Nikki Salgot of Saint Clair Shores, Michigan recently suffered a traumatic loss. Salgot was counting down the days until the day she would marry Wayne State University police officer Collin Rose, but Rose was shot and killed on duty, taking with him the plans the couple had of a life together.
As the day of the wedding that would no longer take place crept closer, Salgot decided to do something unorthodox but deeply significant. She reached out to a former classmate, Rachel Heller, who is now a wedding photographer. Salgot was interested in doing a memorial photo shoot in the wedding dress that she had already bought for the would-be celebration.
Although the two friends hadn’t spoken for many years, Heller had seen Salgot’s story on the news and was eager to help. On October 4th, just a week before Heller’s own wedding, they met for the shoot. Salgot had been unaware of Heller’s upcoming wedding at the time because Heller had kept it to herself, not wanting to be insensitive.
The two reunited in the woods where the photoshoot was to take place and prepared to pay homage to the couple’s relationship. Speaking about the undertaking, Heller says, “I remember being in tears on the way there, thinking, ‘How am I going to do this? How am I going to find a way to take photos that will do this justice, not just for her but for him?’”
Heller’s photographs captured a woman who is equal parts sadness and strength, and as Heller described her, “so lighthearted at the same time.” She adds, “She had an ease about her […] She [Salgot] said, ‘Collin never took himself too seriously, and we never took ourselves too seriously as a couple. … It is what it is.'”
Heller continued, “There were moments when Nikki would shift her dress around, or step on it and start laughing. I wanted to capture those moments, too, to show that she can still laugh…I needed to tell the story of this woman who’s lost the love of her life but is still going to have closure, and still going to be his wife one way or another.”
According to Heller, some moments during the photo shoot were heavier than others. She explains that Salgot had brought along a flag, a cap, and Rose’s police bag. When Heller fumbled in an attempt to fasten the badge to the flag for a shot, Salgot kept smiling and reassuring her, “It’s OK, it’s OK.” Heller says, “Imagine, this woman who’s been through all this, telling me that it’s OK.”
Heller describes Salgot as being very sure of herself. She hadn’t told her family of the wedding because she wanted to do this herself. Heller explained, “She was very empowered that day…She made it really easy for me to do what I needed to do, to give her what she needed.”
Heller spent the night editing the photos and presented the session and any prints that Salgot wanted as a gift to her. It was only then that Heller broke the news to Salgot of her own wedding, which was three days away.
Heller recalls, “She was so excited for me…So collected. It was so generous of her to be happy for me. It really put things in perspective. My busy schedule and whatever else I have to do doesn’t matter because at least I get to do it. It was way more important to be there for her.”
Salgot, who is grieving the anniversary of Rose’s death, declined to comment. However, in a Facebook post, she explains her hope that the photos will give strength to those suffering from similar situations. In the post she says, “[Heller] captured images that still vividly show the pain left behind; images that show I am still able to laugh, smile and be me; images that show this loss has not and will not destroy me; and my favorite, images that show I am still just as fierce as ever and refuse to let this define me.”
Heller wholeheartedly agrees, “This is a woman who is not broken. This did not break her […] To me, she is an inspiration.”
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