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

Unfortunately I also have personal experience with this most challenging task. When I was twenty years old my father, Grover Cleveland Gauntt, Jr., the strongest man I knew, died by suicide sometime in the evening of December 21, 1970— the Winter Solstice. Some think of that as the shortest day of the year. We believe that was the longest night for our father. He had purchased a .38 caliber pistol two days earlier from a gun shop in Chicago. We thought he was in Panama on business.

It was only after my 24 year old son, Jimmy Gauntt, was struck and killed by an automobile in August of 2008 walking home from a party—he was too intoxicated to drive—that I began to come to grips with my father’s suicide. It was my son’s death that made me finally confront my father’s demise—a death I had run from as far and fast as I possibly could for over 38 years.

I was stone-cold stopped in my tracks, spun around and confronted face to face with my dad who showed up to pull me back from the precipice of my grief. I cannot adequately express the enormity of this reconnection with my father.   The story of this incredible visit from the other side is told in this ten minute film by Steve Date.


As 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 family, our friends, friends of Jimmy, flower and food deliveries poured through our house in Solana Beach, California that first week. A thousand sorrowful souls attended his memorial service on the University of California campus in San Diego.

The aftermath of my father’s suicide could not have been more different. A few family members flew in from California. A handful of friends came by the house. About twenty-five folks attended his memorial service held at the Itasca Presbyterian Church on Christmas Eve day. Maybe two pews full. There were no photos of my father, no casket. Reverend Tom Hinkin was the only one who spoke. The family went back to our house, we men huddled around a table in our kitchen and drank scotch.   There was no wake, no celebration of life. My father’s death was not feted.

On Christmas day my mother handed me an envelope addressed to me. “This came in the mail yesterday.” The envelope was postmarked December 21 in Roselle, Illinois, where my dad’s office was located. I pulled out the letter. Three hundred-dollar bills fell from the missive written in my father’s hand. His customary steady cursive scrawled untidily across the paper. Two lines: Casey—I sold some of your Hecla Mining shares. Please buy something for your mother and Laura. Those were my father’s last words to us—to me. His suicide note. I gave the money to my mother and threw the note away.

Suicide makes strangers of neighbors and friends. Family, too. Suicide is crushing, unthinkable, unfathomable and frightening. What can you say? What can you do when your initial instinct is to just run? The question—implied and explicit—why? Why did this happen?  Isn’t there something more that could have been done?

The fear of those around me—the sheer fact everyone was so immobilized by the shock of his suicide—compounded the fear and anger that welled up in me.   I went back to finish my junior year at USC after the “holidays” and told only two fraternity brothers what really happened to my dad. To everyone else I lied “He had a heart attack.”

All this is to emphasize the point that, when someone you know loses a loved one to suicide this will not only be the hardest condolence card you write—it will be the most important. In How To Write A Beautiful Condolence Card To Someone Who Has Lost A Child, I included several “Don’ts.”   Let me add a few more:

Don’t run away.   Suppress every instinct to the contrary and run to the side of your friend or loved one. Truly, one of the most important and helpful things you can do is show up with a card, other remembrance or, better yet, a personal visit and a hug.

Don’t treat this death differently.  The fact is whether the person was struck by a car at age 24, succumbed from a long illness at the age of 90 (my dear mother) or died by suicide at 51, he or she is gone and begun the next leg of the journey.   They have moved on. How you approach a death by suicide with your friend or loved one will play a role in how they move on with their life. If you feed the victim aura-either with the words you use or by saying nothing at all—this may stunt the healing process. Your friend or loved one is most certainly deeply feeling the pain and trauma as a victim from the suicide. Don’t compound that.

In my previous post on the loss of a child, I suggested the following six ingredients to a beautiful condolence card. Those equally apply to a death by suicide.

Open strong and say something from your heart.

Compliment the one who is gone.

Share a favorite memory or connection with the person who has passed.

Compliment your friend or loved one who has suffered the loss.

Say something uplifting.

Take your time with the words you choose.

