It is typically a mother’s instinct to be protective.
However, for Trish Gilles being protective may be an understatement. She finds herself looking to shield her children from anything deemed risky. After the March EF-4 Henryville tornado tossed Trish, her family and home into the swirling storm, she admits to being a bit extreme when it comes to the safety of her family.
Although a mother never needs a purpose for being protective, Trish wanted to explain.
“I truly have good reason for being overly protective, given that I nearly lost my entire family just a couple of months ago,” she said.
She believes time may diminish her intense feelings, but Darrell isn’t so sure.
“Trish has always been a very protective mother over our children.” he said. “I am the parent to encourage them to take on challenges and even some risks, while Trish is the one who pulls them back and tells them they need to be careful.”
The children seem to deal with the differing parenting styles without difficulty; they understand why their mother is cautious and they have learned when to push and just how far to push.
SOME MEMORIES COME BACK
In earlier conversations, the family found it difficult to recall or provide details of their survival. Although Darrell and Trish do not believe they passed out, they simply could not invoke specifics for the time period between the moment the house began to rip apart and the instant they located one another in the field.
However, time will often allow repressed traumatic memories to be released and as the family heals both physically and emotionally, they remember. They remember the house being torn and rolling to the side; they remember falling against the wall of the closet where they huddled; they remember being torn from one another’s arms; they remember fear; they remember being hurled to the ground — they remember. Trish recalls it was much like being on a cruel roller coaster ride and explained, “It took my breath away.”
Collin and Mia, the youngest of the children, have been open to talk about their emotions and fears relating to the results of the tornado; however, the Gilles’ oldest son Caleb is a bit more reluctant. He declined participation in art therapy or other types of therapy through the school programs.
Caleb’s back has healed well enough that he no longer wears a brace. While he is happy to not deal with wearing the restrictive contraption, he isn’t as pleased with the fact that he continues to have several restrictions on physical activities.
Although the children are now out of school for the summer, they recall the lesson plans they had during the weeks after the tornado. Collin was learning about electricity and tornadoes and explained, “I’ve learned how tornadoes are formed and what to do if a tornado is coming toward me; both in the house and also outside.”
He has a lot of dreams about the tornado and in many of them he can see a shed with a blue roof. He doesn’t remember much else from the dreams. His teacher had been placing all articles relating to the tornado damage on a wall in their classroom.
Mia was participating in the art therapy provided through her school. She also has dreams of the storm and memories are becoming more vivid.
“I remember someone rushing past us to help my mom and the hail hitting us really hard,” Mia said. “I remember my eyes wanting to close.”
Darrell believes the memory of closing her eyes comes from the head concussion that Mia sustained from the “larger-than-a-softball-size” hail. Mia responds by placing her forearm on her head and dramatically stating — in a Southern belle accent — “Oh my, I do believe I’ve had a concussion.”
Everyone laughs at her theatrical response.
As Caleb recalled the hail hitting his back, Collin indicated he also remembers trying to hold up his brother while they were walking to safety. Trish and Darrell believe their children sustained the majority of their injuries from the hail.
THE HEALING PROCESS
Darrell continues to heal from his injuries, with the damage to his jaw and mouth being the most frustrating. The braces have been removed, but he still has pain in his jaw. He has started back to work with a lighter schedule and finds he gets tired easily.
Trish has been cutting back on her pain medications and is now walking short distances with a walker. While very aware that her injuries will take many months to heal, she expresses frustration over her inability to walk on her own and to completely care for herself.
“It is difficult to watch the children worry and care for me,” she said. “The tornado forced them to grow up much too quickly.”
The building of the Gilles’ new home has started and the basement has been completed, which includes a special tornado shelter and also Caleb’s room. The house will be built in the same location as their first home.
Trish originally wanted to wait until the home was completed before making the trek to the site. She didn’t want the memory of their first home to be the exposed foundation. However, there are decisions to be made and after coaxing by the builders, she resolved to have Darrell take her on the drive back to Henryville; to the site where she raised her three children since birth.
As they entered Henryville, Trish saw empty lots where businesses and homes once stood and she was affected by the drastic change in the landscape. Her mind raced back to how it used to look and worried about the other families and business owners who have been devastated by the tornado.
Trish then saw the beautiful tree-lined road leading to her home. Since the trees were not in the path of the tornado, she felt at ease, believing for a moment that everything else could miraculously be the same.
Trish Gilles was going home.
Then reality set in as she started noticing neighbor’s homes either torn apart or completely destroyed. The landscape began to change and she could see where her home once stood. It was now a construction site.
“There used to be lots of large trees surrounding our home and now there are none,” she explained. “I really didn’t appreciate those trees before and now I would give anything to have them back.”
The site is now an open field — exposed. They are now considering, for the first time, the need to purchase trees to shade their home.
Trish talked about other families devastated by the tornado. She said some feel they are alone in their journey to be made whole and she isn’t sure what to do to help. Trish was recently asked to speak at a Southern Indiana church about her experience of survival and her faith journey since losing her home.
There were several others who were also asked to discuss the way in which they have coped with the tornado’s devastation. Trish indicated there were few dry eyes during the event. She felt speaking to the group helped her to open up and think about what she wants to learn from the experience.
“I believe God has plans for our family and part of it may be to share our story of His miracle of survival,” she said.
She and Darrell again discussed how people in the community continue to step up to assist them in their recovery. Friends, family and church congregations have stepped up to ensure they have meals brought to them and they are extremely grateful. Trish has written cards of appreciation to those who have provided contact information and expresses her deepest gratitude to all others. Many have helped anonymously.
Toward the end of the interview, a thunderstorm began to cloud the sky and soon rain started to fall. Mia winced and instinctively she and Collin looked toward their mother for reassurance. Without hesitation, Trish opened her arms and calmed them with the words she has used for all stormy weather since the tornado: “Don’t worry, this is just rain; you have absolutely nothing to fear.”
Their faces relaxed in the knowledge that their mother is there to protect them.
CALENDAR OUT SOON
• The Henryville Tornado Relief 2013 Calendar will soon be out. To order in advance, go by any New Washington State Bank by June 7 or send $10 to Henryville In My Heart (in memo area write “Calendar”), and address it to: The New Washington State Bank, c/o Henryville In My Heart, P.O. Box 243, Henryville, IN, 47126. Calendars are being printed only for those with advance orders, so be sure the order is mailed early enough to be received by June 7.
Memories return for family affected by tornado as healing continues
It is typically a mother’s instinct to be protective.