Widow who recently lost husband honors him with 'silly' photo shoot: 'I was the happiest bride on the planet again'

Three months after losing her husband in a tragic accident, a young widow came up with a brilliant and "silly" way to keep her beloved husband's spirit alive.

Katie Swantek, whose husband of four years, Brett, drowned in a kayaking mishap in May 2019, enlisted the help of her wedding photographer, Miranda Helmuth, and a few of her closest friends to put together a special photo shoot, which she said left her feeling like "the happiest bride on the planet again." 

In a tear-jerking post shared to the photographer's Facebook page, Swantek explained the motivation behind the shoot, admitting the inspiration came to her on a particularly bad day of grieving when she was organizing her storage room and came across her "perfectly preserved wedding dress."

"So what did I do? I ripped it open, tried it on (it actually zipped, yippee!) and then I sat in it and cried for the rest of the day," she recalled. "I was the happiest girl on the planet the last time I wore that dress. Now, I found myself more depressed than ever while wearing it—being faced with the reality of no longer having the husband that I married when I wore it."

Swantek, of Genoa, Neb., said after she stopped crying, she found humor in imagining how "crazy" she might look to an outsider who showed up at her door and saw her "sitting in my living room in my wedding dress on a Monday afternoon, drinking a Busch light."

"Then I remembered the iconic Friends episode where Monica, Rachel and Phoebe sat around in their dresses and drank beers and just felt beautiful for the day," she explained. "That's when I messaged the photographer that we had for our wedding. I was thrilled when she was just as excited about the idea as I was!"

Swantek invited a couple of her friends to don their wedding gowns in a similar fashion and said she was overwhelmed by the positive response she received.

"When eight girls showed up in their wedding gowns last night to just be silly and drink beers and eat pizza with me, I think I was the happiest bride on the planet again!" she recalled. "We shared wedding memories, compared stains on our dresses, and laughed so hard we cried. It was so much fun to let loose and just be silly for no reason at all."

"I will say I definitely have hard days, but last night was by far the happiest one I've had in months. I'm reminded again of just how blessed I truly am," she ended her emotional post.

Swantek's husband, a volunteer firefighter, died when the pair was kayaking on the Loup River earlier this summer.

"There was an undertow and it just sucked him straight under, kayak and everything," Swantek told KSNB. "I saw him three more times and then he just didn't come back up. And then he didn't come back up for 10 days after that."

After days of relentless searching, Brett's body was recovered and he was laid to rest, leaving behind his wife and young son. 

Swantek said if her husband, an avid outdoorsman, were still alive, he would have absolutely approved of her lighthearted photo shoot. 

"Had he not passed away, I know he would have said, 'Go do it, if that's what you want to do and you think you can get the people together, then do it," she told the station. "It was needed and it was fun and there wasn't a time when I felt like I needed to break off and cry because I had all of this awesome support around me."

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