News and Tribune

March 3, 2013

We Survived: A hopeful spirit after the storm

By CAROL DAWSON
newsroom@newsandtribune.com

HENRYVILLE — Every day, lessons on how we can improve our lives and be better people are laid before us. Some listen intently and truly make the effort, while others simply tune out. 

After a disaster like the deadly March 2, 2012, tornado that swept through Northern Clark County and other parts of Southern Indiana, people listened and they asked how they could help. Many in our community are still working to help those who are still in need. Homes and lives are being rebuilt. On the outside, life seems to be returning to something akin to normal for most of those who survived the devastation. 

 

  The Gilles family has moved into its new home, replaced the furniture, and appear well into the healing process. The family hit a milestone in its recovery as it recently burned two huge piles of wood, dirt, tree trunks, limbs and everything that made up the first home. As the huge fire burned, Darrell and Trish Gilles, along with 12-year-old son Caleb, stood mesmerized by the flames. 

Trish couldn’t help but to let her mind wander back to the family’s first home — picturing each room and trying to recall everything inside. She looked toward her husband and son and asked, “What could be burning in that fire … we know it is filled with our furniture — including my favorite ottoman, the beautiful trees that surrounded our home and Mia’s newly decorated bedroom ... but what else?” 

Caleb put his arms around his parents and said, “It doesn’t matter what was in there … what is right here is all that matters.” 

As the one-year anniversary of the deadly tornado neared, Trish Gilles worked with community leaders to organize a celebration — a celebration of recovery, a celebration of the community coming together. Henryville wanted to thank those who stepped in to help — the first responders (police, fire, EMS), the medical teams, the donors and those who helped neighbors clean up and rebuild Henryville.  “Henryville is a small town with a big heart and that became evident as neighbors helped one another and as people outside of our community came to give aid and comfort,” Trish said.

Other communities are learning from Henryville’s trauma response. “First responders, some as far away as California, are including the lessons learned from Henryville’s tornado survival and recovery in their training efforts,” Trish said. 

What these individuals found in Henryville was a adifferent kind of first responder — neighbors from all over Clark County. They found that unlike many large cities, Southern Indiana neighbors had the large equipment and the experience needed to clear streets and remove debris quickly and efficiently, enabling the fire, police and EMS to gain quick access to those in need. 

Darrell added, “Even our teenagers know how to operate large farm equipment like backhoes and tractors and they were helping along with everyone else.” 

All three of the Gilles children are enthusiastic about the Henryville celebration, to be held today. When asked why they were excited, Caleb responded, “We want this day so the people who still feel bad about the tornado will feel better and also so that people will not forget that some still need help.” Caleb, 12, Collin, 11, and Mia, 9, have recovered from their physical injuries; however, still deal with various concerns and fears relating to storms. 

 

GROWING UP

Mia told of a recent experience that revealed her ongoing fears.

“I was watching the Weather Channel when I heard we could have isolated tornadoes. I thought that meant one was coming toward us, so I went to my room and cried until my parents came and explained that it didn’t mean a tornado was coming toward us.” 

Still, to ensure everyone would feel safe, the entire family slept in their new basement all night. Still, Mia was restless throughout the night.

Collin takes a different approach to dealing with the tornado aftermath.

“It’s been a long time and I wish everyone could get over it,” he said.

He explained that he gets a little anxious with bad weather, but is not really afraid. 

Darrell and Trish believe their children were forced into maturity well beyond their years because of the trauma. Darrell is still sore from his injuries; however, he is slowly getting back into running, despite what he refers to as “popping and cracking of bones and joints that have become normal.” 

Despite still needing a cane to walk, Trish tells most people she is doing just fine. Regardless of her verbal reassurance, anyone who takes the time to probe further into her recovery will find that she still has a long way to go before she is healed. 

After three surgeries, Trish hopes surgeons are out of her life and she is aware that the rest of her recovery relies upon her tenacity to continue pushing through the therapy. Trish clarified, “I don’t know when I’ll be whole again — a shattered pelvis isn’t like a sports injury — but this I know … I’m lucky to even be walking.” 

Still, there are many days when she wonders if life will ever be the way it was before the tornado.

 

SURVIVAL SKILLS

The family was interviewed for this final report on their progress while having dinner at a local restaurant. Trish and Darrell were smiling and chatting together, as the children were playing games, laughing and talking about the upcoming Henryville celebration. Anyone looking at this delightful and beautiful family would not suspect that just one year ago, their entire lives were torn apart as they were ripped from a presumed safe place in their lives directly into a swirling nightmare. 

Indeed the Gilles Family and others in Southern Indiana have come a long way on the road to recovery; however, their journey is not over. Trauma has a way of sticking around and creeping back into our lives without notice. What others see on the outside doesn’t always tell how trauma survivors are actually dealing with their fears. 

Dr. Meg Hornsby, a licensed clinical psychologist with the Personal Counseling Service in Clarksville, summed it up best: “Please let the community of Henryville and the surrounding area know they should never discount the protective factor in continued social support after something as traumatic as the destruction of a tornado.” 

The Gilles family is surviving because of their faith and a strong bond they have with caring, loving, and concerned family and friends. Darrell summarized the key lesson learned by his family during the past year when he unpretentiously said, “Heck, my family survived after being pulled into an F-4 tornado; we know now that we can survive just about anything.” 

Indeed, Darrell, Trish, Caleb, Collin and Mia are survivors and they will continue to thrive and overcome the obstacles hurled before them on that ill-fated day, March 2, 2012.