Close at hand

A single beautiful bloom brightened my day, February 2017.

A single beautiful bloom brightened my day, February 2017.

“Survival starts by paying attention to what is close at hand and immediate. To look out with idle hope is tantamount to dreaming one’s life away.”Yann Martel

Last summer I bought a small hibiscus plant at a clearance price, and brought it home to our deck. It thrived and bloomed profusely, until I noticed the upper leaves were beginning to disappear. It didn’t take long before I discovered the culprit: a squirrel who decided to dine on it several times a day. I got quite a few photos of that squirrel eating up our lovely plant before I chased him away, but he kept returning no matter how cleverly I placed the plant hoping to shield it from his hungry paws and jaws.

In the fall, as the weather began to turn and I was coping with the shock of deep grief, I brought the now-straggly plant indoors, hoping to preserve it for the winter. All but one of the stripped stalks eventual shriveled and died, but there was one that did not, and continued to bear leaves that the squirrel could no longer consume. With the recent warm days we have enjoyed, I took it outside for a few days, and soon it produced a single beautiful bloom.

As with all hibiscus flowers, it faded quickly, but not (as you probably would guess) before I took several photos of it, marveling at how it looked so different from various angles and lighting. It was a lovely start to an otherwise difficult day. Will that single stalk survive? Will others take the place of the ones that died? Stay tuned; updates are sure to follow.

In the meantime, though, I thought of that flower when I read what Martel said about survival. It is a concise but very accurate summary of what has kept me going. That bloom was close at hand, and immediate, as are so many other things that have filled the days and weeks that otherwise may have been unbearable.

Much of the immediate is not particularly appealing; bureaucratic nonsense related to various aspects of Matt’s disability services, seemingly endless paperwork following Jeff’s death, which comes from the Defense Finance and Accounting, the Veteran’s Administration, the Social Security Administration and numerous other contacts; and all the laundry, care-giving and household maintenance that I am now handling alone. Survival has required that I pay attention to these things, and whether I like it or not, it probably has been a sort of distraction from deep sorrow.

But I’m especially thankful for all the lovely things that are close at hand. Matt’s generally agreeable nature, Amy’s continual support, the morning mug of tea (and the second morning one, and the mid-morning one, and the noontime one, and the early afternoon, and…) and the continuing joy of books, birds and blooms– these are only a few of the things that are there, awaiting my attention, enabling my survival.

What is close at hand and immediate for you today? Whether these things inspire curses or blessings, your attention to them will get you through the day. I wish you many joys that are this very moment within easy reach.


  1. I’m sorry the bureaucracy is making what is already a rough time even rougher. I appreciate that you are aware that this provides a distraction from your pain though I know it only prolongs the grief and pain you must eventually process through. You are being quite pragmatic about it all. I wish the bureaucracy was less intimidating. Hang in there. Sending you giant squishy hugs. Good luck with the Hibiscus. 🙂

    • Thanks, Marlene. Amy described one of these procedures as a “goat rope,” a term I had heard of, but didn’t know exactly what it meant until I looked it up. Boy, does the term fit a huge percentage of the stuff I deal with. But I shouldn’t complain because most of these procedures are tied to very big blessings I should never take for granted, such as pensions, health care, disability services, etc. I guess I should remember the glass is at least half full, and maybe more, even when it is smeared with fingerprints. 😀

      • Good way to look at it. 🙂

        • Reminding myself of such things sounds banal, but it gets me through many a pity party.

          • I always allow myself 10 minutes on the pity pot and then I have to get off and go do life again. We all have those moments and it’s a good thing there is something around to move us forward.

            • Marlene, this is very timely! I had some unexpected frustrating news this morning and I’ve had a good 20-30 minutes of the pity party so time to fold up and move on. 😀 “Thanks, I needed that!”

              • Obviously, I’ve had a lot of experience with that particular party plan. 🙂

  2. Carolyn

    The hibiscus is beautiful. I have a pink and red one, the pink one has flowers that are about the size of a small salad plate. Terry moved it in the fall,just hope it will come out this year. Our spring is here. A little early for some of our plants , if we have a cold snap. I haven’t had a good few days,coughing and not getting much rest. I am very sore from the coughing. You all are in my thoughts and prayers. Hugs and love .

    • WOW I wish I could see that pink hibiscus! We had red ones I planted all around our tiny back yard in Hawaii. By the time we moved they had grown into a very lovely hedge that bloomed year round and gave us a bit of privacy too. I sympathize with the soreness from coughing. I’m just getting over a case of acute bronchitis, the first in my life as far as I can remember, and the coughing really did get painful. It has been quite warm here, too, but we may have some chillier days coming. It has been a mild winter which I really needed. Love to you and Terry.

  3. Julia, it sounds like you are doing what you need to do to take care of yourself. I hope all will be resolved soon in dealing with the paperwork! Does Matt live with you? I didn’t realize you were caring for him, too. I am glad you have help. The Hibiscus is beautiful!! What a lovely distraction for you! Just have a cup of tea and stare at it for a while. 🙂 Take care.

