GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - In late May of 2019 tragedy struck a Central Nebraska couple when Brett Swantek, a volunteer firefighter from Genoa lost his life while they were kayaking in the Loup River.
A Nebraska woman wears wedding dress, drinks beer and eats pizza with friends for one special reason. (Source: Miranda Helmuth Photography)
Now just three months later, his wife Katie is still struggling to come to term with his tragic death. But thanks to some friends, beer, pizza and their wedding dresses, her laughter and smile are coming back.
"There was an undertow and it just sucked him straight under, kayak and everything," Katie Swantek describing the heartbreaking moment that changed her life forever. She continued describing the horror, "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, the body of Brett Swantek was found.
The days and weeks to come for Katie and their young son is something no one should have to endure.
"I will never be the same; we undoubtedly loved each other so much. And he told me that everyday," Katie said.
It was a particularly interesting moment of grief which lead to something special. While de-cluttering her house one day, Katie came upon her wedding dress.
"I just put it on and didn't want to take it off and just sat in it for most of the day and really cried and watched our wedding video." Katie said that's when the idea came about. So she called on friend and photographer, Miranda Helmuth, to make it happen.
"Immediately i'm 100 percent in. I'm invested. What is it, I'm in?!" Helmuth said remembering back on the phone call.
The idea was to capture a group of friends, drinking beer and eating pizza, and doing it all while in their wedding dresses - like an episode of "Friends" that she liked.
But the group knew putting the dress back on without Brett by her side could be tough for Katie.
Helmuth said, "In your mind you can go one of two ways with it."
And there were some tough moments. Like when Katie held the flag presented at Brett's funeral. But as the pictures show, the evening was a new kind of magical in its own way.
"These girls got together and they were ready to have a good time and drink beer together and that 100 percent came out in the images," Helmuth said.
"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. 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," Katie said.
The story has now gained international attention. Something neither Katie nor any of the women realized would happen.
There is also a memorial in the works for Brett at the Genoa Volunteer Fire Station where he served.