June 18 • 03:18 AM

Humor helps on path to healing

Victim of mail bomb shares story of courage, strength, inspiration

April 14, 2010
Editor's note: This is the final installment in a series on the life-changing experiences of Charlene Castle of Capac. Castle was the victim in one of the biggest stories to ever hit Capac when she was severely injured when a mail bomb sent to her office at ANR Pipeline exploded. Her ex-husband Lawrence Dell was convicted in the case and remains in prison. Charlene is sharing her story in hopes that it will inspire people in abusive relationships to find their inner strength and make changes.

Though she's facing numerous surgeries, physical therapy and psychological counseling, Charlene manages to find the light at the end of the tunnel: Her kids, her humor, and her friends.

Her friends won't let her "wallow." They urge her to carry on with living—whatever it takes. While the soon-to-be-convicted bomber awaits trial and Charlene fights through divorce court with him, she is still forced to battle it out in court for custody of her children. She finds this horrible, but doesn't dwell on the negativity.

"I realized I had to concentrate all my efforts on healing for my kids," she says. "I had to focus on the positive. I had no room for anger and hatred is negativity."

Even if she did, her friends won't allow it. Burn gear and all, they make sure she gets on with her life.

Dennis Castle and Rich and Denise Shipman decide she's ready to go out to dinner.

"They decide to take me to Greg's for some ribs," Charlene recalls. "It's my favorite place and they pick me up and I'm in my (face) mask and burn gear and gloves and people are staring but they all carry on like it's nothing."

So does she—until something absurdly funny happens.

"The ribs come and I go to pick up the first one and eat it and my gloves melted to the rib," Charlene says. "We all had to laugh."

Humor helps in other ways, too, especially when Charlene lightens things up for people who don't quite know what to say.

While she's recovering in the hospital, Charlene and her brother Tim come up with a new nickname: "Char-broiled."

"My dad did not think it was the least bit funny but my brother and I were cracking up over it," she says. "The more humor I found the more it helped push away the horror."

When Char returns to work she's driving a red Ford Expedition which earns the nickname 'Blaze.' She still laughs at the memories.

"You get through things like this with humor," she says. "The more, the better."

After dozens of painful skin grafts and corrective surgeries, Char decides to stop the process.

"I don't even know how many surgeries I had, I lost count," she says.

She fights depression, battles having to spend so much time away from her kids while hospitalized, and decides to accept things as they are.

Her last operation is in 2001. She and Dennis are married, and she's getting on with her life.

"Every time they were doing more work to my face and arms and I'd look in the mirror it was such an emotional trauma every single time," Charlene says. "It was like 'now this is me. This is what I look like now'."

Charlene says it was traumatic and difficult re-associating herself with the new image that appeared in the mirror.

"I just said 'I'm done," she recalls. "I'm never going to be Miss America. This is permanent. I definitely look different.'"

She's come to realize that what she presents to the world comes from inside. And that's the place that takes the most effort to heal.

"With domestic abuse the emotional scars never go away, no matter how much reconstructive work people try to do, it's the scars that aren't visible that are most difficult to heal," she says.

Still, Char has managed to do it. Her son, Chris, and daughter, Jaylene, helped. Knowing they needed her made her stronger than she thought possible. Dennis Castle helped, too, as did extensive counseling.

Char says she's hoping that sharing her story will give others the strength and inspiration to conquer their challenges.

"There is life after abuse. You don't have to live like that," she says. "You have to find the strength and make the move. Decide what's best for you and your children. They're seeing this and they're living this. If you don't think it's influencing them, you're wrong."

Kindness—to oneself and others—is also key.

"People are so critical of others in this situation because they don't understand it," Char says. "They don't know how insidious (the abuse) has become." She says she's amazed when people comment on her story, telling her they admire her strength.

"Some people say 'I wish I could be as strong as you,' and I look right at them and say 'you are. You just don't realize it yet but you are,'" she says.

" Most people walk away from the person shaking their heads. It's so sad. There really isn't a good support system out there to help pull women out of these situations."

Char wants those who are afraid of making a change to believe that help will be there.

"If you make the move to change what you are in, people will help and be there for you," she says. "You just need to know inside that yes, they may try to kill you if you get out, but you are slowly dying anyways. They are slowly killing you every day, mentally and emotionally."

Today, Char says she's enjoying an amazing life filled with blessings she'd never dreamed of.

"I never knew that life could be this good, I really didn't," she says. "I've got an awesome family with two great kids and three wonderful stepdaughters who have given me grandkids. It's just a great family that I wouldn't trade for the world."

Char now also knows how a true marriage partnership feels: Great.

"I never knew I could have a man who could care so much and truly is kind and gentle and caring and proud of all the kids," she says.

Dennis Castle adopted Chris and Jaylene, another process that took years due to Dell's legal wranglings.

Char now works at Family First Health Care, Dr. Loren DeCarlo's practice in Capac, a job she enjoys. Chris is employed full time in Romeo and Jaylene is a senior at Capac High School, dual enrolled in the criminal justice program at St. Clair Community College (see sidebars).

Char still deals with post traumatic stress disorder, though she's finding the ordeal easier to cope with.

"There are certain triggers, like loud noises," she says. "The good news is I recognize the symptoms and I get it under control more easily."

Dennis, too, deals with the traumatic memories—as Char's co-worker who was present when the bomb exploded right up through the surgeries, healing and moving forward.

"He is the most amazing man," Char says.

Most of all, their lives are filled with love. Char feels truly blessed.

"When you start standing up for yourself and stop being afraid, you learn that the only thing to hate is hatred itself," she says. "Now, if only I knew that telling my story has helped one person, it will so totally be worth it."

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
Castle Creek
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