    • Hi Patsy, yes, Matt has lived with us for all his nearly 32 years. His overlapping medical and developmental issues require close attention and care. One thing I feel angry and resentful about right now is that Jeff and I had so little time to ourselves as a couple, no empty nest time ever, which we would so have enjoyed. What little time we did have was when Drew was old enough to stay with Matt while we got away for a few days or even a week or so. But that pretty much ended when Drew got married. So, for more than six years it was just the three of us together and now it feels very empty and lonely without Jeff. Matt’s company has been a blessing, though. There are two new buds on the hibiscus, so maybe we’ll have some more flowers soon. 😀

      • That sounds like it has been very hard for you. I can understand your feelings about the situation you’ve had to live with. You must have had a wonderfully strong marriage, though, to get through all of those years with Matt. Did you not want to let him be in a home with other adults that have similar issues as he has? I don’t know if I could do that, personally, and I know it is very expensive, but will that ever be an option for him? I can’t imagine the stress and pain you are in right now, Julia. I wish I could come over, give you a hug, and have a cup or two or tea with you. I can only imagine how lovely your home must be! You are a lovely and caring person, and it will just take time to get through this tough trial you are facing right now. I am glad Matt’s company is a blessing for you, too. How is he doing in handling the loss of his dad? That has to be so hard. Well, I hope this draws you and him and your other son closer together. I am glad your hibiscus is budding! That’s wonderful! 🙂

        • Patsy, for reasons that would take a very long time to explain, having to do with years-long wait lists for services, and moving around and ending up on the bottom of said wait lists for every move (since every state has its own system), having Matt live in a group home has never been an option for us. We even ended up taking both our sons along on our 20th anniversary celebration trip; we had no other option at the time, since Drew was not old enough to stay alone with Matt for more than a short time. Even if we could have come up with the 100 K plus (yes, that’s a six-figure price) per year that it costs, very few even take private pay but require referral from waivers. Suffice it to say that the disability “service” delivery system is a world unto itself, and when combined with medical and developmental and special education needs, it’s more than a full time (unpaid) job– and that’s just keeping up with the paperwork, appointments, meetings, system changes, etc. Plus, truthfully, both of us wanted to take care of Matt because we felt he would get better care from us than from someone who was paid to do it.

          Matt had a very rough time for the first few weeks without Jeff, but on the whole he as adjusted better than I have, though of course, his world did not change nearly as seismically as mine did. He lost his Daddy, constant companion and close friend; I lost the only man I ever loved AND my only source of real-time daily support and understanding, and the only person in the world who loved Matt anywhere close to as much (and probably more) than I do. Jeff was so efficient, and kept going so stoically up to the very end, that when he died, my daily work load literally tripled. All through his illness I would say “don’t you think it’s time I started taking over… (whatever- doing the laundry, doing Matt’s night time (and sometimes morning) care routine, cooking, etc.) and he would always say “I want to do this as long as I can.” He realized– and often warned me– that when he died, I would have it all pretty much by myself. So he kept going with pretty much his normal activity level, right up until he could literally no longer breathe on his own. That’s how he wanted it, and it’s a consolation to me that he was able to pull it off. But it made his death all the more devastating. For example, I had to learn how to shave Matt (he has a VERY heavy beard like his Daddy) because Jeff’s death came so unexpectedly that he never got around to showing or telling me how. My friend Amy and my sister Carla have been tremendous helps in filling in and keeping me from dropping from sheer exhaustion. And the kindness and concern of readers such as you have made the path much more bearable. Thank you!

          • Perhaps a person could even “feel different” during the first week of every month.

            • Thanks for the interesting link. I really identified with what he said here: “…the calendar of your life is altered forever. It gets divided into the time before and after that moment.” For years my life was divided, in my own mind, into two eras: before Matt’s birth, and after. Then after his first manic episode, there were two divisions: before this heretofore undiagnosed and life-altering additional disability, and after. Then Jeff’s diagnosis became a third such division, and his death, a fourth. Despite all the more obvious divisions in the chronology of our lives (most notably our many moves associated with Jeff’s career) these are the big ones, the times when everything changed in an instant, never to be the same again.

          • Julia, I feel such empathy for you! If I lived there near you, I would definitely be helping! I think it is important that others help you as much as possible so you don’t drop from exhaustion! That would not be good for any of you. You have obviously been through a great deal and whatever help you can get take it! 🙂 I want to paint something for you so when I am done if you give me your address in a private message on Facebook, I will be able to send it to you. I already know what I am going to do. I wish I could paint Jeff for you but I am not very good at people portraits yet. 😉 Anyway, you are welcome. I am glad you are still blogging. Please keep in touch, okay? Take care.