In How To Write A Beautiful Condolence Card To Someone Who Has Lost A Child I also included some examples of beautiful cards we received after we lost our Jimmy. The ingredients of a beautiful, meaningful, condolence card when the death is by suicide are the same and I will not repeat them here.

Although I admitted in that post I cannot yet compose a card I would have written to myself after Jimmy’s death, enough time has elapsed since my father’s demise. Here is a letter I have written standing in the shoes of one of my father’s best friends, the late Jim Walton.

Jim Walton

Dear Casey,  

I am heartbroken over the sudden and tragic loss of your father. Your dad was my best friend. We served together as officers in the Army during World War II including two years in the South Pacific. He saved my life on more than one occasion, and I did the same for him. Grover is one of the bravest and most courageous men I know.   At the end of the war we were stuck in Manila and forced to type up summaries of the many battles our Regiment participated in. We finally had enough and took our typewriters and threw them into the ocean.   We told our commanding officer they were stolen by locals.

As you know, I worked with your dad for many years at Case Foundation Company where he continued to display his exceptional leadership and organizational skills. He taught me a lot.

Your dad loved you very much. He was always so proud and bragged to everyone of how well you have done in school and sports and the work ethic you exhibited at such an early age working all those summers at Case. I so enjoyed having the opportunity to be your supervisor that summer we worked on the ventilation shaft project for Olga Coal Company in Coalwood, West Virginia after you graduated from high school. You worked hard and fit in so well with the folks there.

All of the exceptional qualities I observed in your dad have been passed on to you.   You are destined to be successful and a good father when that time comes for you.   I regret not being able to attend your dad’s service, but I am flying to Los Angeles next week and look forward to our dinner together.   Please accept my deepest condolences, Casey.


Jim Walton

Jim didn’t come to my dad’s funeral. Neither did he send a card or come see me in Los Angeles. The fact is I never saw Jim Walton again after my summer in Coalwood.   But I know, in my heart, he would have written those words to me if only he could have stopped running.

Lt. Jim Walton (L) and Captain Grover Gauntt

Here is a link to our story One Suitcase which includes a video of me talking about the long hard road my family travelled to healing from my father’s suicide.    One Suitcase

15 responses to “How to write a beautiful condolence card to someone who has lost a loved one to suicide”

  1. EM Bayles says:

    Why did your father kill himself? Do you know why? I had thought of killing myself many times, before I was diagnosed with Bipolar II. At at the time, my husband knew something was seriously wrong with me, and took off work to watch me like a hawk. I ended up going to a psychiatrist and put on medication and as time went on improved. It’s been 25 years and with help I’ve been doing pretty well, and I don’t think of killing myself anymore.

    I think perhaps your father suffered from depression or bipolar and you never knew. Don’t be angry at him, because mental illness is a cruel disease and men are the least likely to seek help. Men cry in the dark. Weakness and confiding in someone is not in a man’s DNA normally.

    I have two friends that lost loved ones on the same day: One lost her only son and the other her brother. They are inconsolable. I wish you well and I’m writing you because I can connect with the way your father felt. I was going to kill myself with the car in the garage routine, but somehow my husband could tell there was something deeply wrong and would not go to work leave me alone. Otherwise I would not be here anymore.

    • Casey Gauntt says:

