Lifestyle & Human Interest

Woman Widowed After Kayaking Tragedy Poses for Wedding Dress Photo Shoot in Honor of Late Husband


One young widow found a special way to create new memories in her wedding gown after her husband died tragically this past May in a kayaking accident.

Katie Swantek, a mother to a 3-year-old boy and a volunteer EMT, had already been grieving for several months when she found her wedding dress while cleaning out her closet. Devastated to realize that the sight of her special gown brought her so much sadness, the young mom, who lives in Nebraska, decided she wanted to do something to change that.

What’s more, she knew that the people in her life would be more than willing to help.

“My community has tremendously supported me,” Swantek told The Western Journal. “My husband was a volunteer firefighter, and I am a volunteer EMT. And we live in a small town of only 1,000 people. So in times like these, everyone steps up and supports each other.”

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Since her husband’s death, the young widow’s family and friends had worked tirelessly to help her feel less alone. She said that after he drowned, dozens of people helped search for his body for ten days following the accident.

“Every one of those days people from our community and surrounding communities lined the river banks and endlessly helped me search for him,” Swantek said.

“That was very humbling,” she added.

After thinking about ways to honor her husband and also create some new, happy memories in her wedding dress, Swantek recalled an episode of the TV show “Friends” in which several of the characters dress up in wedding dresses to cheer themselves up.

Swantek told The Western Journal that she and her husband had been “big fans of the show,” watching reruns every night before going to bed. She knew that he would love the idea of dressing up with her friends.

Growing excited about her plan, Swantek called her wedding photographer, Miranda Helmuth, who eagerly agreed to arrange a photo shoot for the “brides.”

The widow then called up her seven closest pals, and each promised to be a part of the special day.

“My friends happily obliged,” Swantek said. The women have been especially important to her over the past few months, as they have helped her deal with Brett’s death.

“They keep me going,” she said.

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One of the friends told Inside Edition that the shoot was a perfect opportunity “just to bring Katie some happiness.” Each former bride brought her own wedding dress to the Swantek’s house, where they celebrated together, laughing and dancing in Katie and Brett’s special place in the backyard.

The photographer snapped photos of the eight women celebrating life and friendship together as the sun set over the hills.

She even took a few photos of the women posing on the couch in Swantek’s living room, as they mimicked the characters from “Friends.”

Swantek told The Western Journal that she was glad to have the opportunity to inspire and encourage other women who might be experiencing the same kind of grief after losing a husband too young.

“I never expected these photos to get the attention that they have but I’m so very thankful that they have inspired other widows like myself to keep going. It’s not an easy path,” she said.

For Swantek, the pictures represent the next phase of her life as she moves forward, surrounded by a caring community.

But the young mom also set aside a special moment alone with the same American flag that she and Brett had posed with together on their wedding day, paying tribute to her husband and their happy years together.

She advised other widows not to push away the painful memories, but also to be brave in making new ones.

“I would definitely recommend to do anything you can to create new memories that won’t necessarily replace the old ones, because I would never want to forget about my wedding day either. But I’m happy to have new memories in my dress now that do nothing but make me smile,” she said.

“I will cherish those pictures and memories forever.”

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Laura Stewart was an associate story editor and news and lifestyle contributor for The Western Journal.
Laura Stewart was an associate story editor and news and lifestyle contributor for The Western Journal.
Phoenix, AZ