Editorial: The bell tolls for WillMar

Still time for Valley to breathe life into grief-center services|

“Can I see another’s woe, and not be in sorrow too? Can I see another’s grief, and not seek for kind relief?”

– English poet William Blake

With the announcement in February that WillMar Family Grief and Healing Center would close due to an apparent lack of sustainable funding, it seemed as if the Valley would lose its only agency solely dedicated to providing free support for grieving kids and families.

But wait. Enter: Social Advocates for Youth, a Santa Rosa nonprofit that provides similar counseling services. Last week, Social Advocates offered to assume responsibility for the current counseling programs WillMar is providing - keeping the spirits up for kids grappling with the death or long-term-illness of a loved one, at least through May.

Social Advocates officials say they’re looking into the possibility of sustaining the WillMar programs under its own umbrella through the long term, but the future of a Sonoma-based place where children and teens can live through the horrors of loss is still cloudy.

On WillMar’s website, it says SAY’s commitment will depend “on the support of the WillMar community in the Sonoma Valley.” In other words: Sonoma needs to step up to save the nonprofit founded back in 2000 by Nina Gorbach; the Santa Rosa agency can’t financially float Valley programs on its own.

Blame for the demise of such a valuable agency is perhaps moot at this point. Were recent WillMar officials successful in raising funds for this entirely donor-funded nonprofit? Apparently not. Did it put all its donor eggs into a single $90,000 William Hearst III-woven basket? That’s the impression one gets - and when that basket was shelved by Hearst a couple of years ago, perhaps WillMar’s fate was sealed.

Still, it’s difficult to imagine that in such a giving community as the Sonoma Valley – especially generous in its giving to youth causes – there isn’t the support out there to help kids deal with the most terrible thing the world can throw at them: death.

My kids, fortunately, haven’t suffered a life-altering blow like many others. But seven years ago, my father-in-law died at 75 following complications from a stroke. When I sat down to tell our older son – then 5 years old, but aware of what was going on – I softly gave it to him straight: “Jack, grandpa died today.”

I expected an onslaught of tears, but something else happened.

Jack paused, gathered his thoughts, and asked pointedly, “Dad, which grandpa?”

“Grandpa John.”

And then the crying began.

Aside from being a terribly sad time in our lives, that moment with Jack stands out to me vividly. He needed to process what was happening, what he was about to grieve over – where exactly things stood. Even at only 5 years old, if he was going to get through his initial encounter with death, he needed understanding first – and then time could step in to “heal all wounds.”

That’s a small-scale example of the big-deal help WillMar has provided for kids – kids faced with the loss of a parent, or the death of a sibling, or any such shattering demise.

Grief counseling services can’t bring back the dead, but they can help renew life.

Whether the Sonoma Valley can renew life in such services remains to be seen.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.