By CAROL DAWSON
There is an old Chinese Proverb that best suits the people of Henryville: “Better to light one small candle, than to curse the darkness.”
The residents of Henryville and the surrounding counties devastated by the March tornado have no plans to live their lives as victims, cursing the darkness. Homes, businesses and schools are being rebuilt or repaired, injuries [both physical and mental] are healing, and the community is coming back stronger than ever. Those who were in the tornado’s path and survived are pulling themselves up by their boot straps and moving forward.
With busy summer days, the Gilles children, Caleb, Collin and Mia, seem to be shifting away from the dark clouds and living more relaxed as each month passes. The exception to this calm demeanor occurs when the sky vanishes behind troubling rain clouds. Storms can quickly become the can opener for normally secured memories of the day the tornado tore them from their parent’s arms. When opened, memories then spill out and the children spontaneously seek warmth and comfort from their parents and loving family members.
Recently the Gilles children, along with 47 other youngsters, were treated to five days at Camp Noah, a creative day camp designed by the Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, for children who have experienced disaster.
Upon returning from camp, Mia told her mother, “From now on I promise not to freak out when storms hit.” When asked why, Mia stated, “Because we were taught to act as Noah did when he built the Ark.” Mia quoted her lesson, “During the storm — I am not scared — want to know why — because I am prepared.”
Proof of the effectiveness of Camp Noah was revealed during the first rain after camp. Trish explained, “I noticed the children were not as nervous and were not breathing as heavily as they had during past storms; they just appeared to be more relaxed.” Local church families helped run the camp and on the last day, the children were all provided with bicycles and protective helmets.
While the children display no signs of lingering medical concerns, Darrell and Trish continue to be in healing mode. Darrell is back working full time and clearly at ease with that fact. His only complaint is that his stamina is not what it was before the tornado. Trish continues rehabilitation for her crushed hip and can now step slowly using a walker. Despite a distinct limp and apparent pain, she hopes to be walking with a cane by September.
The Gilles family home is still in the early phase of being built; although they hope to have the dry wall up soon and be able to move in sometime late August or early September. When talking about the new home, Trish beams with anticipation. For her, life will truly be moving toward normal once she can move into her own home.
As with previous interviews, Trish and Darrell ask that the community be thanked for all they are doing to assist their family return to a normal life. They also talk about giving back to the people who have given so much to them. Trish has opened herself to speak to organizations and church groups about the day her family experienced a deadly tornado and the miracle that followed. She isn’t a trained public speaker, but finds the talks are becoming less stressful with each appearance. She also finds opening up to others to be remarkably cathartic.
Another Henryville mother who is being frequently asked to speak publicly is Stephanie Decker. Stephanie’s husband, Joe Decker, was interviewed for this article. When asked how Stephanie was doing, he said she is doing better than anyone could have predicted. He stressed that she is keeping busy with appearances to keep the public eye on the plight of Henryville.
Stephanie has been on several national television shows and has had a special meeting with the President Obama. During much of that brief meeting, President Obama held on to her, supporting her as they discussed how to get additional help to those Henryville residents still in need and how to improve laws to benefit amputees and provide high-tech military prosthetics to civilians.
Joe stresses that his family has a lot of healing to do. He explained, “Stephanie is still learning to walk with her artificial legs and is working every day to gain some sense of normalcy in her life, and our children continue to have frequent nightmares.” Joe adds, “however, we are all making the best of a traumatic and extremely difficult situation.” Joe, the caring and supportive husband and father, then began speaking of the foundation his wife set up to direct money that has been donated to the family.
The Stephanie Decker Foundation is Stephanie’s brainchild and is part of the Community Foundation of Louisville, a public charity in Louisville. The foundation has been set up to support children with prosthetics to participate in society, specifically in sports, and will be helping ordinary people to gain access to extraordinary prosthetic technology.
“Not only did Stephanie discuss the mission of the foundation with President Obama, she also explained that Henryville continues to look like a war zone.” Joe continued, “The first thing she wanted our president to know was that there are many who still need assistance to get back on their feet.”
Joe closed the interview with this statement, “I hope people know that despite losing both of her legs, my wife has already become a determined advocate for our community and an activist for those in need — she is stubborn and doesn’t accept no as an answer.” Joe believes Stephanie’s determination will open a lot of doors for people who are dealing with difficult situations.
Darrell Gilles and Joe Decker met in the hospital and they had an immediate connection and mutual respect for one another. These men and their families represent only a fraction of the individuals devastated by the March tornado who are working diligently to pay it forward and make a difference by lighting the way out of Henryville’s darkest hour. They step forward because they know there is always hope, even in the worst set of circumstances.
The News and Tribune will be following the Gilles Family for several months as they mend and rebuild. The articles will depict the continuing need for community support during the restoration of Southern Indiana areas damaged and destroyed by the March 2012 tornado. Updates will be titled, “We Survived: A Hopeful Spirit After The Storm.” For information on how to donate to the Henryville Relief Effort or directly to the Gilles Family, contact the News and Tribune office.