A widower chose grace and forgiveness instead of harboring vengeance for the firefighter who caused the tragic accident that killed his pregnant wife. Over a decade later, the two men have forged a profound brotherly bond.
Forgiving is hard, but it can make a world of difference in people's lives, relieving them of regret and trauma they've long carried inside. Surprisingly, a little forgiveness can go a long way in bringing people closer and binding them in love.
The unlikely companionship between Erik Fitzgerald and Matt Swatzell was rooted in the heart-rending tragedy that turned their worlds upside down. Several years later, the two men view their friendship as a sign from the universe.
[Left] Faith with her mom, June. [Right] Fitzgerald comforting Swatzell. | Photo: youtube.com/TODAY | facebook.com/brad.brandon.31
On October 2, 2006, firefighter paramedic Swatzell was driving home after finishing work in Dacula, Georgia. He was sleep-deprived and exhausted but confident that he'd reach home safely. Sadly, he was wrong.
He nodded off for merely three or four seconds, and his car crossed the centerline, smashing into another vehicle. Behind the wheel of the other vehicle was a young woman and her little girl.
The 30-year-old June, and her daughter, Faith, were rushed to the hospital. When her husband, Pastor Fitzgerald, reached the hospital, a grief counselor told him his wife didn't make it.
June and Erik pictured with their daughter, Faith. | Photo: YouTube.com/TODAY
LOSS OF LOVED ONES
The heartbroken father didn't know how to break the news to his little princess. He shared how she crawled into his lap and fell asleep, and he was relieved he didn't have to pretend that everything was okay.
He was blessed with a son born on the exact due date of the unborn baby he and June were expecting.
In the same hospital, a policeman approached Swatzell, telling him that June didn't survive the car crash. He also added that she was seven months pregnant, and her baby didn't make it either.
Matt Swatzell and Erik Fitzgerald. | Photo: YouTube.com/TODAY
Swatzell was overcome with grief and regret. His job as an EMT was to help people survive tragedies, and he couldn't believe he had caused one himself. In the face of tragedy, Fitzgerald recalled a message he had heard in a sermon. He told TODAY:
"In moments where tragedy happens or even hurt, there's opportunities to demonstrate grace or to exact vengeance. Here was an opportunity where I could do that. And I chose to demonstrate grace.”
He requested the court to show leniency to Swatzell, knowing that enough damage had been done already and he didn't wish for any more. After that, the firefighter was asked to pay a fine and practice community service.
Fitzgerald and Swatzell laying flowers for Fitzgerald's wife. | Photo: YouTube.com/TODAY
THE PATH OF FORGIVENESS
The two men never saw each other until June's second death anniversary in October 2008. Swatzell had stopped at a grocery store to buy a condolence card for Fitzgerald when he saw him walking toward him. Swatzell shared with TODAY:
“That was the biggest relief I'd ever felt. He just said from the start that he forgives me."
Surprisingly, the two of them chatted for hours that day, not realizing where fate was leading them. The widower then told the young paramedic that he felt they shared a special connection. Swatzell smiled and said the feeling was mutual.
Swatzell hugging Fitzgerald's daughter, Faith. | Photo: YouTube.com/TODAY
AN UNLIKELY FRIENDSHIP
As friendship blossomed between the two, they began spending more time together. Swatzell made a conscious effort to connect with Fitzgerald's daughter, Faith, and started his own family. Regarding Faith, he expressed:
“Just seeing Faith, holding my kids — it puts a smile on my face."
Fitzgerald moved to Florida and remarried. He was blessed with a son born on the exact due date of the unborn baby he and June were expecting.
35-year-old Swatzell still struggled with the guilt he carried within but was glad he'd found a lifelong friend in 45-year-old Fitzgerald. They love spending quality time together and often go on holidays with their families.
Neither Fitzgerald nor Swatzell knew what the cards had in store for them, but a little forgiveness and grace brought them together for the rest of their lives. What a heartwarming story of friendship, brotherhood, and love!
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