'The Dukes of Hazzard' star tells PEOPLE of a poignant gesture to honor his love for late wife Alicia Allain Schneider at at her daughter Jessica's wedding weeks after Alicia's death: "It gave me the sense that we are still real"
To ensure Alicia could witness their union, Dollard and Turner recited vows by her bedside with Alicia's mother of the bride dress hanging nearby. Then, over the course of the next week, Alicia's loved ones remained by her side until she died at age 53 on Feb. 21.
"I'd lay at the foot of the bed and hold her hand at night, looking at her pulse, everything in me wanting it to keep going, keep beating, and everything in me wanting it to stop because she was in pain," Schneider, 63, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue.
"The thing that hurts me the most about it is that she had to endure pain. She had to endure fear," he says. "In my overly chivalrous mind, those are the two things I'm supposed to keep her from ever having to experience, and I couldn't."
After her death, Dollard and Turner held their wedding as planned in Nashville on March 12. Schneider was in attendance for the nuptials, but found a heartfelt way to incorporate Alicia into the big day.
"I was in the front row holding Alicia's wedding dress," he says. "That was hard. One of Alicia's friends had to come up to me 'cause I wouldn't put it down."
"It gave me the sense that we are still real," he continues of holding the gown. "I think it freaks some people out. 'Cause I was supposed to just sit next to it, but I couldn't. I had to hold that."
Schneider also made sure Alicia's presence was felt through another one of her posessions: her beloved Corvette, which he drove to Nashville for the wedding.
"[Jessica and Daniel] were going to drive away in it," he explains. "I went from our empty house [in Louisiana] to her empty car, to our empty condo [in Nashville], to holding that dress at the wedding. I mean, talk about a Shakespearean tragedy. Tragic. But what could I do?"
Despite the overwhelming grief that he felt, Schneider believes he had a responsibility to keep Alicia's legacy alive — both at the wedding and beyond.
"I try to represent that now. I still try to represent that we're still us," he shares. "That's the name of my new album ... and that's important to me because I didn't want this. Nobody wanted it. Nobody expected it. This was not in our plan for 2023. So we have to do with it what we can. Representing us is important to me and I think she would be doing the same."
In doing so, Schneider writes daily messages to Alicia on Facebook that he calls "Letters to Heaven." Those candid, emotional posts have moved his followers, which have grown to over a million since February.
"I do see that this is helping people, especially those who grieve," he shares, before noting, "While it's cathartic, it's also pulling off a scab every day."
"The writing helps, but the writing hurts," he adds. "I'm trying to keep some form of inspiration but it's very hard, like a candle with a wick and no flame."
The actor has also launched an AliciaWear clothing line featuring phrases she used to say, like "Love That" and "Go Do," and recently got his first tattoo of her thumbprint on the part of his hand where her thumb would rest when they held hands.
"It's bittersweet, but it makes me smile," he says of the ink. "That's where her thumb was most hours of the day."
With Alicia's legacy driving him, Schneider hopes sharing his story will help others who are grieving and remind people to let their loved ones know how they feel about them.
"I could not have told Alicia Allain Schneider I love her any more than I did," he says proudly. "I have to get to the point where I look around and see where she is, not where she's not. And I'm trying to do that, but that's hard. Somehow I love her more every minute, but with that, somehow I miss her more every minute."
For more on John Schneider, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.
He's also confident that one day he will be reunited with his wife in the afterlife.
"I still wake up in the morning, and I reach for her in groggy sleep. I keep my eyes closed, and I reach over, hoping maybe this was a dream. I'm a creative person. I have some very vivid dreams; maybe this is one of them," he says. "But as bad as I hurt, I wouldn't trade a minute of it."
"Heaven is real, and I'll get there one day and she'll greet me. At that point, this will seem like nothing. like no time has gone by. Until then, I will endure. That's what she'd want, and I'm going to live the rest of my life doing only that which would make her smile," he adds. "I'm going to 'go do,' as she said, even when I don't want to, so that when I get there, she'll be delighted with me."
For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!
Read the original article on People.