Blooms of Hope: Finding Strength Amid Devastation

Author: Ellen Andrews

Twisted, battered and broken. The camellia bushes in my front yard reflected their battle with Mother Nature. To be more specific, their battle with the 150+ mph winds and torrential rain of Hurricane Michael. The storm cut a path of destruction - laying waste to structures, beautiful mighty oak trees and my camellias.

My neighborhood was unrecognizable. Mountains of debris were piled along the streets that just days before had been lined with graceful southern oaks. My once quiet neighborhood was now filled with the constant sound of chainsaws and power trucks.

Life was different. Blue tarps dotted the landscape and street signs were gone. Normal day-to-day activity came to a halt. The storm dominated thoughts and actions. And while the task ahead seemed overwhelming, everyone came together to begin the journey toward recovery.

With the help of family, friends and kind strangers, work was done to clear my yard yet the scars of what had taken place where still evident. Where five camellia bushes had lined my front yard, only three remained. I did what I could to shore up the bushes. I removed debris, moss, and trimmed some of the branches in hope of offering a chance at renewal. I had such pleasant memories of these beautiful camellias that had graced my home for as long as I can remember. They had brought springtime joy over the years and I wanted to help them blossom again.

The surviving bushes were twisted and broken from falling trees with branches dipped toward the ground. I imagined these bushes struggling to hold on during the onslaught of torrential rain and wind, clinging to the soil through this monster storm. I considered the possibility they were irreparably damaged - only tattered remnants of what was once so beautiful.

The death of a loved one can leave us feeling the same way. Our beautiful lives - so full of joy and happiness are now tattered and broken. Grief can leave us twisted, out-of-sorts and uprooted. In the early days, we struggle to survive, so we certainly can’t comprehend “blooming” ever again.

camellia blossom

A few months after the hurricane, I noticed buds beginning to populate the bushes. Could it be there was life still left? Then one morning, as I opened the blinds and peered out my window at the sunny day I saw a solitary flower. In the midst of devastation, there was this beautiful symbol of life, a ray of hope, a statement of strength and endurance.

As days passed more flowers appeared. Now the remaining bushes are once again decorated in pink. These little bushes were sending a message for anyone who passed by. We have endured the struggle, we are forever changed, but we are not giving up. Where once there was beauty, there can be again.

They are still twisted - still showing the scars of all they have endured; yet their inner strength is still present. They weathered a tremendous battle; they remained standing and are once again sharing their beauty with the world.

Our lives can change like the weather. Heartache and sadness can blow in at any given moment: the passing of a loved one, the loss of a job or a natural disaster. Destruction and loss can make us feel as if we have been through a storm (literally and figuratively). We are knocked down; the landscape of our lives forever altered. Like my city and the camellias, we carry the battle scars and the weight of our experience.

Yet beauty and hope remain.

It is easy to become discouraged when we are carrying such a heavy burden and feel surrounded by destruction and heartache. Sometimes a little sign or a simple gesture can bring promise for the future and remind us of all that is still beautiful - the gentle care of a friend, a helping hand from a stranger, a hearty little camellia.

We, like these bushes stand as testament to a past, a present and a future. We have stories to tell about what we have witnessed and what we have endured. We have survived and we are finding strength to bloom again. Devastated but not destroyed. And we remain - beautiful. 

Ellen Andrews is the surviving fiancé of Navy Lt. David J. Huber and serves as Senior Advisor, TAPS Survivor Services.