How to write a beautiful condolence card to someone who has lost a child or young adult.

I wish I didn’t have so much experience on this subject. As I wrote in the Condolences  story posted on the site in November 2012, our family received hundreds—maybe a thousand—cards and letters after our 24 year old son, Jimmy, was struck and killed by an automobile walking home in the early morning after a party in the summer of 2008. Since then I have lost my mother, my best friend and a 23 year old niece. My father-in-law died on my 61st birthday and other family members and good friends have lost spouses, siblings and parents. There has not been—nor will there ever be—a shortage of occasions to receive and express condolences, and probably nothing harder to write than a card or letter to someone who has lost a child.

Why is this so hard? The death of a child or young adult is just plain wrong—it’s beyond the natural order of things. It’s not supposed to happen, but it does. It’s frightening, disorienting and deeply unsettling for everyone caught in its wide wake. Many of the cards we received used the words “unthinkable” and “unimaginable.” It’s all of that and more. The pain and suffering of our family, our friends and Jimmy’s friends was palpable-like a writhing, ensnared, animal trapped in a deep shaft, denied all light—all air fit to breathe sucked out. The screams and wails of those who received my first calls soon after the Sheriff and Medical Examiner left our house will forever ring in my ears. The mask of shock and pain that instantly takes over the face of someone I’ve told for the first time “I lost my son” months and even years later, is never forgotten.

What can you possibly say or write to someone who has lost a child when you are dragged into your own nightmare just by thinking about it? ‘What if I lost one of my children or siblings?’ As I fessed-up in  The Fraternity, I never said anything to my dentist after his seven year old son suffocated to death when a cave he’d been digging into a hillside in his backyard collapsed on him. I found a new dentist. It took me several years before I told my long-time physician how deeply sorry I was his son took his life—or that my father had taken his. It took the death of my own son for me to instigate that conversation.

I completely get how hard it is to write something. I’ll share some of what I wish I never learned and begin with some things to avoid.

Some Don’ts

Don’t send an email or post on a Facebook wall. It reeks of being too easy and impersonal. Find a pen and write something. The handwritten word is very powerful—your energy and emotion is imbued to the paper through the pen. Although I vowed at the time to never re-read the cards and letters—it is nice to have something that can be held and revisited.

Fight the urge to default to the clichés—“Words are inadequate” or “Words cannot express…” Words are all you have when you write a card so don’t admit defeat out of the chute. “I cannot imagine what you are going through;” “I can only imagine the pain.” If you haven’t lost a child you can’t—and shouldn’t— try to put yourself in their shoes— avoid stating the obvious.

Avoid attempts to compare, rationalize or project. “Time heals all wounds.” Don’t try to make them feel better—you won’t—and in those very early stages after their loss you can’t. “I know he is in a better place.” First of all, are you absolutely positive about that?– and the obvious implication is that the recipient is in a worse place. In fact they are in the worst of all places—they are in hell— it is not helpful to remind them. “God had a plan for her and needed to bring her home.” Be careful injecting your personal belief system unless you know for certain the parent or sibling is on the same page— it’s another one of those ‘do you really have that level of first-hand knowledge?’ sort of things. The opening line of this card really jumped off the page for us. “I know the pain and suffering you are going through. Last month I had to put down my dog, Bippy, after 18 years.” What?! I know she didn’t mean the loss of a dog and a child are the same and I appreciate how people become deeply attached to and love their pets—and they too suffer when they lose them. I thought I hated my cats and yet, as I confessed in Princess Gantt, I bawled like a baby when I held 22 year old Princess in my arms as the vet put in the needle to stop her heart. I would avoid bringing up in a card any loss you have suffered. You are writing a sympathy card—not an empathy card. If you too have lost a child there are other ways you can be of great assistance. I will talk about that in another post.

Don’t be too hasty. Your first instinct is to rush to the store, buy that card, scratch out a few words and get it in the mail the next day. We got an avalanche of envelopes within the first few days. The mailpersons certainly must know something bad has happened when they have to bring a box of mail to a doorstop because it won’t fit in the mailbox. We wanted to read them—we were compelled to read each one of them—and yet I’m sure some very lovely messages simply were lost in the crowd of sorrow. Some of the ones we received later, like the one from Chris Cox, really stood out and meant a great deal to us. It is also prudent to take your time with what you write and avoid the malaprops that unfortunately occur, particularly in the midst of an emotional hurricane. One of our young family members closed his note of condolence regarding Jimmy’s untimely death with “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.” We knew what he meant to say. We actually got a good laugh from it—especially at a time we thought laughter was also forever taken away.

To the men. This last Don’t is addressed to you guys. We are generally horrible at this sort of thing—expressing our feelings, showing our emotions, admitting our armor might have a chink. Don’t always have your wife or significant other write the card—no, a signature doesn’t cut it. We received precious few cards from the male species, and I can’t tell you how much it meant to me when we did.

What can I write in a condolence card or letter?”

You are now probably saying “With all these don’ts, it’s safer to just get one of those Hallmark cards with the pre-printed message and sign it” OK, one more —don’t do that. This is your opportunity to rise above the chaos—to express your love and friendship when they really need you to do that—to make it personal. This is your time to write something beautiful. Trust me—you can do it. As a man I have always appreciated examples. Just so happens, from the hundreds I received, I am able to share some touching and powerful examples with you.

