Happily Ever Kerplunk

Twenty-fourteen was supposed to be an amazing year. I was three years out of my MBA program, working in a prestigious marketing position on a national brand, and along with my husband, Joe, I was actively working on two other big life goals: having a baby and renovating a house. Looking back, perhaps we should have spaced these goals out a little, but our home search took longer than we anticipated, and I was already 4 months pregnant when we finally found our perfect fixer-upper.

It was an adorable old house on a big grassy lot in a great neighborhood filled with other community-loving city exiles. I thought I was handy until we actually got started and I realized the full extent of our renovations. Thankfully, my eagle scout husband was actually handy, and my two sets of parents, Mom & Craig and Dad & Lee, recognized all the help we needed and showed up day after day to help tear up carpet, bust down walls, remove old bathroom fixtures, take stuff to the dump, repair cracks in walls, refinish the floors, install our new kitchen cabinets, appliances, and bathroom fixtures, and paint every inch of the house. The learning curve was steep. There was dust everywhere. Joe and I lived for weeks with a basement fridge and no kitchen, eating peanut butter sandwiches, things out of cans, and takeout until it got boring. Sometimes, I would pause and think that if I could get through that renovation, I could learn and do anything, with the right team of course.

Our baby girl was patient and generously gave us an extra week beyond her due date. When she arrived in February, the house was still unfinished, but the bedrooms were finally free from renovation dust, our big furniture was moved in, we had a functional kitchen, and her nursery became a small sanctuary of clean orderliness.

Two months later, it was my mom’s big 6-0, and my stepdad and I planned two parties to celebrate her, simply so we could keep one of them a surprise. She was overjoyed to be a grandmother and was so touched to have had the spotlight moment of a big birthday bash, which I had been planning on for years, wanting to give back to the mother who gave me everything she could. Her biggest wish was to get to take care of her grandbaby when I went back to work– something I had resisted, wanting her to have optional, not obligatory grandmother time. Eventually, I relented, because nobody else could possibly give my baby such loving care.

In May 2014, about a month after her birthday, we found out that my mom had pancreatic cancer. Her team of doctors assured her they discovered it so early that her prognosis was actually favorable, despite the grim statistics for survival. My mom underwent what’s called a ‘whipple’ surgery, which sounds like a fancy icecream sundae, but is actually removal of part of the pancreas, gallbladder, and small intestine. After the surgery, she could never digest food well again, nonetheless delight in eating. I went back to work, placed the baby in daycare, and tried my best to keep my mom’s spirits up through all the treatments. We had always talked multiple times a day anyway, but now baby photos, videos, and visits were her emotional buoy.

The reality of my family’s future began to set in. I couldn’t imagine my life without my parents.

We regained optimism for a while. But then in November, just before Thanksgiving, my stepdad, Craig, was also diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We soon found out that his prognosis was not as good as my mom’s. The sorrow was unreal. I didn’t even have words; I could only hug him. And as I asked more questions about my stepmom’s health – she had been fighting breast cancer for over 3 years but had given us limited details– I discovered that you really couldn’t live forever with metastatic breast cancer. The reality of my family’s future began to set in. I couldn’t imagine my life without my parents. And on top of all this, things had become shaky with my job – our business division and location were under constant evaluation by the company, and it was ultimately announced that the brand was up for sale. Uncertainty loomed in every facet of my world.

We tried our best to have a nice Christmas, visiting with family and exchanging gifts as usual, my parents complaining that we gave too much, meanwhile completely overdoing it themselves. Over the next few months, we held onto our ‘normal’ as much as we could; I’d pick up dinner and stop over with the baby after work, we’d go for a walk, or my mom would come over to play or watch the baby for us whenever she was feeling up to it.

That summer, I took a trip with some friends to Calgary to visit another friend who was about to have her first baby. I felt immense guilt for being away from my parents and my baby, but for the first time in over a year, I had ‘free’ time to sit with my feelings. I became flooded with emotions. And new ideas. My friend, Jenny, was complaining about how difficult it was to find a photographer in a different city, and in that moment, I had this lightbulb moment that’s spurred a whole new growth path for me.

Over the previous year, I had wanted to hire a photographer on several occasions, but had difficulty finding someone available when I needed them. I would have loved more family photos. After my mom’s diagnosis, she initially balked at the idea of doing a photo shoot with the baby, and I felt horrible guilt for insinuating that she might not be here or might not have her own hair in the days to come. But then, as the cancer treatments progressed, she couldn’t predict how she’d feel, and life got so busy that we mostly made do with the photos we took ourselves.

After my mom’s diagnosis, she initially balked at the idea of doing a photo shoot with the baby, and I felt horrible guilt for insinuating that she might not be here or might not have her own hair in the days to come.

After talking with Jenny, I suddenly realized I wasn’t the only busy working mom who thought the current ways of finding a photographer were glaringly inefficient. In my head, I imagined a centralized platform for searching and booking photographers, with transparent pricing and availability, that would bring convenience to clients and give photographers a place to sell their services. I thought, surely, something like this exists, it’s just in my area yet. But I couldn’t find it, so I set out to create it. (Fulfilling another life goal: starting a company.)

As cancer overtook my family, and the stability of my job was fading, I poured my energy into building Lokalphoto on nights and weekends. I don’t know what I would have done without something pulling me into the future as my present-day situation became so heartbreaking. My mom was always my biggest backer, and became my first “investor,” gifting my money to get the platform started. Discussing Lokalphoto with her gave us something to talk about aside from the cancer, the grandbaby she would have to leave behind, and maybe in a way, was her gift to keep me going knowing that I would miss her with my whole being every day.

Discussing Lokalphoto with her gave us something to talk about aside from the cancer, the grandbaby she would have to leave behind, and maybe in a way, was her gift to keep me going knowing that I would miss her with my whole being every day.

I lost my stepdad in December 2015, my stepmom in February 2016, and then my mom in November 2016. In between all this loss, we welcomed our second daughter in April 2016. My company sold our brand in October 2016, and my job moved to New York in June 2017. It was a whirlwind. I wallowed emotionally for a while, and still have some hard days, but overwhelmingly, I’m grateful. I had the best mom and step-parents I could have ever imagined. I still have my dad, my husband, our two little girls, and the support of our extended family and friends. I live in a house that was beautifully transformed out of love by my family, with fond memories that fill every room. I didn’t move to New York with my job. Instead, I’m pursuing Lokalphoto full-time, armed with the scrappy figure-it-out confidence and perseverance instilled in me, and the vision of creating a community that celebrates the power of photography and a company that operates mindfully, supporting photographers as well as working parents, and gives back as it can.

Marianne is the founder of Lokalphoto, a new platform that’s modernizing how people find, book, and pay photographers while supporting photographers’ businesses. Prior to stepping out of corporate, Marianne worked for 13 years in marketing and consumer insights. She lives in Towson, Maryland with her husband, two little girls and their gray tabby cat. Lokalphoto can be found at http://www.lokalphoto.com.

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