The moving story behind Laura Treloar’s jewelry shop Specimental goes far deeper than her distinctive gemstones. Laura shared her story of how an unforeseen tragedy led her to entrepreneurship, and to remind us that there is no singular model for success when it comes to supporting one’s family.
It’s Father’s Day, 2012. Aiden grips a yellow helium balloon in his tiny fist — he has just turned four. As he approaches me, I see he’s crying.
“What’s wrong?” I gently ask.
“I’m trying to draw Daddy’s face on this balloon. I want to give it to him, but I can’t draw him.” On his balloon, the beginnings of a typical four-year-old face drawing: round face, big smile, pinpoint eyes. He begins to cry harder, and to shake with frustration.
“I can’t draw his beard. I don’t remember what his face looked like. I want to float this balloon up to heaven for him with his face so he will know it’s his, but I can’t remember how he looked.”
I join him in crying, feeling just as frustrated as he is.
I met David in 1998, and knew quickly that we would be in it for the long haul. He was tall, handsome, and athletic. I was fresh out of art school; my friends found it peculiar that the heavily tattooed me would be so enamoured of a clean-cut lifeguard. It made us laugh, too, as we were an admittedly unusual pairing.
We married in December 1999. Austin was born bellowing in 2004. Michaelie came along on short order in 2005, and Aiden arrived in 2007 — three babies in 37 months. By then, we were in our second home: a four-storey heritage home in dire need of a complete restoration. The day we brought seven-week-premature Aiden home, we were having our bedroom ceilings replaced (the roof had blown apart in a terrible storm, and rain had destroyed the plaster). Drywall dust and preemies are not a smart mix, but that was how we lived.
In 2009, I took up jewelry design and Etsy both as a hobby and out of necessity. With three small children and a huge home restoration project underway, our two high school teachers’ salaries just weren’t cutting it. We had taken on an immense burden, but had confidence that we could conquer any challenge as long as we worked together. As David used to say, “Failure is not an option.”
This all changed abruptly in March of 2011. Dave died very unexpectedly, in our home. He had just turned 38. Our world crashed, and then stopped. I couldn’t leave my house, nor be left alone. I spent those first days immobilized, trying to make this horrific thing sink in. I felt as though someone was following me around constantly, sucker-punching me in the back of my head. In endless panic, I ground my brain on supporting three young children on my own. They were terrified, too; they did not understand why their dad was dead, and constantly asked me when I was also going to die. Failure seemed not only an option, but an inevitability.
After a month, I knew I had to stand up and get moving, or I would sit shocked and rigid forever. My first step was to go back downstairs, to my studio. I had a number of orders in a holding pattern. I picked up my tools, and slowly crept back to work. I dropped tools, melted pieces, sawed my fingers, and sat staring at the walls for hours. But, as time passed, the once-familiar feeling of my working hands came back to me. My focus returned. I was grateful that I had something to do that would give me some control in a world that felt completely out of my control. Being able to create kept me sane through those first terrible, black months.
Laura in her studio.
Soon, we will be facing the second anniversary of Dave’s death. Specimental is thriving; I am deeply grateful for this, as supporting my children depends upon my business here. Etsy has provided me with the only platform I use to run my business. As an only parent with a demanding teaching career, the ability to run such a successful, creative business from a room in my home is an amazing and empowering situation to be in. I will be having the most challenging of days, then will open my messages to find a note from someone, somewhere, who just wants to get in touch and tell me that they love my work. Specimental has been empowering for my children, too — they squeal if they see my work on the homepage. They make simple earrings at their table in my studio, where they run “Specimental Junior” and hawk their wares to my friends.
Being a widow is an isolating experience at the best of times, and it is not often that one hears about the lows and triumphs that come along with being dropped into a life that is not the one you had planned. For every dark and surreal moment I have, though, there is peace in working through the challenge. Indeed, failure is not an option.
Thank you to Laura for sharing her incredibly touching story. You can see all her designs at Etsy.com.