Gunther renders every step of Johnny's march toward death with heartbreaking detail, but he rarely reveals his own feelings, only abstractly disclosing that they were horrific. Still, it is impossible to leave Death Be Not Proud without the feeling that Gunther is a father who loves his son dearly. At times, the two seem more like peers than parent and child; Johnny seems to be Gunther's best journalistic editor, often forcing him to revise his work with penetrating questions.

But this friendship sometimes comes at the expense of filial intimacy. Gunther cannot talk as easily with Johnny about death as Frances can and, while he is not envious of their closeness, he does seem to regret not having been able to provide a stable marriage (he and Frances are divorced) for Johnny, which may explain his slight disconnection with his son. Nevertheless, he empathizes deeply with Johnny, feeling the pain of his surgeries and making us feel it, too, with lucid, generally unsentimental prose. The entire experience makes Gunther a more philosophical writer than his journalism background may have permitted. He wonders at the tragic irony that a tumor should inflict itself upon Johnny's most refined body part and understands that this cannot be explained, nor can death's many other mysteries.