Solana Beach author sees connections between life, afterlife in new book ‘When the Veil Comes Down’
Casey Gauntt believes his son Jimmy, who died in 2008, has an active hand in everyday ‘synchronicities’
In his just-released memoir “When the Veil Comes Down,” Solana Beach author Casey Gauntt is upfront in saying he knows not everyone agrees with him that it’s possible to communicate with the dead. But for his family, and for many others he knows who have lost loved ones, he believes it’s not only possible, it has positively changed their lives.
Gauntt, a 71-year-old retired corporate lawyer, lost his 24-year-old son, Jimmy, on Aug. 9, 2008, when he was struck and killed by a car. Two months later, on what would have been Jimmy’s 25th birthday, Gauntt and his wife, Hilary, returned home from their son’s memorial to find a letter in the mailbox that shook their world.
It was a previously unknown and unopened letter that Gauntt’s father, Grover, had written to his son, Casey, not long before Grover killed himself a few days before Christmas in 1970.
For most of Gauntt’s adult life, he hated his father for abandoning his family and ruining their lives. But this letter — that a near-stranger had found hidden away decades before and never got around to mailing until that week in 2008 — was filled with words of love and pride for Casey that Grover had never expressed. Grover also explained for the first time the combat-related trauma he’d struggled with since World War II and how he promised to “be around, any time you want me.” As Gauntt sees it, the letter wasn’t just his father reaching out to him from beyond the grave, it was a sign that his son was bringing all three generations together in a loving embrace on one of the most difficult days of his life.
The letter story and how Gauntt learned to survive the grief of losing his son were the basis of “Suffering is the Only Honest Work,” Gauntt’s first book, which he published under a joint byline with Jimmy, in 2015. His new book, “When the Veil Comes Down,” digs deeper into the metaphysical ways that the spirits of loved ones are present in our daily lives. This includes several stories of Jimmy’s continued presence, as well as stories from other families who Gauntt has met over the past 12 years through his blog, writemesomethingbeautiful.com, , his book and The Fraternity, a 25-member grief support group of San Diego-area dads who have lost children.
In the new book, Gauntt recounts visits he had with a medium who he said has channeled several generations of his family during readings. There’s a chapter on Conrad Leslie, a father who has received several messages he calls “gifts” from his 20-year-old son, Nicolas, who was killed in a 2016 terrorist attack in Nice, France, where he was studying abroad. There’s a story from a hospital chaplain who said a patient dying from injuries in a motorcycle accident said he’d received a comforting visit in his final days from his best friend Ben, who had died years earlier. And in another chapter, a friend of Gauntt’s named Chris was preparing to disconnect his father from life support when a nurse at the hospital told Chris that his dad had received a visit that day from a young man named Christian. Christian was the name of Chris’s 10-year-old son who had died four years earlier.
Gauntt calls these encounters “synchronicities” or “near-life experiences,” and he said that they’re common among people who have lost a child or other loved one.
“I read about near-death experiences. It occurred to me it should work both ways. If we can go over there and get a glimpse of what is happening with our loved ones in this new place where they are, they should be able to do the same for us,” Gauntt said in a recent interview. “So many of my colleagues and contemporaries have received lots of messages and visits from their children or others they deeply love.”
Gauntt has another coined phrase he calls partial-death experiences, or PDEs, which are what happens when we lose a loved one and a part of us dies with them. He said that fracturing of our selves creates a permanent connection through the “veil” between life and death.
“There really is no veil that separates us,” he said. “There is only our inability to look and see what is already before us, and that is our loved ones aren’t over there and we’re over here. We’re just all right here together.”
Through his blog, book and speaking engagements, Gauntt said he’s met families who have been so wrecked by the loss of a child that they’ve never recovered. He finds that the families who are most successful at managing their grief are those who channel it in a positive way, like starting foundations and scholarships in their children’s names as a lasting legacy.
“Watching all of these people evolve in their healing and getting to a new place where they help others — that’s a message that really needs to be made,” Gauntt said. “These parents would’ve been given a complete pass to just go in the tank if they wanted to, but they elected to change their lives and change others.”
Another portion of the book, which is drawn from the most popular pages on his blog, offers advice on how to write a condolence letter to someone who has lost a child, or who has lost someone to either suicide or COVID-19. Gauntt said many people don’t know how to comfort a friend under these terrible circumstances, so they don’t say or do anything at all. When Jimmy died, Casey writes in the new book that he felt like he’d died, too, in the eyes of his friends: “Maybe I had a new name: Casey-who-lost-his-son Gauntt. Were my elephant and I not welcome anymore?”
His advice is that grieving people miss their loved one and they’re desperate to hear stories and recollections that help keep that person’s memory alive. They always appreciate any efforts at connection — even from a stranger. And it’s never too late to call or write. And his advice for parents who have lost children is to not be afraid to reach out to friends for support.
“We hold the keys to grief’s doors that only we can open and let others pass through,” Gauntt said. “The friends so want and need to talk to us and feel connected to the one they lost, too. Invite them in.”
“When the Veil Comes Down,” by Casey Gauntt (200 pages. Available on Amazon.com)
—Pam Kragen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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