Just weeks after my brother died in 2004, our family and his friends from across his lifespan started holding conference calls as we brainstormed our vision for the Carson J Spencer Foundation. The calls were as therapeutic as they were productive. While all of those participating loved him, not all of the friends knew each other at the beginning of our planning since they were acquainted with my brother at difference ages and places in his life. As we shared stories and ideas, we came together in our grief and our shared mission.
One of the early tasks of the group was to come up with a logo for the organization. Because Carson was such a prominent business man in Denver, the Rocky Mountain News, one of Denver’s main papers, interviewed several family members for a featured obituary following his death. The article closed with a quote from Carson’s mother-in-law, “he was a star who shone so brightly that he just burned out too quickly."
Indeed, my brother was a star in many ways. A shooting star who rose quickly as an entrepreneur in his industry and gained the admiration of many. He also had the ability to light up any room with his charming smile and pee-in-your-pants humor. His spirit was brilliant. And when stars die, their light shines on in the darkness.
One Yale professor once speculated, “…starlight, traveling in space forever, could be interpreted as an expression of immortality….long after stars have ‘died,’ photons of their energy – i.e., their light – continue to exist….It has been said that humans are made of the same stuff as stars – and we share the same energies.” --Schwartz, Garry (2002). The Afterlife Experiments. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc.We wanted the Carson J Spencer Foundation to be the light of his legacy, carrying on his goodness and his spirit. Carson’s expressed legacy before he died was to help young emerging entrepreneurs get to college, so we started the Rising Star Scholarship to honor that wish. As we also acknowledged his gift of helping others and our desire to prevent what happened to him from happening to others, we began a number of programs in a social entrepreneurial spirit that are designed to prevent suicide, promote mental health, and assist those bereaved in our community. His light shines on.
The idea of stars in the dark is also the message we are trying to extend to those suffering in silence. Many have told me that being depressed feels like being trapped in a dark place with no way out. Loving, caring people can provide those inspiring points of light in the dark by offering connection and support as they hold the hope for the hopeless. Sometimes, those who are suffering can’t feel the warmth of the glow of these supporters initially, but they can be reassured by their presence and the realization that others care.
For these reasons, we have called our annual gala “Shining Lights of Hope” and we aim to recognize those individuals and organizations in our community who support the work of suicide prevention and provide compassionate assistance to those in pain. Each year we award those who have stood above the others as stars. The “Shining Lights of Hope” award goes to an individual or group that has been bereaved by suicide or who has experienced a mental health crisis and has turned that suffering into a passion to make a difference. The “Shooting Star” award goes to a organization that has selflessly gone out of their way to help our cause. Our “Volunteer of the Year” award celebrates the volunteer who has contributed significantly to moving us forward, and of course, our “Rising Star Scholar” is our chosen high school entrepreneur who receives our scholarship to help with four years of college tuition.
It’s been five years since Carson’s death, and many of us still feel the pain of his loss on a daily basis. We are comforted in part, knowing that we are living in the light of his legacy and that we are bringing forward a galaxy of stars who shine their light in the darkness for others.
…and lights shine on.