Hearing the news that a beloved family member is sick- really sick- kind of makes you feel all the feels. Some typical emotions are expected: sadness that someone you love has to suffer, worry that the treatment won’t work, fear that you now may be susceptible to the same illness. I certainly felt all of those things last summer, when my mom was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. But - and maybe this isn’t a surprise given my line of work - in the days following my mom’s diagnosis, the one thought I kept coming back to was the “My God. We don’t have a family photo”.
Yep. As of last summer, the family of a professional photographer did not have a single family photo of everyone together. It was partly simple logistics - my daughter was only two and my brother’s daughter had just been born, so we hadn’t even gotten everyone together yet. But I’d be hard pressed to even come up with a decent photo of my Mom, Dad, brother and I from any of the 18 years that we lived together. I suppose it always seemed like too much of a hassle, or an unnecessary expense. Someone was always feeling fat, or having a bad hair day. We figured we’d do it “someday”.
The thing about cancer though, is that it forces you to face the very real possibility that you may be out of “somedays”. And even though we all felt confident that my mom would get better with treatment, the diagnosis alone was enough to shake me into action. When my brother and his family announced they’d be coming into town for a visit prior to my mom starting chemo, I knew I had to make a family photo happen.
Now this is why having a good relationship with a professional photographer who you trust is important. When I found out my brother would be visiting, I texted my friend and former employer Natalie Sinisgalli to see if she’d be able to come take some photos for us. I gave her roughly a week’s notice, and asked her to come to my parents’ country house over an hour away from Rochester… on a Sunday morning… in August. If you’re not a wedding photographer, that might not seem like a very big deal - but I can tell you, it is. I knew she’d probably be coming off of a late night Saturday wedding. I knew she probably would be exhausted, and would have piles of work waiting for her back in Rochester. I knew I’d be cutting into the precious little free time she’d have in the middle of a busy wedding season. But I also knew that I needed to make this happen. And she knew too. Within 2 minutes, she texted me back. “I’ll be there.”
Conditions were not ideal for this photo session. My Mom was weepy and worried. My niece was only two months old, and traveling a long way from home for the first time. I was at least ten pounds heavier than I wanted to be. My daughter was hyperactive and NOT in the mood to be photographed. And my brother was completely against having photos taken during this difficult period of time. “We’re all going to be so depressed,” he said on the phone when I told him about it. “I don’t think you should do this.” Luckily, big sisters almost never listen to their little brothers.
It took us a little while to get into the photos that day, but thankfully Natalie is very good at what she does. We ended up having the most amazing time - laughing, joking, running around. For a couple of precious hours we forgot about this scary thing we were all facing, and just took some time to remember how much we all love each other. It was wonderful, and incredibly healing - and I really believe that that session and the amazing photos that came out of it gave my mom the strength to face her treatment in the following months.
As I share this story, almost a year later, I’m about to prepare for another family photo session. Today my husband, daughter and I are getting the opportunity to be photographed by the amazing NYC-based photographer Tory Williams. It was a last-minute thing that came about, and once again the conditions are not perfect. My daughter is still pretty wild - I’m still ten (maybe fifteen) pounds heavier than I’d like to be. I have exactly one pair of pants that fit me right now, and I’m pretty sure they won’t look great in the photographs. But you know what? We still jumped at the opportunity. We’re going to go and have an amazing time in the incredibly capable and professional hands of Tory. And I have no doubt that the photos that come out of today will be a beautiful reflection of the love that we have for each other. No matter what our future holds, my daughter is going to have this legacy of our family to look back on - our family photos.
In sharing this today, I hope you can learn from my mistakes. Don’t wait for the perfect moment to document your family - that perfect moment might never happen. Develop a relationship with a professional photographer - with Natalie, or Tory, or myself, or one of the many other talented photographers we have locally. Pick someone who takes their business seriously and is going to be in this for the long haul - someone you can go back to time and again to document your growing family. Afterward, do something with your images - make an album, or some prints, put them on your walls. Pass them down to your children. Make it a point to look at them often. I know first hand that it’s not always easy - but it will be worth it, I promise.
A huge thanks to Natalie Sinisgalli for the images in today's post, and for everything else. Our family is forever grateful to you. And also a big thanks to Tory Williams for the incredible opportunity for the three of us to be photographed today, we are so excited!