Examples of some effective and powerful condolence cards and letters

So, how do you write a condolence card that will stand out and be remembered? Let’s start by looking at the card my college fraternity brother Chris Cox wrote to us and we shared in Condolences. Forget for the moment the circumstances under which Chris wrote the letter and let’s examine the words and the structure.

Dear Casey and Hilary,

The news of Jimmy’s loss is heartbreaking. Please know that Rebecca and I are thinking of you, and that there is boundless love and prayer being offered for your family from this side of the continent, too.

Your quarter century with Jimmy is an incredible gift—I know you realize that, and will always be grateful for the way he served such a high purpose in life, including helping you both to grow and learn and to expand and absorb your capacity to love.

You have so much to be proud of in Jimmy’s life. And you have made me and all who know you proud, too, because we can see so much of you both in Jimmy’s many wonderful achievements, and in his character, and sense of humor. In this time of sorrow, mixed with gratitude for the sheer joy of Jimmy’s life, please know we are with you.

—Chris and Rebecca

The ingredients of a good condolence card or letter

What made Chris’s card special for us? I think it can be boiled down to these six things:

Open strong with something from the heart. Chris hand-wrote his letter to us on his personal stationery. There was no pre-printed message. He began his card with “The news of Jimmy’s loss is heartbreaking…Rebecca and I are thinking of you and there is boundless love and prayer being offered for your family from this side of the continent.” He immediately started with an expression of his personal feelings about Jimmy’s death. Here are some openings from other cards we received: “Our hearts ache for you;” “We are devastated by Jimmy’s death.”

Compliment the one who is gone- share a connection or memory you have with the child. “I know you… will always be grateful for the way he served such a high purpose in life…Jimmy’s wonderful achievements and his character and sense of humor.” Chris never met Jimmy and he likely based his observations on things he read or heard from others. Nevertheless, we appreciated his praise of our son. .” When we lost our son I thought everything he was or did left with him. By sharing a compliment or a memory you are helping the bereaved stay connected with their child.

If you have a favorite memory of the child—an accomplishment, something funny he or she did—write about that. Share the connection you have with this person. “Jimmy was a student of mine in second grade and he always had has hand up first whenever I’d ask a question of the class—and he was almost always right!” “Jimmy and I played freshman football together at Torrey Pines High School. We were the smallest guys on the team, but nobody worked harder or tried harder than Jimmy. He was fearless.” If you don’t know the child, try and find something on-line about him—an obituary is a very good source of information—and write about something you found interesting or that stands out. “I read that Jimmy was an accomplished jazz saxophone player. I’ve played the clarinet all my life and Charlie Parker is one of my all-time favorites.”

Compliment the parents or siblings. “You have made me and all who know you proud, too, because we can see so much of you both in Jimmy’s many wonderful achievements.” The parents need support and praise in addition to your sympathy. This was from a letter one of my law partners wrote to me. “Casey, you are the most talented lawyer I know and it is no surprise that Jimmy excelled with his writing and acting. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.” I know he didn’t mean that—he’s always thought he is a better lawyer—but it was still nice that he said it. [smile] If you know the parents well, express your love and friendship for them—share a moment or a memory—connect to them. You need to appreciate, even though you can’t really understand, how lost and disconnected the parents and the siblings are. The world as they knew it has changed-instantly-drastically. They are a ship without sail tossed in a tumultuous sea. They have lost more than a child—they lost their bearings, their direction—they no longer recognize the road before them. They are desperate for a hand—and a handhold. Reach out and grab them! “We’ve been friends for over 40 years. You were my best man and I stood up next to you at your wedding. We’ve laughed and cried together many times. The well of our friendship is deep and it will never run dry.” If you are a good friend or family you will do more than write a letter. You will call them, go see them, walk with them and pray with them—and you will do this over and over. We’ll talk about this in later posts.

Say something uplifting. Chris wrote “Your quarter century with Jimmy is an incredible gift. You will always be grateful for…[him] helping you both to grow and learn and expand and absorb your capacity to love. … In this time of sorrow, mixed with gratitude for the sheer joy of Jimmy’s life, please know we are with you.” The parents and siblings are drowning in sorrow and they need to be reminded there is more out there than darkness—even if they may not believe it when they read it. The sheer joy of Jimmy’s life! Jimmy’s life and ours with him was full of joy. It was brilliant of Chris to remind us of that. Note that Chris didn’t speculate on where Jimmy might be—he’s in a better place—or where we might be—time heals all wounds. He made us focus on the moment—our moments with Jimmy—the things we know.

Take your time. Chris obviously spent time thinking about what he wanted to say to us. He concisely conveyed many thoughts and feelings and the labor of his writing was endearing and so impactful. That he wrote his letter while on the front lines battling this country’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression put this card in the stratosphere!

We received this card from our very good friends Diane and Greg— Diane wrote the card. I think what really stood out for us was what a powerful and thoughtful writer Diane is. We didn’t know she possessed this talent and were so taken with her eloquence and beautiful phrasing. We now see and think of her differently and with deeper regard and respect.