            • Patsy, thank you so much! This is quite touching. I will send you my address via Facebook. And thanks for thinking of me. I am doing the best I can to shout “HELP!” to whomever is likely to be willing to answer in a practical way — that narrows it down considerably — and at the same time, avoid the common pitfall of the 80/20 rule (more like the 5/95 rule in my case) where a tiny percentage of individuals end up bearing far more than their share of the burden, simply because they are who they are. They say no good deed goes unpunished, but I hope that never happens on my watch. Thanks so much for caring!

          • MaryAnn Clontz

            I love you & Matt so dearly, wishing yet again that I were there to help everyday!

            • Well, you are with us in spirit, and I know full well you would be with us in person if you possibly could. That in itself is worth so much!

  4. Amy

    A friend gave me a beautiful hibuscus a few years ago. I put it on the porch where it got lots of sun and where I assumed critters would leave it be. Well wouldn’t you know the deer found it quite tasty and chewed it pretty well to the nubs. I nearly through it out but my husband, ever the saver, said to put it down stairs in front of the patio door. I cut it back, faithfully watered it and in spring it was skinny but growing. I left it on the patio and the deer wouldn’t come up there. It thrived. I cut it again in the fall and brought it inside. It came back again, still skinny but healthy. This year it has come back fat, full and such a beautiful green. No blooms yet but I am hopful. Keep yours watered, away from the critters and it will come back as well. I love you.

    • You’ll have to check it out and advise me how to cut it back at the right time. The dipladenia has done well, continuing to flower and grow, overflowing its hanging basket. The hibiscus you helped me trim at our York home has done well this winter, as have the two mandevillas. I am itching to get some primroses or other plants in the ground this week. Maybe that will be a good project for us to work on.

  5. Linda Blackford

    Signs of hope are all around us, if we only pay attention! I’m comforted knowing that you are determined to find as many of those signs as possible, photograph them, share them and treasure them. This is absolutely how to defeat despair!

    • Thank you Linda. Even though I know it is true, it’s surprising how often I have to remind myself to focus on the good stuff. Paying attention to the blessings can make all the difference in the world. Thanks for being here.

  6. There is great comfort in the mundane. The ordinary things that fill up our days are often a gift in disguise.

    • So true! I often think the best part of travel is coming home to our everyday lives, with the humble, sometimes shabby splendors that get us through each day.

      • I think so, too. Though we arrive with all that wonderful experience, the memories, the joys and the struggles. Love to you, Julia.

  7. Good morning, Julia!
    Yesterday morning upon reading this blog, I did not waste another minute (even to reply)! I jumped up, hurried to dress and grab my camera, and headed out in the early twilight to grab a few sunrise photos in a new location. The weather was perfect, the watershed scenery was serene, and I even stopped at a cafe to treat myself to breakfast before arriving at work ON TIME for the first time in … possibly months, actually (oh, how embarrassing)!
    You and Martel – what a team! 😀

    • Wow, Susan — I don’t know which is more delightful; reading your description of such a perfect morning, or being mentioned in the same phrase as Yann Martel (Life of Pi was an amazing book, I thought, and I’m eager to read more of his work). I’ll think of your comment when I feel uninspired, which is depressingly often lately…

  8. Sheila

    Julia, we miss way too much in our days, and certainly in life. I’m glad that I’m easily impressed by nature, whether it’s bird’s chirping, flowers blooming, or warm breezes in February. I’ve witnessed all of the above today. I was thinking about this beautiful flower and that it’s blooming for you to enjoy and also share on your blog. Most of all, I love that Jeff enjoyed it, as well. Yes, a different bloom but the same plant. That makes it extra special! 🌺 ❤️ Love, Sheila

    • Sheila, I had the very same thought about that plant, and Jeff’s being here to enjoy it last summer. It’s astounding to realize he went into the hospital for the last time more than five months ago. I am so glad you will be with us SOON! ❤ Love, Julia

  9. Harry Sims

    Doesn’t a scraggly plant demonstrate life’s force? Isn’t it a display of God’s continuous grace? Is its beauty amazing?
    Is anything amazing a gift from God?

    • Harry, I think most anything can be a gift from God, if we accept it gratefully and use it wisely. If we misuse amazing things (such as technology) or treat them with contempt or neglect (such squandering natural resources) or just turn a blind eye to them (such as ignoring other people), I suppose any amazing thing is no less a gift for our refusal to recognize it as such. But we miss out anyway, as if it had never been given. And yes, even a scraggly plant has a lot to offer us.

      • Harry Sims

        Praise God from whom………………………!

        • Yes 🙂

  10. LB

    The bloom is gorgeous, Julia!
    What a lovely site to see and I know it put a smile on your face and some contentment to your heart.
    I’m thankful for your friends, and for those many cups of tea.

    • Thank you, LB– so am I! ❤

  11. Lydia

    Gorgeous flower! Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you, I am so happy to have people with whom I can share it. When I see something like that I just hate to keep it to myself.

  12. MaryAnn Clontz

    The bloom did its job, giving you a moment of peace & joy.

    • Yes, it did– and now, through the photos, many more moments of appreciation for the memory of how it lifted my heart when I sorely needed it.

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