      Thank you for reaching out, and I’m very glad you are still with us to do so! God bless your husband for recognizing something was wrong with you and you getting help.
      My father battled depression off and on for much of his 51 years, for which he never sought help. He needlessly lost his youngest sister when he was 9 because his parents, who were Christian Scientist, wouldn’t take her to the hospital to get the readily available cure for diphtheria. His mother suffered mental health problems the rest of her life. He was a highly decorated Army officer during WWII- a Battalion Commander in charge of 500 plus men- and fought in some of the most horrific battles against the Japanese in the South Pacific for over two years. Over half of his regiment were killed or wounded. He, like so many men, suffered PTSD and would not talk about the war. He was smart, a fitness fanatic, taught himself Spanish and the head of a large, successful, construction company based in Chicago. In 1969 he and the company were sued for over $100 Million for the alleged faulty installation of the foundation for the 100 story John Hancock building in Chicago. I think that was the tipping point for my dad. He took his life the next year. I was 20 and a junior in college. That lawsuit was settled a couple years later for $100,000 largely due to the letter my father wrote confirming the installation of the caissons was precisely as instructed by the developer. I was angry for many, many years at my dad. My younger sister and older brother suffered mightily for several years. Our mother was a lioness and she got us through it. But we never talked about it. It was as though it never happened. Which was of course ridiculous. As I wrote, suicide makes strangers of family and friends. I harbored some ill will against my mother–couldn’t she have done more? Before she died in 2012 at the age of 90, she told me she tried many times to get him to see a psychiatrist. He consistently refused. My sister, who was 13 at the time of his death, confirmed this. Up until 2008, all I wanted to do was forget my dad. And then my world shattered again. Our 24 year old son was accidentally struck and killed by a car walking home from a friend’s house. As strange as I know this may seem, my father reached through to help me in my darkest hour. Keep in mind he’d been dead for 38 years. But nonetheless he found a way. That story is told (by me) in a ten minute film made by my good friend Steve Date, most of which was shot in Coalwood WV. Here’s a link.

      This was a big door opener for me. My dad came through, and I began to find out more about my dad, what happened to him, and write about him. I’m closer to my dad now than I’ve ever been. I’ve written a lot about him, our son, loss, love, suffering, healing and the mystery of the unknown on my website. Check out some of the other stories. Thank you again for being so open with your brush with suicide and asking the tough questions. I’ve learned it is very healthy to talk about “it.” It’s how we can help others. Take care. Casey

  2. This is a wonderful story told and took courage and time to do. I bless you for those of us that have lost someone to suicide.
    I have just lost my 61 year old cousin to suicide by his jumping off the Hoan Bridge here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He suffered from depression but I believe he felt a burden and wanted to put an end to his suffering, maybe not on the correct medications, but that is in the past. As a family we must move on.
    I have read that at the last moment when doing such a thing, he had regrets, thinking he should not have done this, I read this in other articles of what people that survived thought at that last moment, i.e., A man by the name of Hines that jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge
    God help and save my cousin’s soul. Blessings to you for sharing honesty and putting some closure on this for me, but will never forget.

  3. Karen says:

    Thank you for sharing. Today I received the news of my old neighbor losing her 25 year old son to suicide in 2019. I am heartbroken and immediately googled what to say to a friend who has lost a child…….. this has given me the inspiration to get out my notebook and compose a letter that will have meaning and help her journey.

    • Casey Gauntt says:

      Karen- thank you for reaching out. I’m grateful our experience could provide you with some guidance on this most difficult, yet so very important task. Casey

  4. Steve M says:

    Dear Casey,
    I am sorry for the unthinkable losses you and your family have suffered. Thank you for your advice on condolences for someone who lost a relative to suicide. As you can see, your story draws others to share theirs.

    My best friend from our Air Force days during the Vietnam era died suddenly in the Sacramento area at age 71 from natural causes in January 2020, leaving his wife in her 50s and a daughter and son in their 20s. His wife had long suffered from depression, often disabled by it, and their son became her full time caretaker at home after his father’s death, as their daughter was away at university. Two weeks ago in early May, 2021, her son had to break down his mom’s bedroom door to discover she had taken her life hours earlier.

    These two young adults are suffering in unimaginable ways right now and I thank you for sharing, from your own painful experience, the advice that will help me reach out to them in a meaningful way. These are friends of mine and I am having trouble finding words.

    I also have dealt with depression for much of my life and was on the verge of suicide on multiple occasions, even planning the small details for the least impact on my family. Living in Sonoma County, the Golden Gate Bridge was the planned site, and even after viewing the 2006 documentary, The Bridge, I convinced myself I was ready. Life events intervened, shifting my focus from that plan long enough to realize that ending my own pain would start a lifelong journey of pain for my loved ones. Difficult as it was, I cancelled that idea forever. That was 10 years ago and I am now a trained hospice volunteer living a fulfilling retirement.

