others overcome their very own battles. If I was able to go through what I went through then I know anyone can."