Dear Casey, Hilary, Brittany and Ryan

There are never enough words to express our sorrow and the pain we share with you. We’ve been close friends for over 30 years and we will be here to support, comfort and love you now and forever. The memorial to Jimmy’s life was filled with so much emotion. His very close friends who delivered remembrances gave us a glimpse into Jimmy’s wonderful character, spirit and accomplishments. He brought such joy to everyone.

Greg and I loved speaking at length to Jimmy at Brittany and Ryan’s wedding and now are so grateful to have spent those moments with him. Jimmy’s words as illustrated in his plays and letters were astonishingly beautiful. He was an extraordinary son, brother and friend to all. We love you.

—Greg and Diane

Diane’s card included the same six main ingredients of the card from Chris. She spoke from the heart-“the sorrow and the pain we share with you,” and when she wrote “we love you” we knew she meant it. They complimented and shared a memory with Jimmy— the connection they made with Jimmy at the wedding, his wonderful character and his beautiful writings. She spoke of their connection with us-the parents- “We’ve been friends for over 30 years and we will…love you forever,” and included something uplifting—“He brought such joy to everyone.” She clearly took her time and wrote the card a few days after the memorial service for Jimmy. OK, she did open with there are never enough words to express…, but I still give this card an “A.” [another smile]

I also like that Diane addressed her letter to Jimmy’s sister, Brittany, and his brother-in-law of less than a year, Ryan Kirby. Their pain and suffering was no less than ours. If you know the siblings in addition to the parents, I would think about writing a separate card or letter to them.

This card was from a client of mine. Ron and his son, Ernie, were at Jimmy’s memorial service. I clearly remember hugging them both. Jimmy and Ernie met a couple of times and Jimmy looked up to Ernie, fifteen years his senior. Ron wrote his card in a very painstaking, deliberate hand—also on personal stationery— obvious he spent some time with it. And it was written by a guy!!

Dear Casey and Hilary

The three days since the memorial service have been sobering and uplifting for me. I never met or knew Jimmy, but after the service I felt I had known him forever. If a man is to be judged by his friends and family, Jimmy is to be judged at the highest level.

What a remarkable and talented son you raised. I can understand how emotional and painful that 1 ½ hours was for you both. You however honored him exceptionally. Regardless of his religious preferences, Jimmy was obviously outwardly and inwardly spiritual.

The shadow cast by his parents certainly allowed him to shine brightly in his world. Good for you both to have raised Jimmy to be his own man and yet so remarkably like his parents.

Although this is certainly a life changing experience for you both, I know you will continue to be exceptionally fine people that you are.

We both hurt greatly for your loss. Love and Peace to you both.

—Ron and Linda

Ron spoke from the heart; he complimented Jimmy and we parents. He wrote of the connection-the bond-between us parents and our son, and he included something uplifting “Jimmy was obviously…spiritual” and “I know you will continue to be exceptionally fine people that you are.” Seeing Ron and Ernie—father and only son—at the service spoke volumes, and yet I never expected to receive a card like his. I’d known Ron for years in primarily the business world. He was smart, sophisticated and successful. I did not know the depth of Ron. He surprised me and wrote something beautiful.

You too can write a powerful condolence card to someone who has lost a child if you follow these six suggestions:

Open strong and say something from your heart.

Compliment the one who is gone.

Share a favorite memory or connection with the child.

Compliment the parents (or the siblings).

Say something uplifting.

Take your time.

Write something beautiful—surprise someone.

P.S. I tried to compose a card of what I would have written to us after Jimmy died were I family friend. I am not yet in a place where I can do that. It’s hard. I get that.

If I have helped you in this time of stress and tribulation, I encourage you to leave me a comment here that I can publish with this post. It would mean a lot to me and countless others in our common circumstance.

Casey and Jimmy-Zion 2008

Here are links to our other posts on letters of condolence

How to write a beautiful condolence card to someone who has lost a loved one to suicide

Is it OK to Write a Condolence Card Before Someone Dies?



63 responses to “How to write a beautiful condolence card to someone who has lost a child”

  1. Hannah Jones says:

    I found this page, on how to write to people who have lost a child, very moving and extremely helpful in writing to my second cousin who lost her little girl recently. The “what to avoid” section was particularly useful. I was heartbroken to hear of the loss of your son Jimmy. Thank you. X

    • Casey says:

      Hannah—I am so deeply sorry for the loss of that child–your loss–you lost her, too. We all did. I am also profoundly moved by your condolences for our loss of Jimmy. I am grateful that whatever I may have learned from all of this might have been of some help. You have helped me.
      Take good care.

  2. Sheri Kibbe says:

    Thank you so much for giving insight on how to approach writing a condolence to someone who has lost a child. After reading your suggestions, and taking a great deal of time, the words did come out. Please take solace in knowing that in your time of tragedy, you have helped me and I’m sure a great deal of other’s. Godspeed your son.

    • Casey says:

      Thank you Sheri for sharing your comment. You may not have realized it, but you just wrote me a very beautiful condolence note. You are a fast learner!!! I’m sorry you had the occasion to write that card, but I know the recipient is most grateful for the time–the love–you poured into it. I sure am.

  3. Connie says:

    Dear Casey, May peace follow you on your journey. Thank you for your help.

