Letters of Condolence
The Book of Eulogies:
A Collection of Memorial Tributes,
Poetry, Essays and Letters of Condolence

edited with commentary by Phyllis Theroux

Letter of Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) to the mother of a friend.

Dear Madam,

The grief which I feel for the loss of a very kind friend is sufficient to make me know how much you suffer by the death of an amiable son: a man, of whom I think it may be truly said, that no one knew him who does not lament him. I look upon myself as having a friend, another friend, taken from me. Comfort, Dear Madam, I would give you, if I could; but I know how little the forms of consolation can avail. Let me, however, counsel you not to waste your health in unprofitable sorrow, but go to Bath, and endeavor to prolong your own life; but when we have all done all that we can, one friend must in time lose the other.

I am, Dear Madam,
Your most humble servant,
Samuel Johnson

Letter of playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) to Mrs. Patrick Campbell on the death of her son, killed in action in World War I.

London, 7 January 1918.

Never saw it or heard about it until your letter came. It is no use: I can't be sympathetic; these things simply make me furious. I want to swear. I do swear. Killed just because people are blasted fools. A chaplain too, to say nice things about it. It is not his business to say nice things about it, but to shout that the “voice of thy son's blood crieth unto God from the ground.” No, don't show me the letter. But I should very much like to have a nice talk with that dear Chaplain, that sweet sky-pilot, that… No use going on like this, Stella. Wait for a week, and then I shall be very clever and broadminded again and have forgotten all about this. I shall be quite as nice as the Chaplain. Oh, damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, DAMN. And oh, dear, dear, dear, dear, dear, dearest!


Letter from New Yorker editor-in-chief William Maxwell (1908- ) to Faith Morrow Williams on the death of her brother, Stephen, in 1987.

Dear Faith,

If you love someone with your whole heart it is unbearable to have them die. And because you can't bear it, you don't let it happen. Without even thinking about it you, the one who didn't die, change, enlarge your nature so that there is room for them too, and they go on living in you and through you. It is something I have experienced.



The following letter was written by Robert Williams (1970-1995) to his mother, Martha, after his younger brother, Matthew (1972-1989), had been killed in an automobile accident when he was seventeen. Four years later, Robert was killed the same way. His own letter was read at his funeral.



I have just been sitting here thinking about Matt and feeling very sad. But I also thought of what you were saying about being so busy when Matt was here and this just made me want to express my appreciation and feelings for you. I am here in this world and I love you as deeply as I know love. Whatever happens through the course of our lifetimes or if you are feeling deeply lonely, you can always count on me and on this love.

From my heart and soul,


© Copyright Phyllis Theroux, 1997. All Rights Reserved. No portion of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system now or hereafter invented, without permission in writing from the Publisher.