    Blessings to you and your family.

  5. LF says:

    I wonder if you have guidance on how to express sympathy to young teenagers (older sister, younger brother) whose father has died by suicide. The parents (their mother is my cousin’s daughter) were separated; our families are connected but not very close. We’re reeling with the news that he had been living with depression. They’re being very private, which I want to respect. Thank you.

    • Casey Gauntt says:

      I suggest, to the extent you can, follow these guidelines for what to include in your condolences:

      Open strong and say something from your heart.

      Compliment the one who is gone.

      Share a favorite memory or connection with the person who has passed.

      Compliment your friend or loved one who has suffered the loss.

      Say something uplifting.

      Take your time with the words you choose.

      In my post How to write a beautiful condolence card to someone who has lost a child

      I included some sample letters.

      Most importantly, try not to treat this unfortunate death by suicide differently than a death by another cause. Many don’t know what to say or do when there’s been a suicide, so they do nothing, and that only makes it harder on the survivors–they feel even more the victim. By reaching out and saying/doing anything, you are helping, more than you know. Don’t overthink it. Follow your heart.

  6. Alison says:


    I am sorry for your loss. Losing your father is always hard but this kind of loss is different.

    I have a co-worker who recently lost their teenage son to suicide. I too have a teenage son who suffers from depression, and this hits me hard because losing one’s child under any circumstances is hard, but this way is personal to me.

    My heart aches for them. I want to tell them that depression is a monster that steals away hopes and dreams. It sits on your chest and makes it hard to breath. It is just as deadly as cancer and we as parents (and people) can be just as helpless against it. We can love them with all our heart. We can get them help, we can support them but, in the end, sometimes it goes this way and there is nothing you could have done. You cannot love and support away cancer. Some survive it, some do not. Depression is no different.

    I wish them peace. That there will come a day when they can celebrate his light and remember his brilliance instead of the darkness of this moment.

    I am struggling as to what I can say, if I should say anything. I am not a friend, right now I only know him in passing. But soon he will be my son’s counselor over the next four years. What do I say? How do I let him know how hard this hits me without making it about me. Because it isn’t about me, even though I am standing where he stood, loving a child who sits in a hole I can’t pull him out of. Will it ever be appropriate for me to ask for his help, or should I just leave him be?

    • Casey Gauntt says:

      Alison- thank you for reaching out and your kind words. I am sorry that your colleague’s son died by suicide and that your son is struggling with depression. As I said in the post, “suicide makes strangers of friends and family” and colleagues too, because it is so painful to touch and so devastating for the survivors. As a result, most end up saying and doing nothing, and the survivors feeling even more the victim. If you send your colleague a brief note of condolence and support, it will mean so much to him and his family. It doesn’t have to be about you and what you are struggling with. It’s a sympathy card, not empathy. But since he will be your son’s counselor (in high school?), he will remember that you reached out and there will be an opportunity in the future where you and he can have a much deeper conversation about your sons. Those contacts and connections that come later-no matter the cause of the death of a child-are more meaningful and impactful, because most others have “moved on.” I also suspect that your colleague will be more in tune with students, like your son, who are struggling and will hopefully make him an even more effective counselor. My father’s death certainly raised my antennae around people battling depression. Here is a link to a story I wrote that was published by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention about how I was able to help one of my colleagues in his grave moment of need.

      The AFSP is also a helpful organization for parents of a child or young adult who may be contemplating death by suicide.

      Blessings to you and your son for continued healing.


    • Casey Gauntt says:

      Alison- here is a better link to the article I mentioned in my reply.


  7. Pete says:

    Thank you for sharing Casey and my deepest sympathies for the tragedies of your life. My former boss, and friend, lost his son to suicide shortly before my mother passed away. Through my own grief I failed to reach out for about six months. I was also struggling to come up with what I should say. Your article helped me work through this and for that I thank you.

