Hope and Healing – Avon – Towne Post Network
A series of local charity events raise funds and awareness for suicide prevention
Screenwriter / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Described by his mother Shannon Shirven as “the outsider’s defender”, Gunnar Shirven was a sweet and charismatic guy who couldn’t stand to see anyone harassed or bullied.
“I think he felt that on a personal level, so he responded by standing up for them,” Shirven said. “He was smart, funny and charming.”
After graduating from high school in 2016, he joined the Marines.
“We were really proud of that decision,” Shirven said, of her and husband Rick, a veteran Indianapolis firefighter. Gunnar served until 2018.
Sadly, at age 22, Gunnar committed suicide, leaving Shannon and Rick stunned and heartbroken. As they struggled with the tsunami of emotions that followed, they clung to the good memories – like the fact that he was the class clown who loved to make people laugh. He could quote many comedies from beginning to end and perfect different dialects so he could deliver movie lines using various accents and voices. Besides being a brilliant artist, he was a phenomenal friend to many.
“It doesn’t matter what your status is, if you had money or whatever,” Shirven says. “If Gunnar was your friend, he was your friend through thick and thin.”
As Shannon and Rick processed their grief, they turned to each other, to God and to their community for healing. The family decided early on that they would honor Gunnar’s legacy by choosing not to focus on his death, but instead on the laughter and joy he brought to others. Shortly after his death, the American Legion of Avon contacted Shirven to let him know that they were hosting a motorcycle fundraiser for veteran suicides. They asked if they could use Gunnar’s story to help raise awareness and she agreed.
“You have to positively direct your pain,” she says. “You can lie in bed and be depressed and angry, and look for people to blame, but nothing good comes from that. We decided that every day we were going to choose joy because that’s what Gunnar would want, not just for his own life, but for ours.
The following year, the Danville American Legion held a fundraiser. Shirven decided to make it an annual event, adding a jeep ride into the mix since Gunnar loved jeeps.
“I’m a baby shower planner,” she laughs. “It’s my special gift.”
This gift served her well, as she established the Gunshow Charity, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit event. Through trial and error, Shirven has learned what works and what doesn’t.‘t work with fundraising. This year, she and her family have decided to spread their fundraisers throughout the summer, including one in July, one in August and three in September. Opting for several small events rather than one giant annual event seemed more logical (see sidebar for this year‘s scheduled fundraisers).
“Gunnar loved so many things that we wanted to do a cycle of giving to honor our child, create fun activities, and ultimately serve our community,” says Shirven, who has lived in Hendricks County for 23 years. She‘is quick to point out that none of this would be possible without the help of his incredible group of friends.
“I have a vision, but I have an army of people behind me helping me get everything done,” she says. “Every year I pray, ‘Lord, just let us earn $1 more.'”
So far, that prayer has been answered. They raised $10,000 the first year, $12,500 the second year, $15,000 the third year and $26,000 last year.
Recipients include the Danville Community Education Foundation, Danville Pee Wee Baseball, and items for Ellis Park.
“It’s such an honor to be able to give back to our community while speaking publicly about suicide and the residual effects it has on family and friends,” says Shirven. “It’s always shocking to see how many people come to us at these events to share their stories. There is a great need to talk about suicide, the stigma behind it and, of course, prevention.
A portion of this year’s funds will once again go to Ellis Park. The family wanted to do something that could not only commemorate Gunnar’s life, but also help anyone who experiences a loss. One of Rick’s fellow Indianapolis firefighters, Clyde Pennington, makes large-scale art. He is creating a 20’x12′ stainless steel and copper tree that will be a permanent piece of commemorative art at the park.
“People can buy a laser-cut leaf, and over the years it will become this massive wind chime tree,” says Shirven. “The tree will be internally lit for nighttime viewing and will be surrounded by benches for loved ones to sit and reminisce.”
They are also donating a portion of this year’s funds to the Lexi Fund in honor of Lexi Riggles, a recent Danville graduate who died last year. The Lexi Fund is paying for new cat condo structures at the Misty Eyes Animal Center.
“The reason we’re doing this fundraiser is to bring joy to others,” says Shirven. “Also, the way I see it, wherever you go, you’re going to pay money for a concert or food or whatever. That way 100% of the money goes back into our community. It’s a win-win from every angle.
Every year since Gunnar’s passing, Shirven has felt her son’s presence on his birthday, often in his dreams. This year, however, she woke up discouraged because she hadn’t dreamed of Gunnar. But then she checked her phone messages and found that a friend of a friend had just lost her son to suicide, and she didn’t know who to talk to.
“I thought, ‘This is Gunnar, trying to help the underdog,'” says Shirven, who after receiving that message reached out to the mother of Sam Arnone, the young man who is committed suicide. She shared her story and invited the mum to be part of the Gunshow Charity. Shirven now understands her son’s propensity to help others more than ever, as she has found that the best way to navigate the grieving process is to help someone else heal.
In memory of Gunnar Shirven and Sam Arnone, consider supporting the following local events:
Benefit Concert – September 24, 6:30 p.m., at the Royal Theater in Danville, featuring Straight Davis and Josh Chalfant.
Poolside Paint & Sip – August 6 at 4 p.m. with Danville‘s Kerry Trout. Located at 601 West Mill Street in Danville. Enjoy beer and wine, music and art.
Jeep Ride – September 10. A scenic 100 mile ride from Gary Eakin Park in Danville. Arrival at 9:30 a.m., with departure at 10:30 a.m.
Golf Cart Parade – September 11 at 1 p.m. at Ellis Park in Danville.
Pickleball – September 18 at 1 p.m. at Ellis Park in Danville.
To purchase tickets to any of these events, become a sponsor, purchase a Gunshow Charity t-shirt, or make a donation, visit thegunshowcharity.squarespace.com.