This week marks the second anniversary of our 2017 wildfires that destroyed 5,600 homes and claimed the lives of 44 people.

Rollie Atkinson Column Photo

Rollie Atkinson

Last week (Oct. 1) was the second anniversary of the Las Vegas mass shooting where 59 concertgoers were killed. It seems we used to mark our anniversary calendars with only happy events like wedding anniversaries, milestone birthdays or community ribbon cuttings and commemorations. Now each year we get reminded when Andy Lopez was shot by county deputy sheriff Erick Gelhaus (Oct. 23, 2013), when Polly Klaas was kidnapped and murdered (Oct. 1, 1993) or when the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the greater Bay Area and took 63 lives.

Earthquakes and floods have been happening since the beginning of time, but it does seem there are more natural disasters like wildfires, hurricanes and extreme weather than ever before. Either there really are more gun violence and mass killings than during past history, or there are just more people crowding our planet and we are paying more media attention. What were once mostly local tragic news items have now become almost global in coverage. We all lived through the Columbine (April 20, 1999) and Sandy Hook (Dec. 14, 2016) school student massacres even though they were thousands of miles from here. Our Andy Lopez killing and Polly Klaas murder, likewise, made national news headlines.

Anniversaries aren’t just family affairs anymore, and many are not happy. In Sonoma County, right now, thousands of our neighbors are living through an “annual echo” of loss and trauma from the 2017 wild fires. The immediate aftermath and the original grieving from the fires have subsided for many, but the calendar is now bringing back nightmarish memories, post traumatic stress and mental health alerts.

While we might prefer only happy dates of remembrances on our calendars, we have been told that trying to deny emotions from loss and unresolved grief is not healthy. All of us in Sonoma County had our lives changed on Oct. 8, 2017. Even for those who didn’t lose our homes, our sense of loss, fear of more wildfires and personal doubts have combined to give most of us a form of PTSD-lite every time the wind kicks up in October.

We have kept the #SonomaStrong spirit of resiliency and recovery alive, and we will need to kindle our collective healing for more years to come. Wildfire victims continue to face many physical and financial troubles to rebuild their homes. We are losing many friends who are moving away, and none of us can be assured we will not suffer more deaths and losses in the next wildfire.

Marking these annual tragedies on our calendars can help. Engaging in private or group rituals can be healing. We all make graveside visits on certain dates of our family calendar. Revisiting the site or memory of a trauma can be a similar experience. After time, the graveside tears are replaced with positive memories and feelings of gratitude. No one should face these trauma anniversaries alone. Reach out to others, do something like planting a tree or creating a piece of art. Visit someone who might be facing extra struggles. Share grief, don’t keep it inside.

Also, be sure to add some extra “happy dates” to your calendar. What could be happier than 2019 being a year when we can all celebrate the 50th anniversary of Snoopy’s Ice Rink in Santa Rosa, home of the Warm Puppy Cafe? This year is also the 50th birthday of Clover Stornetta’s mascot, Clo the Cow. We’d also like to remind all our readers that our Sonoma West Times & News newspaper is celebrating its 130th year of continuous publishing, dating back to our first Sebastopol Times issue in 1889. (We will be having our own “birthday party” on Nov. 7 and everyone is invited.)

It’s good to look back during anniversaries, but it’s better to also look ahead.

— Rollie Atkinson

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