Gunnar spent the first 5 days of his life as Marshmallow Miller, we just could not agree to a name. Perhaps that should have been an indicator that his life was not going to be typical.
As a young child Gunnar developed a keen sense of curiosity and conversation that often left a wake of chuckles once he was gone. Magical, out-of-the-box thinking was a trait that he crafted well. After an encounter with Gunnar, people rarely forgot him. In a colorful world, Gunnar was a color all his own.
In elementary school Gunnar was always concerned about the friend that might be left out, and so began his lifetime of inclusive invitations to birthday parties, play dates, middle school and high school lunch tables. This kindness was not left unnoticed, and his friends found it to be a quality that they would remember.
Let a few of Gunnar's friends help introduce you to Gunnar.
Gunnar loved being with people. He thoroughly enjoyed entertaining his soccer and lacrosse teams, his middle school plays, friends and classmates. We are fairly certain he was never a teacher’s favorite student, however, we know he was often a topic of conversation. His introduction to the 8th grade choir concert song: “Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang” will never be forgotten ... oops. He was the actor in a class project for one of his friends in the video below.
Gunnar struggled with addiction
As Gunnar entered High School he questioned himself and became immersed in the ‘Am I enough?’ war within himself. The anxiety and depression led him to drugs and alcohol where the disease of addiction took hold of him. His road to sobriety was just like his life. Large. It is a good thing that those who loved him the most had a sense of humor, as we often exclaimed, “You just can’t make this crap up”.
His journey toward sobriety led him to a friendship with Dr. Joseph Lee at Hazelden. This relationship would be a pivotal piece in Gunnar’s ability to trust someone to help him out of the dark hole. He walked through the mountains of Montana to find his spiritual awakening with the guidance of Wilderness Treatment Center. At Greywolf Ranch in Port Townsend, WA he met friends that he would call his brothers.
This journey was not an easy one for Gunnar, but it was one that he knew he needed to be on. This journey was always full of adventures, again, no worries about Gunnar being the counselor’s favorite client! However, he did leave everyone with some incredible memories.
Gunnar taught others about sobriety
So many of Gunnar’s friends in his quest for sobriety sent us messages that were universal,
"Gunnar taught me that I could have the greatest day of my life ... totally sober".
Little did they know he would use their first names as "epic” characters in his college writing class where his skills as a gifted writer were made apparent. His friends all agreed,
"Gunnar had an uncanny ability to say what you were thinking in a way that was hysterical, disarming and just out there enough to be a “Gunnarism” to be totally acceptable".
Gunnar was so proud of his transformation into sobriety and wanted to be near his family. He moved back to Minnesota into a sober house in St. Paul with the intention of attending the Step Up Program at Augsburg College.
Gunnar dies suddenly in skateboarding accident
On October 14th, Gunnar was involved in a skateboarding accident and died as a result of it. He was happy, he was sober, and he was experiencing the adventure of a new life at age 19. All good places to be.
We never dreamed that Gunnar would lead us on a self-revelation tour. Through the Gunnar Project we are meeting with youth, teaching about happiness, confronting our faith and everyday working on learning to control the things we can control and to let go of the rest—just putting one foot in front of the other.
The Gunnar Project on WCCO
The Little Prince
Where do we go now? How do we move forward? Dr. Lee wrote an amazing letter about Gunnar and in it he said, “Gunnar had an ecstatic zest for life-he appreciated each new day like he was seeing a new great movie for the very first time. His authenticity was infectious. His presence made you believe in a world where relationships mattered most and that everything was indeed possible-regardless of the odds. Through his eyes one became aware of things that were so obvious, yet so obscured, so wise but so straightforward.”
Dr. Joseph Lee's Letter read at Gunnar's Memorial
Well written article on the Gunnar Project
This article posted on 8/10/15 speaks more about the Gunnar Project and it's goal to pursue happiness: