By Penny A. Bragg—

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, every forty seconds someone commits suicide.Those are statistics I never wanted to know. Living in the wake of an untimely death is hard. Living in the wake of suicide is brutal.

Eight days after my brother killed himself, our family gathered to clean out his house. Nothing can prepare even the most functional family for the duties of death. You can box up your loved one’s belongings, but you cannot box your grief. Instead, it gushes out all over. What we were about to do would be yet another stab in our gravely-wounded souls. Our hearts were hemorrhaging and it was about to get a lot worse.

Desiring to have some moments alone at Jay’s house, I arrived earlier than the appointed time we set to meet. When I pulled up to his home, I was greeted by a beautiful front porch memorial. Among the still-burning candles were flowers, cards, mementos, and photographs—a touching tribute of all things Jay.

I flashed back to the week before when my sister had been among the first on the scene at his house, along with the emergency vehicles. She and a couple of his friends sacrificially cleaned his room so the rest of us wouldn’t have to face all that was left behind.

The air was brisk as I stood staring at the memorial on his porch. Taking a small vial of anointing oil from the pocket of my jeans, I walked up the steps to the front door. I have no idea what I prayed as I marked the sign of the cross onto the door frame and porch, but I know God heard my shameless sobbing.

Once everyone arrived, we stood outside garnering the strength to go in. Upon entering Jay’s bedroom, the array of amber-colored pill bottles on his nightstand paralyzed me. It wasn’t just about knowing Jay’s hands had held them. It was the realization that in managing his mental illness, I hadn’t confiscated the old prescriptions each time he tried a new one. To take the edge off his anguish over the years, Jay had tried numerous medications, many of which we’d researched together. Although we were still awaiting the toxicology report, it was suspected that Jay took his life with the very pills I had hoped might make his life more bearable.

That’s when the if onlys began their unmerciful assault.

If only I’d confiscated those pills. If only I hadn’t waited to summon the police when I couldn’t locate Jay. If only I had taken some of our savings and forced him into one of those high-dollar hospitals. For weeks those regrets gnawed at my soul and my psyche.

Webster defines regret as, “Sorrow aroused by circumstances beyond one’s control or power to repair.” My definition is simpler: things left undone. Whether those things are intentional or not, when someone dies they are all painful.

After I returned home, a good friend took me and all my regrets to the ocean’s edge. Along with a handful of metal stakes from the hardware store, she coached me as I pounded each if only deep into the sand with a hammer. Until I drove those stakes into the ground and released my regrets, I hadn’t realized how much they had skewed my reality and sucked me down deep with guilt.

Locked inside, regrets will fester, spread, and consume us.  If onlys eat away at our insides, leaving nothing but a hollow shell. But in the light of the Cross, those same regrets shrivel up and die. I don’t understand it. I just know it to be true.

Have you some great sorrow past or present? Have you buried your guilt in a grave that can’t contain it? Then go. Take your stakes. Take your hammer. Set out for the sea. Drive your if onlys into the earth. Wail with each blow. Strike a death-punch into the gut of the enemy. Weep until you can’t. Pound down every pent up regret and leave it where redemption’s tide will carry it far away—forever.

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.” 2 Cor. 7:10 (NLT)




Penny BraggPenny A. Bragg spent the majority of her professional career in the California public school system as a teacher, principal, and district administrator. Through the miraculous reconciliation of her marriage after an eleven-year divorce and a distance of 3,000 coast-to-coast miles, God led Penny and her husband, Clint, into fulltime ministry in 2006. Together, they serve as marriage missionaries—sharing their testimony of marital restoration across the nation and abroad during their 40-Day Marriage Mission Trips. Through Inverse Ministries, their non-profit organization, Penny and Clint have written extensively about the ministry of reconciliation including their most recent book, Marriage on the Mend. In addition, Penny ministers to those who, like her, have experienced traumatic loss and grief. For more information, visit her blog at


  1. 7-28-2014

    Powerful Penny. Thank you.

  2. 7-28-2014

    Regret is a relentless taskmaster. Submitting it to God is the only relief. Thank you Penny for your willingness to help us find our way there.

    • 7-28-2014

      Thank you giving this post a sacred and safe place to land, my friend.

  3. 7-28-2014

    Beautifully said, Penny. Vulnerable, transparent TRUTH. We all need it. Thank you for being one of His channels.

    • 7-28-2014

      Thank you for taking the time to read and respond, Kathy. Your encouragement means a lot. Bless you.

  4. 7-28-2014

    My IF ONLY related to my previous marriage. IF ONLY I didn’t marry him. IF ONLY I left sooner. IF ONLY. IF ONLY. It was so hard to release my IF ONLY into the hands of the Father, when I did it was so freeing. When the enemy would say IF ONLY I could give him the hand to back off.

    You put words to emotions I sometimes have a hard time explaining.


  5. 7-28-2014

    Sweet Penny – thank you for sharing your anguish so that we all might recognize the “if onlys” we carry deep within our hearts. I needed to read this today.

    • 7-28-2014

      Ava, thank you for taking the time to respond and let me know the post was meaningful to you.

Leave a Comment to Penny Bragg