  4. Casey says:

    Dear Casey,

    What a wonderful page you have written with some invaluable information. These are the things that are truly hard to put into words and this information has helped me so much in figuring out how to comfort one of my dearest friends who recently found out her 4 year old beautiful daughter was diagnosis with a rare terminal illness.

    I have been staring at the card I got for her and her husband, knowing that I had no way to convey my sympathies adequately. You have really helped me, thank you.

    I am so very sorry for the loss of your son Jimmy. From what has been said by the people who know and love your family, he seems like he was a wonderful soul.

  5. Charles Cook says:

    I appreciate that you, with all of the deep sorrows and losses mentioned, have sacrificially wanted to share your thoughts to enable those who grieve to be lifted up by what those who share their friends grief will find loving things to say and to be received when read!

    Thank you,!

  6. Raissa says:

    Dear Casey

    I am sorry for your loss and I thank you for sharing on how to write such a difficult letter. Last week, I lost a dear friend of mine J, whom i have known for 13 years. He passed unexpectedly and I have struggled ever since to believe and understand how this fine man, full of life with so many plans ahead of him has left us too soon.

    I hurt for his parents as he was an only child, although he was part of my university family (a group of 11 who cared and looked after each other). His funeral will be next Friday and I have encouraged all our friends to write a personal letter for his mum and dad that together with an album of our time with J we will gifted them. They have to know of our live with J and how much we loved him so terribly. I hope that they will know how much Juma meant to all of us and how the memories we created will stay with us for always. Reading this has certainly helped me to write something worthy and beautiful.

    Many thanks Casey.

  7. Elaine Wood says:

    This is so helpful. I am writing my note 1 year after this 13 yearold’s death. The parents are still screaming they want him back. The tears are flowing after a year. So I needed help with what I will write to them. And this gave me somewhere to start. Thank you for that.

  8. Joan moss says:

    Just found this page.
    My dear Neice who is in another land, found her life too hard and died this week at 31
    Leaving us all shattered and geographically far away.
    Your observations are helping.
    Thank you.

  9. Bonnie Laurent says:

    Dear Casey,

    I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing this much needed information on how to write a card to someone after the loss of a child.

    (I found your site when I typed this information in, how to write a card——)

    First, I would like to say, that even though I don’t know you or Jimmy, I can tell, by your sincere writings ,that you are a man of great strength and compassion. From reading the cards you shared, your son had many of the same qualities as his Dad. I know you must have been extremely proud of him. My heart is heavy for both you and your wife. May it comfort you to know, that because of what you have written, Jimmy will live on in the hearts of many.

    Thank you Casey for all you are doing to help others express their true feelings to their friends and loved ones when faced with such an unbearable loss.

    With sincere appreciation,
    Bonnie Laurent

  10. […] I wrote in How To Write A Beautiful Condolence Card To Someone Who Has Lost A Child, we received hundreds, maybe a thousand, condolence cards after Jimmy’s death. A steady stream of […]

  11. Linda Springer says:

    My son attended school and played football with a young man who’s mother is an acquaintance of mine. Justin passed away this week, suddenly, at 26 y/o. I don’t know a reason yet..and that doesn’t matter as much as writing a heartfelt card to his parents. Your do’s and don’ts helped me greatly. I will bookmark your page for future reference. I am so sorry for the loss of your son. Even in his death you have helped others.
    Thank you,

  12. Sympathy says:

    Very moving and touching. Excellent post.

  13. Donna Middlehurst says:

    Dear Casey,

    I’d expand on one element to your wonderful advice: your #3 “if you have a favorite memory of the child.”

    As you know, our daughter died at age 3, so she did not have long to build a life of memories and friends. I remember after her death fearing that she would be forgotten by some, or her memory dimmed by time and our own age. Thus we were so grateful for incidents with her that friends recounted to us. We even went to two of the schools/daycare/therapy facilities she attended, and sat down with her teachers to talk. With their permission we took a tape recorder to preserve their thoughts. There were many incidents that we’d never heard about that made us laugh and remember her fondly. [I remember after my own dad died I was similarly grateful for stories about him from his friends & colleagues.] Jeff and I even recounted incidents we recalled to each other and wrote them down.

    As you’ve noted, there’s such a discomfort among Americans over talking about death. There seems to be a fear of mentioning the child’s name — like the speaker would be “reminding” us of the death that we’ve “forgotten.” Fat chance!! But folks need to learn to feel comfortable not only mentioning the child’s name, but also sharing fond memories. Parents will treasure them.

    Best to you,


  14. Meilee says:

    I am an immigrant who grew up in a totally different culture. Your insights and guideline are valuable and helpful. Thank you very much!

