Forgiving Yourself for Words to a Suicidal Friend

By K. O.:

 It can be terribly difficult to forgive yourself for words you said to a suicidal friend–words you can’t take back. Here’s some helpful advice.


man sitting on the grass from mf

Image by Darnok

A friend of mine who I’ll call Skip confided in me that he had a hard time forgiving himself for words he said in haste that he now can’t take back.

A co-worker of his that he referred to as Brad continually expressed his desire to kill himself. Brad was unhappy in love and had problems at work and seemed unable to heal from depression and self-hatred.

Again and again, Brad told Skip, “I’m gonna do it. I will. Life is one big pit.”

Skip got sick of listening to Brad. They could never have a decent discussion about sports or women or politics. Brad was a one-line conversationalist. After repeated incidents, Skip blew up one day. “If you’re so committed to suicide,” he told Brad, “go ahead and do it, bro. I’m sick of listening to you. All you do is talk. In fact, I dare you.”

Skip went home that day and was immediately seized with guilt. How could he have lost control so easily? Didn’t he realize that his friend was emotionally ill and needed support, not cruel words? Skip called Brad a few times after that to apologize and invite him out for sushi, but Brad never returned his calls.

A month later Skip got the news. Brad had hung himself in the bathroom of his apartment. Skip felt responsible. If only he had kept his mouth shut. He knew Brad’s suicide wasn’t his fault. We each make decisions for our own lives. But still, if only he had helped Brad instead of baiting him. If you face a similar situation here is some helpful advice (condensed) from

  1. You will probably feel that you could’ve done something more to prevent the suicide, but that’s not the case. You cannot assume responsibility for the actions of another. PERIOD.
  2. Forgive yourself. The suicide is not your fault.
  3. Talk to a photo of the victim. It may help to articulate the things you’d wished you could say to the person and to apologize for what you did say.
  4. If your feelings of guilt are prolonged, seek professional help.
  5. Let the anger out. Chop wood. Scream. Hit a punching bag. Punch a pillow.
  6. Take your grief one day, one second, one moment at a time. You didn’t have a choice or any control over the suicide, but you DO have the choice to live through the aftermath. Choose to live.

And most important, ask God to help you forgive yourself for the words you can’t take back.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9 the Bible).