    Would you be willing to share The Letter verbatim? The brief passages that you shared in the film resonated deeply with me and I would like to see the rest. I also support and respect your right to privacy.

    All my best as you continue your journey of healing and love,

  8. Susannah says:


    Thank you so much for sharing your story, and for helping those of us who want to do and say the right thing…but for reasons I don’t even completely understand, haven’t been able to.

    I also had a tragic loss over thirty years ago. Just after I graduated from college, my older brother took his life. No letter, so a lot of uncertainty and confusion about whether it was an accident or intentional, but we knew deep down, that it was the latter, which it was. Life as I knew it was shattered. The time right after and the few years after seem like slow motion and a blur. I put one foot in front of the other and moved forward, trying to put it aside and did my best to move on with the next stage of my life.

    Last week, my cousin’s daughter took her life. We live on opposite sides of the country, so I didn’t see them or her a lot, but we have close family ties and any loss affects all of us. This one has left me immobilized. I have not been able to write more than, “My heart is breaking, I have no words”, because I haven’t been able to come up with any words, and I am overwhelmed by the emotional flashbacks of my own loss so long ago. Hidden in the deep crevices of my body, the loss of my brother has been securely kept below the surface, but now the feelings are overflowing. I am flooded with memories …watching my parents age drastically in a week… my own feelings of loss and disorientation. My younger brother turning to drugs and addiction. The feeling that nobody could possibly grasp that we would never perceive our own family the same way. The slow process of putting our lives back together.

    All losses seem to be a river of expected and unexpected twists, turns and depths, but when someone takes their own life, the experience is so visceral and close to the bone, so absolutely painful and confusing, the twists and turns so much sharper and deeper. It seems impossible.
    But I know that it is possible to move forward and create a life, because I did, slowly. And so did my mother, father and brother. I just wish they didn’t have to go through it.

    I am sorting through my feelings and memories now, as I hope to take your advise and oppose the urge to run…run from the pain, the hurt and the confusion that I remember and that I imagine my cousin, his wife and his son are dealing with now. I have started a letter with your help, and next I hope to finish and send it.

    Thank You.

    • Casey Gauntt says:

      Susannah- thank you for your thoughtful comment. You write beautifully and powerfully, and I have no doubt whatever you send to your cousin and his family will be much appreciated and well received. I’m deeply sorry for the transitions of your brother and cousin’s daughter. Our daughter’s first and only job after she got a masters in social work was as lead social worker for a suicide prevention program at the University of California San Diego that she and a group of psychiatrists and doctors designed and rolled out first at the medical school, and then to all staff at the UCSD Hospital network. During her first interview with the head of the program, she told him about her grandfather’s death by suicide- a man she never met. And he said to her “you are a survivor of suicide.” Susannah, you too are a survivor and you may not fully appreciate it, but that makes you, more than most, uniquely qualified to help your cousin because you get “it.” You understand the pain he and his family and their friends are going through–you know it’s horrible, and it lasts for a long time. Although, as I wrote, suicide should not be treated differently than other ways to die, it is, because it freaks out everyone around us–we are made to feel even more the victim. I know you will write something beautiful to your cousin, but I also hope you realize that it is only step one. Because you are a survivor- and your cousin will know that–you can have some very deep and helpful conversations with him–conversations that will span years–there’s just no short cuts on this grief trail. You may also already know that because you are a survivor, your antennae are more finely tuned and raised higher than others when you are with or see someone who is struggling with depression, anxiety, or something is just off. You can sense something is wrong. And folks may seek you out because they know or sense that you get it. Pay attention to those instincts and, when you can, act upon them. I helped a colleague of mine 12 years after my dad died by suicide. I wrote a story about it that was put up on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website. Here’s a link to it.

      AFSP is also a very good organization that helps survivors of suicide. You might check it out for your cousin. Blessings to you and your family for continued healing. 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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