  15. David Furniss says:

    Dear Casey

    Thank you for writing this. I have just heard how one of my best friends at work has lost her daughter to a car accident. I didn’t know her daughter at all well in person but I have shared many conversations with her as she and her daughter struggled their way through life together. I wanted to find a way to say how much her sharing of that journey meant to me but as you point out, us men are often very poor at this sort of thing. I was struggling to find any direction to convey my feelings and support when I bumped into your site. Thank you for sharing the immensely important lessons you so sadly learnt with the passing of your son. It has allowed me to appreciate much more clearly what my friend means to me and given me much needed direction as to how to compose something that I hope will express what her sharing of her and her daughters struggles and passing on mean to me.
    Thank you

    • admin says:

      Dear Dave, I am pleased that some of what we’ve learned the hard way was helpful to you. If I may paraphrase some astute observations on grief by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, through loss we learn and through connection we heal. I extend my condolences to your friend on the passing of her daughter. I know your friend will deeply appreciate the thought, heart, soul and time you have poured into your condolence card to her. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  16. Carmela says:

    I was so very moved by your words; dealing with your pain and still helping others. I was looking for the right words, to write in a note to my nephew & his family for the loss of their 34 year old daughter. I want to thank you for sharing the beautiful words with all of us in our time of need. My sincerest sympathy to you and your wife for your loss of Jimmy, from what I read, he sounded like a fine young man. No parent should ever have to bury their children. My mother had to bury her son, my brother in 1976 at the age of 34 and yet it seems like yesterday. She has since joined him but she was never the same and neither was I. The wonderful memories I have have stayed with me all these years & will continue until it’s my time to “board the train”.
    Thank you for sharing your wonderful words with all of us & your unfortunate loss of Jimmy.

    • admin says:

      Carmela- thank you for your kind words and sympathies. I am very sorry for your losses. We too appreciate that loss is life changing, focusing on the good memories is helpful and forward is always a good direction.
      Take good care

  17. kgonda says:

    I could never have written the letter I wanted and needed to write without your generosity to share and eloquence in expressing the most difficult sentiments –

    Thank You So Very Much –
    Kelly Gonda

  18. Amy says:

    I join the chorus of those saying heartfelt “thank yous” to you for your generosity. My niece’s husband of just 2 years died suddenly in his sleep yesterday at the age of 30. We are shattered. I had no idea how to express my deepest sympathy and love. I weep with her as she weeps. But I know it is appropriate to share my condolences with her and my step-sister, her mother. Your page has given me some much needed wisdom as I work through what to write. Especially the part about waiting a little while, or at least remembering them again later. I know life moves on, but I would never want them to know we forgot him.

    My sympathies to you and your family in the loss of your son as well. It is devastating to lose a life so young, on the brink of a full and wonderful life. I am deeply sorry.

    By His Grace,

  19. Patti Grube says:

    As I sit here trying to gather words to write another difficult condolence letter, twice in four months, I find the information you have written to be most helpful. All sorts of phrases flow through my brain–none of them seem like the perfect words to use. Your website generously helps me find the words and remember my friends’ young sons the best way I can. Bless you for sharing.

  20. Petra Hirschmann says:

    Dear Casey,

    I happened upon your website while trying to get inspiration for what to write to a family friend who’s husband committed suicide earlier this year. Reading your helpful advice brought a tear to my eye. As a mother of two little girls I can never imagine a time in my life that they would not be present. Reading your notes has inspired me to right something from my own heart. Stay strong. Petra

  21. Martina says:

    Dear Mr. Gauntt,

    Thank you for writing this.  I can imagine you have helped many people in sharing your story.  I am sorry that you lost your son at such an early age.  I have been struggling to write a letter to my Aunt and Uncle this week.  They lost their 24 year old daughter on Sunday (under very similar circumstances to what happened to your son) in Canada.  I was not able to get home from California for the services, and didn’t want to just send a card.  I have been crying and writing many copies of a letter, that now, with your help, feels right.  It is free of cliche, and straight from my heart.

    You can read of Grace’s story, if you wish, in the file I attached.



  22. Bev says:

    Thank you so much for this guidance. My daughter’s sister-in-law, age 26, just died from a random shooting while asleep in a homeless settlement – she had recently fallen into the deep hole of heroin addiction. I had met her a few brief times before this horrible affliction came into her life – a wonderful young lady. I feel confident I can write an appropriate note to her parents and my son-in-law now. Your suggestions are a great comfort and make me feel not so helpless.

    • admin says:

      Dear Bev–I am so very sorry for your loss and the passing of your daughter’s sister-in-law. My father took his life a few days before Christmas many years ago and although a loss such as yours is crushing, coming so close to the holidays is exceedingly painful. I am grateful my post provided some guidance and comfort for you. My deepest condolences to you and your family and the family of the lovely girl who is now on the other side.

  23. Bev says:

    Thank you for your kind words and choosing to share what had happened to your father. Suicide, overdose, the loved one consciously placing themself in severely dangerous situations can sometimes make grief seem as if it should be less legitimate, should not be as intense. While most deaths cause some guilt in the living, these “self induced” deaths feel like the living just didn’t do enough, like somehow they failed the person in their hour of need despite having done absolutely everything humanly foreseeable and possible. In reality, no one, but the deceased, could have approached their path differently. There are the “what if’s” reaching years back, guilt over anger at the deceased, and then inexperienced people simplifying what could have been done. The holidays can certainly magnify things as you so aptly point out. Hopefully with time a dichotomy of holiday versus the remembrance can be forged. Bless you.

  24. Kate says:

    Dear Casey,

    I am very sorry to hear about the loss of your son. From the letters you shared, he sounds like an amazing person. My neighbor recently lost her baby. I knew I had no idea how to write an appropriate condolence card but that it was something I needed to do. Your website was invaluable in helping me put my sympathy into words. Thank you for sharing.


