Michaela grew up in small town Iowa. She comes from a very determined, entrepreneurial family who were very involved in their community. Her mother, Shari, was a cosmetologist and owned a salon in town. When a fire damaged the building, her mother viewed it as a sign to try something new. The family rebuilt and opened a cafe. Working in the café created a strong work ethic in Michaela, teaching her to "work hard and be nice", a motto she learned to live by.
Michaela moved to the Twin Cities to attend college. When she graduated with a BA in digital photography, the job she wanted didn’t exist in the Twin Cities without relevant work experience. So she applied at White House Custom Color; a professional photographic print lab based in the Twin Cities. During her interview, they toured the facility and she met Alyssa for the first time. Michaela was immediately drawn to Alyssa's larger than life personality. Michaela felt immediately welcomed by Alyssa's warmth. Michaela requested to be in the book department with her so they could work together. She knew she had met an amazing woman and friend.
Alyssa was adored at work. People would intentionally make her laugh because her laugh was so contagious. Although she appeared fun-loving and happy, Alyssa was going through a difficult time and was struggling emotionally. She had married young and they had fallen out of love. She took to blaming and devaluing herself. Michaela came into Alyssa's life at just the right time to encourage and support Alyssa when she needed it the most. Whenever Alyssa was having a particularly bad day, Michaela would always say to her "you're pretty!". This was her way of cheering Alyssa up and reminding her of her value.
The deep bond and supportive friendship the two had together brought Alyssa back to life. She started doing yoga, taking care of herself, getting rid of negative friends, and she divorced her husband.
Soon life was on the upswing for Alyssa. She graduated college, got a great job, met her Fiance, Val, and moved to Mankato to be with him. She had a second chance and was finally able to manifest the kind of life she wanted. Soon, she was pregnant with a daughter, who they were going to name Sutton.
At the end of December, 2014, when Alyssa was 32 weeks pregnant, she joined Michaela and other close friends for a girls Christmas party. It was the first time they had all been together in 3 years. A couple days after Christmas, Alyssa and her beloved Pit Bull, Walley, took to the icy roads to drive from Mankato to Alyssa's hometown for her family Christmas gathering. That morning, Michaela was texting back and forth with Alyssa about the plans for Alyssa's baby shower. Michaela was visiting her own family in Rochester with her husband, Steve and their infant daughter, Olive.
When Michaela left her family’s home, she noticed she had several voicemail messages from Alyssa's fiance Val. She called him back as soon as she got in her car. Val told her there had been a car accident and that "Sutton didn’t make it... and neither did Alyssa". Walley survived. The last exchange between Michaela and Alyssa was Alyssa texting "love you" and Michaela replying "I love you too".
Completely stunned, Michaela stopped in the middle of an onramp. Steve got her out of the driver's seat and took over. The immediate grief was incomprehensible. Michaela had just lost the love of her life, her best friend.
A few days later, she went to Alyssa's hometown of Mountain Lake, MN to help with the funeral arrangements. This was the first time she met Alyssa's mother, Pam. Pam has the same warmth, energy, and big hugs as Alyssa had. Michaela felt immediately bonded to her, and they remain close today.
Michaela struggled to adjust to and accept what had happened. Over the last 2 years, she has had to figure out how to deal with the overwhelming loss. She desperately tried to make sense of what happens to one's energy when they pass away.
Following her mother's example, Michaela let hard times drive her to grow and change. Michaela decided she wanted to start expressing emotions through the art of photography. She wanted to honor Alyssa for the kind of person she was, and for the kind of person she also helped Michaela to become. It occurred to her that a mother and daughter photography project would be the perfect way to do it. Alyssa was pregnant with a daughter when she died. Alyssa's mother is grieving for the loss of her only daughter. Michaela has only one daughter. She wanted to celebrate and convey the bond of women and their daughters by photographing them together. And in this process, she would realize a dream of having her own gallery show.
The project celebrates women raising strong women, the bond between them, and the encouragement, support and love they can only give each other.
You can catch the free exhibit on Thursday October 6th , 6pm-9pm in the Q'arma Building, 1224 Quincy St NE Mpls.