    • admin says:

      Kate- I am very sorry for the loss of your neighbor’s child. I am grateful our hard-earned lessons were helpful to you. And thank you for your kind words about our son. He truly was and is amazing. Blessings. Casey

  25. Margaret says:

    I find myself in need of composing a letter to an old friend who recently lost her 27 year old son in much the same way that you lost your Jimmy. As I sat looking at the blank card that I intended to write upon, I had no idea how to put all that I felt and wanted to say down on paper. There were no words forming out of the grief I was feeling for her and her family. Thank you for the guidance you have provided. After reading through all that you have shared on this site, the words just flowed and I was able to compose a letter that I hope will bring them some comfort and let them know that they are loved. Thank you.

    • admin says:

      Margaret, I am sorry for your friend’s loss of her son; and for you. Her loss, of course, is also your loss. You have no idea how much your note means to me; to hear that some of the lessons we learned from our experiences-from that school we never wanted to go to–have helped you, and will help your old friend when she receives your letter–it warms our hearts. I know you wrote her something beautiful, just as you did to us. Thank you. Casey

  26. Zoe Nelson says:

    Thank you both for sharing your experience. Thank you for the clear directions to create a personal card when “words cannot express”. Thank you. Thank you. I am realizing that I am not the most creative comment writer. I am moved to comment because you helped me write a lovely note to a business associate/becoming a friend wjo recently lost his son.

    • admin says:

      Dear Zoe, I am deeply sorry for your friend’s loss. I’m humbled to have been of some help to you as you help your friend.

  27. Flora says:

    Thank you for this post. Everyone should read it before they write a condolence letter or message.

  28. Amy Rueckheim says:

    I found this extremely helpful and thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful and insightful webpage. My heart goes out to you, for your loss. Please know that in writing this, your horrific experience is helping others have the words to say to their loved ones about their loss. In that way, positivity comes from your loss. Thank you.

  29. Marla says:

    Thank you. I have been putting this off. Unfortunately, this isn’t my first time to deal with friends losing a child. And through the others, I have found that it is just so hard to find the right things to say. And so easy to say something misconstrued and painful. Thank you for the suggestions. I appreciate that you are helping all of us deal with another’s horrific tragedy.

  30. Tracey says:

    I greatly appreciated your site and the suggestions. As a Deacon in a church we attend funerals for members and sometimes their family members, (although we may not be familiar with them). Recently we had a member whose daughter committed suicide at 19. Weeks later it is still on my mind the young people who spoke so eloquently of this young lady. I was about to send her mother a card and your suggestions have been extremely helpful.

    • Casey Gauntt says:

      Dear Tracey- I am honored that I could be of some assistance with this most difficult task. I wrote this companion post dealing with a loss by suicide of which I, unfortunately, also have experience in connection with my father’s death. Blessings to you and the family of your church member.

      • Dear Casey

        I have sat and looked at this sympathy card for 2 weeks trying to get it completed today and finally sought out google to assist me. My heart always seem to know what to say, but my mind just can’t put it together. Your writing has been my saving grace.

        My husband and I recently retired to the South and while we were visiting our home church i n NJ, we found out a close friend and his wife from our home church lost their 24 year old son in a car accident I was stunned and saddened by the news however, your words and the words of your friends help me immensely.

        Thank you for your work and your determination to help others in this same position.
        Linda Ries

        • Casey Gauntt says:

          Dear Linda- I am so very sorry for your close friends’ loss of their son. This one hits home, for we too lost our 24 year old in a car accident almost 8 years ago. I am deeply grateful that what we learned was of some help to you in confronting this challenge–‘what do I say.’ Because you took the time, and listened to your heart, I know you wrote something beautiful and your friends will be comforted. One of my “fraternity” brothers in loss recently suggested an additional “do” and “don’t” to my post. In addition to writing the letter DO make a call to your friend. There is nothing like the connective, healing power,of the human voice. And “DON”T” expect a reply. That probably goes without saying, but a few may confuse their missive with a wedding gift. At some point I may do another post regarding the etiquette of condolences. Continued healing for your friends, and you and your husband. Thank you for your lovely comment and reaching out to me. Regards, Casey

  31. Carrie Nealon says:

    Last week my sister’s 27 year old daughter (my niece) died suddenly and unexpectedly. As a single mom Kayla left behind two grade school children. The pain of her death just feels so over whelming at times. Parents are not supposed to bury their children. Her siblings have a void that their sister used to fill. I feel like I am in a fog when I think about Kayla’s young children who were both with her when she died suddenly.

    It is from this place I wanted to write my sister a heart felt note. I can tell her, but I wanted her to have something she could tuck away. I didn’t want it to be cliche, and I found myself sitting here with paper and pen, unable to articulate in written word what I feel in my heart when I found your post. You are a gifted writer. Your post really spoke to me and provided the information I was needing. I feel like the universe provided me the gift of your post. I believe we are all connected by a life force energy. I felt a human connection reading your post.

    • Casey Gauntt says:

      Dear Carrie– I am deeply sorry for the loss of your niece, Kayla, and the enormous pain you all are suffering. That you were able to compose such a beautiful note to me under these trying times says a lot about your strength and compassion–which your sister and Kayla’s children will really need–and I just know your letter to your sister is beautiful. Your words connected with me and, readily admit, made me tear up. And I couldn’t agree more with you–we are all connected. I am humbled that through my experience, I was able to provide some help to you.
      Thank you so much for sharing this with me. Blessings to you and your family. Casey

  32. Kimika says:

    I had a friend who lost an adult child. It broke my heart and sent a message to do everything I can to let my teen know how much I loved him. This was a really hard message for me because I felt my teen was lost to an addiction and crossing every boundary, breaking into my home and being violent and destructive. I was living in fear every day and I knew that I had to do something different. My friend lost her child. I had to put what I was going through aside and do something that supports her. Now I want to tell her about the message it sent to me when I was feeling terrorized. I had a prodigal son that went far beyond a normal teen rebellion. I felt like he was lost too and living a life at risk, I knew that I could be living this too. It made me try harder, seek spiritual support and move to a locality that would be healthier for my son. As heartbroke as I was for my friend, I was already grieving and had no way to appreciate my son, until I imagined another loss, such as his death. It is hard to explain when his physical aggression made me feel like I had already lost him. I believe that it sent a strong message to take advantage of every moment, even if it seems like there is nothing there. A year has passed and I have moved. My son is in therapy. I do not live in the every day fear anymore. This allows me to work to heal my heart. Things are better, even though we have a long way to go. I have wanted to share with her that I wish I had been a better friend. I have not known how to share that when she did not know that I was a mother experiencing family violence. I was determined not to let him be violent and have stood strong to say this is not ok and break a pattern of violence. It is hard to say that there was a part of me that froze. I still live with post traumatic stress and am working on that. I just wonder if I would have come a long way without feeling the broken heart of my friend who’s adult child died. I just don’t know how to express this to her.

    • Casey Gauntt says:

      Dear Kimika– send what you just wrote to your friend. Your words are heartfelt and beautiful. It is very difficult to mourn another’s loss of their child, when you are desperate to save the life of your own. Your friend will understand this. She will also be grateful to know how her son’s death played a big role in you summoning the strength and resolve to rescue your son, move, and make enormous sacrifices to get him help and you, as well. We who have lost children very much want to know that their death was not meaningless or pointless. If something-anything-positive can somehow be attributed to their death, such as saving the life of a friend’s child, that makes our loss less painful. This will help your friend.
      May you and your son continue to heal and hold tight to this life and to one another. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

      Casey Gauntt

  33. M. Keller says:

    Thank you so much for this very valuable message. I have just had to write an old friend on the awful occasion of his young daughter’s unexpected death (sudden cardiac arrest) and was at a loss for words, having not met her before. I went to her obituary and social media and was able to piece together a wonderful picture of her accomplishments, interests and persona that I felt comfortable in discussing in my condolence letter. I’m sure it was very hard to relive your own loss of Jimmy in writing this guide, but thank you so much for doing so.

  34. Kayla says:

    Thank you for all of your suggestions and advice on this topic. Your suggestions helped me when I got stuck while writing a letter to my aunt about the sudden loss of my 23-year-old cousin. I have read my fair share of condolence letters over the past year and a half for the loss of two close family members. I have also experienced the impact that thoughtful and heartfelt condolence letters have on grieving loved ones. The first letters I received were in December of my senior year for the unexpected loss of my cousin V, who was my best friend and my go-to person for everything. I was thankful for all of the letters that I received because they showed me that so many other people loved her and missed her. The most recent condolence letters I have received were after my cousin took his own life a few days into my second week of college. The condolence letters gave me a sense of support and strength when J. took his own life. The letters helped me continue to move forward as I tried to wrap my head around losing the two people I trusted the most, all while adjusting to going to school 1,300 miles away from my home and family. It’s so special that you shared your experience to help people write a meaningful letter to someone grieving the loss of a young life.

    • Casey Gauntt says:

      Kayla- I am so very sorry for the loss of your cousins and these losses suffered by all of your family members. I am grateful you found comfort in the letters you received from friends and family and that some of the things I wish I had never learned are helpful to you. I also wrote a companion post on how to write a condolence card to someone who has lost a loved one to suicide. Unfortunately I also have experience with this kind of loss–my father when I was 20 years old. Here is the link. I encourage you to stay close in touch with your aunts and uncles, other cousins and your immediate family as you heal from these tragic losses. Your family and your close friends are your healing tribe and you will help and support one another. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them and others for help–and make yourself available to help them. And know that your cousins V and J are watching over you all and they too will help you–be very open and receptive to that–my family and I have a lot of first hand experience that this is true. Please except my deepest condolences and best wishes for healing and peace. Casey

  35. Jennifer says:

    Thank you so much for putting this together. I am writing a card for the parents of a 14 year old girl who was killed in a terrible car accident last week. This girl and my son were good friends in elementary school. They went to different middle schools and didn’t keep in touch, but my son still thought of her as a friend. The viewing is tonight. It will be his first viewing; it breaks my heart that it is for a friend. I really was at a loss of what to write, but I knew I didn’t want to write a simple cliche. I wanted to write something meaningful. You have helped me to do that. I also typed what I wanted to say first so that I could edit it until I felt I had it right. Then I hand wrote it in the card.

    I am so sorry for your own loss of your son. He was obviously a wonderful young man. I am grateful though that you were able to use that experience to help others know what to say to those who have lost a child. Thank you.

    • Casey Gauntt says:

      Dear Jennifer- I’m so very sorry for the tragic loss of your son’s friend. Thank you for your kind note. I’m grateful some of the lessons we never wanted to learn were helpful to you. By taking time with your words, I know you wrote those parents something beautiful and that they will treasure. Peace and healing for you, your son and your son’s friend’s family. Casey

  36. Arielle says:

    Thank you for sharing your personal insight into this unfathomable, unnatural life experience. The people around someone who has such a huge loss are feeling helpless and want to do something to bring any kind of relief to the parents and siblings.

    My dear cousin just lost her 4 week old baby boy yesterday to complications from a rare neuroblastoma cancer that was discovered at the end of her pregnancy. Her and I have become especially close in the last few years because we were both pregnant with our first babies together. As a young mother myself, it has really hit home and I am also grieving with her, hence why I’m up at 3:30 in the morning searching for anything I can do to take any of the burden off of her.

    Thank you for your guidance and just reading my post. It helps.

    The loss of your own son has given you a further gift that you are sharing with others. Jimmy would be so proud of you, or is, depending how you look at it. Thank you.

    • Casey Gauntt says:

      Arielle-thank you for your exceedingly kind and beautiful words. I’m so sorry for your cousin’s loss of her boy–your loss as well. The magnitude of the loss is heavy, and compounded by the fact today is Mother’s Day. Your cousin will always be the mother to her baby boy. Always. You can’t take your cousin’s pain, but your caring friendship and companionship will help her tremendously over the next days, months and years. More than the words you write to her–which I know will be heartfelt and appreciated. I bow to all of the mothers today, including Jimmy’s. Jimmy is keeping an eye on us. Warm regards Casey

  37. Nicole says:

    Thank you Casey for this post which has helped me – and countless others I see – who are faced with the task of writing that card that shouldn’t have to be written.

    How do we move forward when the world has offered up an unspeakable tragedy? Just as you have done – with grace and dignity and in helping others to survive in what is often not a fair world.

  38. shannon thieneman says:

    Thank you Casey for helping me write a condolence letter. It is extra painful when writing as a result of the loss of a child. It just should not happen. I’m so sorry for the loss of your son Jimmy. I love his smile in the photo below.

    • Casey Gauntt says:

      Thank you Shannon. I’m grateful I could me of some help, and also sad that you had to write such a letter. Yes,Jimmy had a great smile. And tomorrow we’ll celebrate his 36th Birthday.
      Take care, and thank you for reaching out. Casey

  39. Judy DiRuzza says:

    Your post was so helpful to me. Our friends from college lost their ~45 yo son to lung cancer. He was born deaf and it seemed that his life was a struggle. Your suggestions helped me to find the right words to say. And I’m sorry for your loss, too. I have 3 boys about that age and it takes my breath away to think about losing one of them. We came close once and that time haunts me now 25 years later. Jimmy is so handsome and looks like a ton of fun in that picture!

    • Casey Gauntt says:

      Judy- thank you. I’m glad we can pay forward some of our hard-earned lessons and you found this post helpful. Although I don’t think there is a “better” way to lose a child, I sometimes feel it was a blessing Jimmy went quick. He had just left a party–yes he liked to have fun- and the next instant he was on the other side wondering, no doubt, ‘what the heck just happened?’ But what I wouldn’t give for one more day with him, here. Hug those boys every chance you get! Casey

  40. Natasha Phillips says:

    Thank you for this! With all of your advice, instruction, and examples I feel more prepared to write the condolence card to my husband’s family friend (whom I have only met once or twice). Their 28 year old son(who is only three years younger than myself) passed away unexpectedly a couple days ago. I was instantly choked up with a lump in my throat and my stomach in knots upon hearing word of their loss. And again, after reading about you losing your son, Jimmy. I appreciate the knowledge and personal insight you’ve provided. It is obvious that Jimmy was a bright light to all who knew him, and even those of us who didn’t. Although, it now feels like I did. I hope you and your family are doing well. —Natasha

    • Casey Gauntt says:

      Natasha- thank you for your kind message. I’m sorry for the transition of that young man. It is always gratifying and humbling to hear that our experience and everything Jimmy has shown and taught us has provided some help to others confronted with this daunting task. I am sure you wrote something beautiful. Sincerely, Casey

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Author Bios

Write Me Something Beautiful Authors - Casey and Jimmy Gauntt

Casey Gauntt

is a retired attorney and former senior executive of a major San Diego real estate company. He lives in Solana Beach, California, with his wife, Hilary. Casey grew up in Itasca, Illinois, graduated Lake Park High School in 1968, and received B.S., JD and MBA degrees from the University of Southern California.

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Jimmy Gauntt

was born and raised in Solana Beach and graduated from Torrey Pines High School in 2002.   A prestigious Trustee Scholar at the University of Southern California, he majored in English and Spanish. He authored six plays, five screenplays, and a multitude of poems and short stories. Beginning in 2010, the USC English Department annually bestows the Jimmy Gauntt Memorial Award—aka “The Jimmy”—to the top graduates in English.  Jimmy passed over to the other side in 2008 at age 24.

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